THOUGH now officially retired, Liverpool’s Paul Smith knows a thing or two about fighting in Germany, knows a thing or two about Tyron Zeuge, Germany’s current WBA regular super-middleweight champion, and is just as familiar with Rocky Fielding, Zeuge’s next challenger, as well.
The former British 12-stone titleholder ventured to Wetzlar, Germany last June to challenge Zeuge, 22-0-1 (12), and came up short on the scorecards following 12 rounds. It was a fight that would prove to be the 34-year-old’s last as a professional.
On July 14, meanwhile, Fielding, 26-1 (14), heads to Offenburg to try and do what Smith couldn’t and does so buoyed by a run of five straight wins since a first-round loss to Paul’s brother, Callum, back in 2015.
It’s a fight Paul, the eldest of the fighting Smith family, feels is winnable for Fielding, but only if his head’s right.
“I think it’s all about Fielding,” Smith, 38-7 (22), told Boxing News. “It’s all up to him. Zeuge is a good fighter and has a good chin on him but I think Fielding hits hard enough to command his respect.
“It’s all on Fielding and mentally we need to see what he’s like. I’m not saying he froze against Callum. He came out fighting, to be honest with you. But he’s very mentally unreliable. He relies on his nerves. He gets very nervous, in my opinion. That’s what I’ve learned watching him as a kid, and as an amateur, and going through the pros.
“When Callum boxed him, and everyone asked me about Rocky, I told them to get their money on Callum early because I felt it was going to be over quickly.
“Nerves can either help you box a very good fight or a very bad fight. Rocky recently got a good (first round) stoppage against a good, tough kid in David Brophy. That was a quality win for him. But it can go either way with Rocky. Either he looks great because the nerves have worked in the right way or he can look beatable because the nerves have got the better of him.”
In a 14-year pro career, Smith experienced a hat-trick of world title setbacks in Germany. The first of them, a decision loss to Arthur Abraham, was tight and no doubt marks the closest Smith came to capturing that elusive gold. But the other two, a rematch with Abraham and then the Zeuge fight, were clear and fair decisions on a playing field they say is never level.
“The fact it’s in Germany and the fact the scorecards might not go his way is something that could be in the back of his mind,” said Smith. “I don’t know.
“But it’s more about how Rocky handles the occasion. The first time he had a main event slot topping a bill in a big fight was against Callum and it ended in a round. This time he’ll have to fly over there on the Monday, do a public workout on the Tuesday in a shopping centre or car dealership, do a press conference on the Wednesday, have a day off on Thursday and then go to the weigh-in on Friday.
“It’s all about how he reacts to this fight week build-up. If he can react to it well and hold his nerve, he’s got a great chance.
“But this fight will be the making or breaking of him. He’s fighting for a world title and it’s something he has been calling for. He’s called out every champion out there. He’s there now. He’s got to take it with both hands and handle the fight week and the fight itself. He needs to hold it together and get his tactics right.
“It’s a big ask for him but it’s doable. I’m not writing him off by any means.”
World title wins are one thing. World title wins in Germany of all places are another thing altogether. Which is why Smith, although hoping for a Fielding victory, fears the title might remain on German soil.
“It’s over in Germany obviously and we know what that can be like,” he said. “He’s also going in against a young, fresh champion. Rocky’s good enough to have a chance in the fight but it’s a tough ask.
“I’d have to side with Zeuge. He’s the all-round better fighter.”