6th November 2012
|Paul ‘Smigga’ Smith|
It is a measure of the high regard that experts have for Paul Smith’s ring talent that, despite capturing British and Commonwealth titles, the personable Scouse super-middle still believes he has plenty more to achieve.
A former senior ABA champion and 2002 Commonwealth Games silver medallist in his teens, ‘Smigga’, who recently turned 30, has lost to James DeGale (reigning European champion) and George Groves (current Commonwealth king).
Following a year long absence nursing a fractured right hand, the likeable Liverpudlian finally returns to duty in a six rounder on Queensberry Promotions’ big event at the Liverpool Olympia in his home city this Friday against Tommy Tolan – live on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546) – and, in an interview with boxing writer Glynn Evans last weekend, Smith vows to put right a few wrongs.
You’ve been out for a year following your shattering second round stoppage loss to George Groves for the British and Commonwealth titles on Bonfire Night 2011. You started brightly stunning George with a right hand on the bell to end round one. Why did it fall apart in round two?
No excuses. I’d had a fantastic camp with Joe Gallagher and he can take none of the blame. In round one, I’d been competitive throughout but, after catching George with that shot, I knew instantly I sat on my stool that the right hand had ‘gone’. I didn’t connect properly and snapped the metacarpal.
All I could think was: ‘How can I go another eleven rounds with someone as big and strong as George Groves with just one good hand? When the bell sounded I just ‘went for it’ and never saw the right hook that George copped me with. It’s the hardest I’ve been hit and shook me right up. It was the perfect shot. The perfect, lucky shot! My senses had gone and I never recovered. Hat off to George. It was very frustrating but at least I never took a long, sustained beating.
How good was George? How did he compare with James DeGale who relieved you of your titles in December 2010?
George is a good kid and he beat a far better version of Paul Smith than DeGale beat. For some reason against DeGale, I wasn’t there physically or mentally on the night, despite doing everything asked of me in training. George beat me at my best, after a good camp. He’s a lot stronger and hits far harder than DeGale.
DeGale’s a bit classier and flashier but he hit me with pretty much every shot he threw and never hurt me once.
What have you been up to in the 12 months since the Groves fight?
The broken hand kept me out of the gym completely until February, I couldn’t even run, and I ballooned up to 15½ stone! I ended up having two operations on the hand because it got infected after the first op and they put a wire through the bone marrow. It was a bad break.
I’ve been back in the gym, gradually chipping the weight away. I was waiting for George to give up his titles, hoping to meet Kenny Anderson, the mandatory, for the vacant belt but they slipped Robin Reid in.
I’ve been away sparring with ‘Chocolate’ (WBO middleweight king Peter Quillin) and a few of (Julio Cesar) Chavez Jnr’s sparring partners at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in LA. I’ve also been over to France to spar that Hassan N’Dam.
You’ve probably seen me doing a lot of TV work. BoxNation have shown trust in me and given me the freedom to sit behind the mic at a world heavyweight title fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Dereck Chisora.
I’m honoured that people appear to value my opinion. I just try to say it how it is, give a little bit of praise and, hopefully, constructive criticism. It’s a labour of love that I’d certainly like to pursue after I hang my gloves up but that’s a while off yet.
How are the rest of the Fighting Smiths?
All good. Liam’s fighting Friday night as well while Stephen’s having a bit of time out because he’s just had a baby lad, little Frankie. He’s also using the time to get an operation done on his ear which kept bursting and needed rebuilding.
He’s rated number three by the WBO at superfeather and, the way things are panning out, could be mandatory pretty quickly. Hopefully, he’ll be back out in a six rounder in December.
Our Callum has just turned pro. He’s very talented; a 6ft 3in super- middleweight who can box at range and mix it up inside. Despite his height, he’s a strong lump.
You’ve been working with coach Joe Gallagher for the last year or so and were quick to shield him from any criticism following your defeat to Groves. What’s he been able to add?
I really wish I’d gone to him about five years ago. Joe’s made for the way I fight and he’s made me realise the full potential of the fitness inside my body. He’s also got me comfortable fighting inside again – something I’d been good at while I was working with Billy Graham – which I’d lost a bit of confidence with.
Thanks to Joe, I never felt fitter than I did for the Groves fight and I already feel fitter for this six rounder on Friday than I did going into my championship fight with DeGale!
At Joe’s gym, I’m getting quality sparring, particularly with Callum Johnson, Hosea Burton and our Callum. I’m really buzzing again.
You’ve spoken sporadically about returning to the middleweight division. What are your current thoughts?
No. Super-middle’s my division. My ideal fighting weight is probably around 165, 166 (lbs) and I start to ‘take away’ if I try to drop below that. If they carried me on and off the scales, sure, I could probably still make 160 but there’s a big difference between making a weight and performing at it.
Given your amateur achievements as a teenager, do you sense that you’re still to realise your full potential as a pro?
Definitely. I still think I can get to world level. I’ve not had too many wars and I’ve never abused my body.
I’d have strongly fancied my chances in a crack at (ex WBO king) Robert Steiglitz who just got beat by Arthur Abraham. All you need is a chance.
But I have to be realistic. Though I’d love rematches with both Groves and DeGale to try to set the record straight, its pointless me calling them out after they’ve both beat me well, and I’ve done nothing since. Those matches can’t be made until I’ve at least won the British.
What’s your assessment of Edinburgh’s Kenny Anderson, who recently picked up the vacant British title by stopping Robin Reid in five rounds last month?
Made for me. Kenny’s strong and a big puncher, no doubt, but he’s predictable. Whereas, stylewise, James DeGale was always likely to be a hard night, Anderson comes at you in straight lines and when you take those straight lines from him, his head goes. He’d not be hard to find and I’ve got the tools to frustrate him.
Finally, what are you hoping to get out of Friday’s assignment against Belfast journeyman Tommy Tolan?
Basically, to get back on the horse and test my hands. Obviously I need a good win to persuade the Board to nominate me as the next mandatory to Anderson. Bizarrely, I’ve commentated on two of Tommy’s fights. He’s been in with some good kids.
I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of rounds of quality sparring so, despite the lay-off, I shouldn’t be too rusty. Some rounds wouldn’t do me any harm but, with my track record for cuts, I’ll be looking to get rid of him as quickly as possible.