Back in January, Paul Smith was “100% convinced” he would beat the WBA regular super-middleweight champion, Tyron Zeuge. “I [would] leave absolutely no room for error or doubt in the judges’ minds,” he insisted.
Well, after their contest on the 17th June at the Rittal Arena in Hessen, Germany, all three of the judges were in no doubt that after 12 rounds, Tyron Zeuge had won pretty much all of them, with a knockdown finishing what was in all honesty a fairly drab affair.
The German was better in most departments, but most tellingly when it came to distance, which he controlled with ease. He moved in and out of range fluidly, landing shots without a great deal of response from the Brit, who just couldn’t find his rhythm in a fight few will want to see again and which had questionable merit to begin with.
He would have needed to produce a stellar performance to pull off a win which would have reignited his career, and he showed glimpses of such a performance in the third round, when he caught the champion with a good right hand as he advanced. Smith failed to capitalise though, and midway through the fourth normal service had resumed, which essentially involved Zeuge dictating the fight with a strong, consistent jab and enough footwork skills to move him away from trouble when the challenger came forward.
Smith did his best work up close, with some decent body shots landing in the 5th and 6th sessions. They weren’t enough to take either round, but they were enough for Zeuge to learn from, and the rest of the fight was largely spent with the Berliner keeping things at the end of sharp jabs and one-twos before drifting out of harm’s way. A knockdown at the end of the 12th (which looked a slip/off balance) was a fitting end to the match as Smith, out of ideas and out of luck, lost a unanimous decision by 119-108 on all three judges’ scorecards (mine read 118-109 after good work up close won ‘Smigga’ the eleventh for me).
It pains me to say this about a man who I find affable and knowledgeable outside the ring, but this was a poor showing from Smith. His timing, his workrate and his speed were all misfiring, and there was a tangible lack of game plan, appearing outfoxed by the simplest of approaches from the champion. Hands held high, inching forward while stiff jabs pierced his guard, he seemed rarely aware of where his opponent’s vulnerabilities lay, and brief moments of initiative were not enough to stop him from leaving the arena with some real doubts about the future.
“[Zeuge] was too good, too fresh, too young,” said Smith’s promoter Eddie Hearn at the post fight press conference. “Paul left it too late in the fight to really push the action… he had a good go in the 11th and 12th but he needed to do that from the 4th, 5th, 6th rounds to try and test Zeuge.” Hearn’s fighter was noticeably absent from the conference: “He’s got one or two cuts, he’s not feeling great,”he explained. “But I also think it’s the realization that he wasn’t good enough, maybe that he’s not good enough, to win a world title. That’s [a tough realization] when you’ve had a long career and you’ve dedicated your life to the sport, [but] this is definitely the end of his world title dreams. He was lucky to get this shot. He had it, he couldn’t make the most of it. So that’s it.”
Hard-hitting words. Sadly, though, it is right that these words prove true, barring the mother of all comebacks. Hearn confirmed there might still be opportunities at domestic level, and a man of his experience would prove useful for one of Britain’s up and coming prospects. However, we the fans must ask ourselves: how much more of the Paul Smith story do we want to read? Where else can the storyline go? Would he even want to be the test for those prospects? A rematch with George Groves or James DeGale is out of the question. Jamie Cox and Rocky Fielding are to contest the British title, and it feels wrong that he fights the winner of that. Would Smith versus someone like Luke Blackledge carry enough appeal? We can’t continue watching him knock out imports like Daniel Regi over 6 inconsequential rounds, and I doubt he would choose to continue at that level.
Careers are hard. This sport is hard. And watching fighters ebb away into obscurity is hard, both for the fighters and their fans. For the sake of nostalgia, I would like to see Paul compete again for the British title, and I would like to see him win it. But practicality dictates that the work he will have to do, the men he will have to beat, in order to secure such a position for himself would be asking too much of him. I would far rather see Paul Smith retire as a (secondary) world title contender to enjoy a career of excellent punditry, and he can do so knowing that he got much, much further than most boxers ever get.
The final decision though, as always, is up to him.
Whatever he decides to do going forward, on behalf of myself and all at British Boxers, we wish Paul all the very best in the future.