Stephen Smith is known by many as one quarter of an illustrious boxing foursome. ‘Swifty’ and his three brothers: Paul, Liam and Callum have all held British titles at some point in their respective careers, and have such likely achieved a feat that will never be replicated again.
It hasn’t all been champagne and fireworks; the brothers have experienced some difficult times in the ring as a family. Thankfully now Britain and the rest of the world are beginning to see just how good the four fighting men actually are.
Eldest brother Paul has challenged for the world title twice, younger brother Liam has won a world title, youngest brother Callum is rated highly by every sanctioning body in boxing. Now mandatory challenger for Jose Pedraza’s IBF Super-Featherweight world title, Stephen is attempting to become the second world champion in the Smith household, as well as the fourth world champion from Joe Gallagher’s illustrious Bolton gym.
We began, as always, with the very start of his career, talking about why he got into boxing. As you would expect it was very much to do with his family, “The long and short of it was I just followed my big brother around and he went to boxing before me so that’s the reason I personally got into it. My Dad had always been interested in boxing so the four of us always had in interest in it.”
As you would expect, the first memories that Swifty has of boxing are typically of fights with siblings. “I used to always spar around the house with my brothers. We used to race home from school and put the gloves on, or sometimes we would have one glove on each and a tea towel around the other hand. We used to spar every day.”
“The highlight of my amateur career was winning the Commonwealth gold medal. It was a proud moment for me because I was away from home which made it a bit more special.”
Smith then ‘turned over’ and began life as a professional. Although his debut was a successful night for himself personally with a stoppage victory, it was a very difficult night for the family as the eldest brother Paul suffered his first defeat at the hands of Steven Bendall 94-96 on points. “It was bitter sweet really. It was obviously not a good night for the family with Paul losing even though we all thought he won the fight, but it was his first career loss. As a family we win together and we lose together and that night was a loss for the family so it wasn’t the best of night for myself. I still went home unhappy because my brother lost but it was still a night that I will always remember because it was my pro debut and the moment when I won my debut was a good feeling.”
After his debut, Stephen was exposed to the big stage early on in his career, with three of his first ten fights on big arena shows. He fought at the M.E.N Arena twice and in his hometown of Liverpool at the Echo Arena as well. “It is always a good thing if you want to get to the top to box on these arena bills and I suppose I was lucky that I had the opportunity to fight in my hometown in the big arena. My second fight was in the M.E.N, I was actually a floater and I fought just before Khan-Prescott on TV so it stood me in good stead for the future.”
Stephen has been twelve rounds only twice in his career, both against the seasoned pro John Simpson. “In the long run it was definitely a good thing for me because every title fight I have had since then I have won by knock out. At the time I respected his record a bit too much and I didn’t have the belief in my own punch power, where as with the belief I have now I could have definitely stopped him. the rounds definitely did me good and I will always be grateful of rate experience it gave me, to be in with such a good fighters and it will stand me in good stead.”
The only loss that the Liverpudlian suffered was at the hands of the now IBF Featherweight World champion Lee Selby in brutal fashion. No fighter likes losing, and Swifty is no different. “It was just a pride thing at the time really. Nobody likes to lose and the fact that I lost my title, it was more like a shock to me on the night. When I got home I was staying strong for my girlfriend and my brothers, I didn’t want to be too upset around them. Deep down in did hurt me and it wasn’t a nice feeling, I don’t like to lose at anything never mind my career choice. It hurt me but more so my pride, I knew that I could bounce back from it even though not many people thought I could. I knew proving them wrong would be even sweeter when I go on and win a world title, which is what I believe that I will do.”
I had been asked to ask Stephen if he would want a second fight with Selby by a number of people, and the fighting man gave the answer that every proud fighter would give. “Definitely yes. Sometimes people mix my words up and make it look like I’m calling him out but I’m not. I don’t want to spend my career living off his name now he’s a world champion but I’ve always said he’s the only man to beat me so I would love to avenge that. I have always said my aim is to win a world title and if I won my next fight then I have achieved that, anything that happens after that is a bonus. I’ve got one blemish on my record, he’s the only man to beat me, and he’s the man I want to beat!”
Smith made the career defining decision to move up to Super-Featherweight after the Selby loss, which is the weight that he is currently campaigning at. “I feel more comfortable at the new weight. I think a lot of people that have to make weight will tell you that it takes a lot out of you, especially the last few pounds. The last four pounds for me were taking a lot out of me, and I knew I was doing a lot of things in the gym that I wasn’t doing on the night because I didn’t have it left in me. I was depleting my body a little bit and on fight night I didn’t have the same bite in my punches that I have now. Now every decent shot that I land I am putting people over and hurting them. Now I’m not depleting my body as much and everything that I do in the gym I am getting off in my fights.I’ve proved the move was good for me because if you look at my knock out ratio, I have only gone to points in the tick over jobs which I blame on motivation really.”
Stephen then fought Gary Buckland for the British title. Was it his best victory of his career? “To this date definitely. I have always had a thing about numbers and dates and stuff, and they mean a lot to me. The minute the Gary Buckland fight was mentioned I knew I would win, because he was in the same stable as Lee Selby at the time and the had the same trainer. The fight was down in Cardiff, and I knew I could travel down there and right a little wrong. I considered it to be a little tick in the box because I knew they would have a lot of the same fans and I could prove them wrong. The minute I knew it was on my son’s first birthday I knew I wouldn’t lose, and it gave me all the more confidence that I wouldn’t lose so that my little boy would wake up and know that I hadn’t lost on his birthday. I always thought stylistically it would be a good fight for me, and it proved to be the case on the night.”
After all of his hard work, Stephen Smith is now the mandatory challenger for Jose Pedraza’s IBF title. “I am hoping to have an announcement soon. I’m in a good position because I know that whatever happens, my next fight will be for the world title. I’m in a good place because I’m not like Amir Khan for example who is waiting around for Mayweather and Pacquiao, I definitely have that fight next. I’m not too worried because I know I will have my chance even if I have to wait a little bit longer. I think the fight could possibly be in February but that will be my next fight. I wanted to get back out after my last fight but the IBF have a rule that I would have to risk my mandatory position so it wasn’t worth it for me.”
As Swifty is under the guidance of Joe Gallagher, he was bound to know a lot about his future opponent. Pedraza’s recent victory over Edner Cherry was largely unimpressive to many people, including myself. “I wasn’t impressed to be honest. He performed well enough because I do think Cherry is a good fighter but it terms of himself I think he will be disappointed in himself. He is a good fighter and we didn’t see the best of him. If you judged him on his last fight then anybody that got in the ring with him would be in for a shock, so I won’t make that mistake. I have known him since the amateur days so I will be expecting the best Pedraza and I know what he is capable of. I know what I can do on my day, I believe styles make fights and I believe that I will be winning on the night.”
The conversation then moved away from his career and to the phenomenal gym that he is part of. Having three world champions (Scott Quigg, Liam Smith and Anthony Crolla) in the gym must be great for any fighter, especially those on the verge of the world scene. “It’s huge for them to be in the gym. They say success breeds success and it is certainly the case. Every time you go in the gym on a Monday one of the lads has had a good win at the weekend and it’s just a happy gym. You can see everybody improving and not being big headed about it, I think we all expected it. I always believed that my brother Liam would be world champion, I alway believed Scott Quigg would be a world champion and I always believed that Anthony Crolla would be a world champion. We are not surprised that we are doing well, but the biggest surprise is probably that we have lots of world title at the same time. My next fight is for the world title and Callum is ranked number one by the WBC so I’m very confident that we will all win belts. We could potentially have five world champions in the gym very soon.”
Joe Gallagher has been voted British trainer of the year, and has recently been listed for world honours amongst the great names such as Floyd Mayweather Snr and Peter Fury. “It’s massive to have Joe in the corner. He gets credit now from the lads in interviews and rightly so. He probably hasn’t had enough of it in the past. We know that he works tirelessly and he has got some stick in the past with people saying that he talks too much when he’s in front of the camera. He puts the work in so much so that he deserves an opinion from my point of view. Nobody knows boxing like he does, and the studying that he puts in about the opponents is phenomenal. He usually knows more about the opponents then we do! He is a good person to ask his opinion on fighter and we are lucky to have him in our corner because you get some people that are good trainers but not good corner men. I think Joe can win a fight for you from the corner and we are very lucky to have him in our corner.”
I thought it was only right that I ended the conversation with talk about his three brothers. I decide to ask how important it was to have three brothers that know how it feels to diet and then to get punched in the face! “I can’t speak highly enough of my brothers. They are honestly my biggest inspiration in the sport and everyday going to the gym it becomes a bit of a chore, but the fact that there is usually three of us in the car going to the gym takes the heat off you a little bit. That’s only a small thing but it’s things like that which help. Whether your preparing for a fight or dieting, chances are that one of my brothers is doing it or has gone through it, so I have always got someone to talk to about it to help me out. It’s a good thing rather than being the only one and wondering if you’re doing everything right.”
Then I asked the Million Dollar question. Do you enjoy watching your brothers fight or not? “I am the worst out of all of us. I hate watching my brothers. I can’t sit still when I am watching. It’s not nice seeing somebody take your brothers head off. For instance, in Callum’s last fight I told everybody that would listen that Callum would win and I was confident, but even when the bell went I was dodging shots from my seat! I still have the nerves inside me even though I knew he would win the fight but it was still nerve-racking.”
Favourite fighter growing up – Sugar Ray Leonard
Favourite glove – Everlast Power Lock
Best round you’ve ever seen – Ward-Gatti
Best fight you’ve ever seen – Barrera-Morales
First fight you ever went to – Shea Neary vs. Andy Holligan
Best punch you’ve ever received – When I was in the amateurs I boxed an Indian and it was the first punch of the round. He hit me with a straight right hand and I remember thinking in my head that I was going down. It was like a big bang and I thought I was on the way down, I didn’t but it must have been a hard shot for me to be thinking that.
Craziest thing you’ve seen in boxing – In the amateurs when Franke Gavin beat Selçuk Aydın in the amateurs, and he was running around hitting the referee and shouting at the judges.
Funniest personal moment in boxing – I don’t know! It’s not something you think of when you’re thinking about boxing!
Best fight you’ve seen live – Jamie Moore vs. Ryan Rhodes