By Joseph McNally [Twitter: @joseph_mcnally]
Paul Smith is about to undertake the toughest fight of his professional career as he challenges super-middleweight king, Andre Ward this coming weekend in a comeback, catch-weight fight.
Smith is rightfully a huge underdog (some bookmakers are offering odds of up to 27/1 for the Liverpool man to pull off an upset) as he not only comes off back-to-back defeats at the hands of Arthur Abraham but he is also up against, arguably, the second best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
So why is Paul Smith such a heavy underdog? I believe there are many reasons which would immediately strike boxing fans if we were to think about the question in present day context however, my question is more angled towards why Paul Smith is not considered to be a top world-level fighter, a fighter regarded not necessarily as the best in his division but one who wouldn’t be out of his depth against any fighter within said division? A Jean Pascal for example.
If we cast our minds back to just over a decade ago people within British boxing were extremely excited to see the rise of future starlet Paul Smith as he emerged from an extremely close points decision loss to a certain Jean Pascal (see where I’m going with this?) in the final of the commonwealth games.
Smith was a stand-out amateur who’s style and power was thought to be ideally suited to the pros so, with a silver medal around his neck Smith turned professional under the guidance of the then promotionally dominant Frank Warren and racked up an unblemished, but probably under-tested, 20-0 record before attempting to make a name for himself Stateside. Smith participated in the second series of ‘The Contender’ during 2007 and things could have been quite different if he didn’t suffer a cut that meant he was able to manage just one fight (a points win over David Banks) before leaving the show on doctors orders. With fighters such as: Sam Soliman, Brian Vera and Sakio Bika all going on to benefit more substantially from the show than the more talented Smith, you have to feel a certain degree of misfortune for him.
Smith has returned to the UK after his stint in ‘The Contender’ and notched up a couple more victories including a TKO win over Cello Renda in 2008 for the English middleweight title. Unfortunately, Smith lost that title in his next outing – a quite forgettable fight against Steve Bendall. In stark contrast, Jean Pascal, who didn’t turn professional until 2005, steadily worked his way through the WBC rankings and in 2008 was about to embark on a challenge for the vacant WBC world title against Carl Froch.
Although Pascal would lose out to Froch in an absolute barnstormer, his stock rose dramatically and he has since captured a world title (at light heavyweight), been in numerous big money fights and has always given a good account of himself. Smith however, post the Bendall fight made what I believe to be the biggest mistake of his career. He moved up to super-middleweight.
There were obvious reasons for the move up in weight with a couple of local showdowns on the horizon which probably paid well and were against opponents who most people believed he would beat in a quite straight-forward fashion. However, although Smith won both fights with Tony Quigley and Tony Dodson, and picked up the Lonsdale belt along the way, the fights were harder than they should have been and we should have probably questioned at this point how he would fair when he stepped up in class at that weight. Smith did rightfully receive plaudits for overcoming some horrendous cuts during the Dodson fight.
Then came a controversial move from Frank Warren to pit his 8-0, (at the time) very uncharismatic Olympic gold medalist, James DeGale against Smith in what felt like a ‘out with the old, in with the new’ kind of move. Smith was thrown to the wolves by Warren and stopped for the first time in his career before spending the next three years trying to establish himself as the best super-middleweight in Britain. This wouldn’t be without a few more bumps along the way in the form of George Groves before a rematch with a previous local rival, Tony Dodson, which resulted in a second stint as British champion.
As mentioned earlier, Smith has recently suffered back-to-back defeats to WBO world champion where he did put in solid performances however, if I am to be critical of these two fights I would say that Abraham is a career middleweight who only seemed to move up in weight for his opportunity in the super-six tournament.
So, Paul Smith has had a lot high and lows throughout his professional career and in terms of comparison has not achieved the same level success as his former Commonwealth Games opponent however, if Smith was to somehow manage to overcome Andre Ward it would most certainly surpass Jean Pascal’s achievements. In-fact, it would likely be one of the biggest upsets caused by a British fighter… ever!