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Paul Smith: ‘I’m Happy To Admit I’m Wrong. It’s Partly the Upsets and Uncertainty That Makes the Sport So Special.’

15 Jan 2013

It should come as no surprise that former British super-middleweight king Paul Smith has emerged as one of the most articulate, insightful and opinionated authorities on domestic boxing.

The 30 year old Scouser got in plenty of early practice growing up alongside a house full of boxing brothers. Next eldest Stephen once reigned on the British and Commonwealth featherweight thrones. 'Our Liam' recently acquired the Commonwealth light-middle strap while youngest sibling Callum controversially missed out on a berth at the 2012 London Olympics.

Still active, and closing fast on a shot at regaining his former crown, 'Smigga' has lately drawn rave reviews for his roles both as an analyst and colour commentator with the BoxNation franchise.

Earlier this week, boxing writer Glynn Evans called up the personable 'Real Gone Kid' to discuss his blossoming media career.

How did opportunities to work in the boxing media first come to fruition?

We actually had media lessons when I was part of England's 2002 Commonwealth Games squad!

I started out doing a weekly guest slot on City Radio and some work as a 'celebrity' fan on LiverpoolFCTV.

Then I did a few Ringside shows with Adam Smith on Sky Sports which apparently got good feedback. One involving Matt Macklin, Ricky Hatton, and myself was particularly well received.

I prefer the live stuff where there's no rehearsals or revised stuff and you just talk freely. I'd struggle to present and do the auto cue stuff. I've always been able to talk the hind legs off a donkey regarding boxing. Macklin and I used to 'flat' together. He's a brilliant talker and we'd stay up till 4 a.m talking boxing and shit.

Then, within a week of my stoppage loss to George Groves (November 2011), when I was awaiting an operation on my hand, Jim Bentley (BoxNation producer) approached me to cover the Ovill McKenzie-Jeff Evans Commonwealth light-heavyweight title fight in Halifax. It gave me a chance to get out and about again, show I wasn't wallowing after my defeat. I think I did okay and it snowballed from there.

In fact, I must be doing okay. On twitter, plenty tell me to quit fighting and focus on media work. No one yet has told me to quit media work and concentrate on the fighting!

What was your opinion of commentators and the media when you were fighting yourself?

I remember as a young pro the first thing I'd want to do after a fight would be to watch the re-run and hear advice from experts on what they'd like to see you do. Then you'd have to listen to commentators who'd never had a glove on criticising and slagging off talented young kids who were trying their damndest to carve a name for themselves in the sport. It must be heartbreaking for them.

You want to hear constructive advice and, in that regard, (ESPN analyst) Teddy Atlas, is probably the best in the business. When you hear something constructive you go the gym the next day with a real spring in your step.

When I'm commentating now, mentioning no names, I think what would x be saying now, then do the opposite! One commentator recently called Victor Ortiz a 'coward' because he couldn't continue when his jaw was broken?!

As a fighter yourself, what specifically do you feel you can add to a broadcast or commentary?

Firstly, I've got to stress that I'd be lost without (chief commentator) John Rawling who always keeps the dialogue flowing.

But I've been there and done it. I'd like to think I add the technical expertise. I think if you've done it yourself, you can interpret better what the fighter might be thinking as a fight gets harder 'cos you'll have been in the same position.

If they ease off, you can probably detect whether it's because the fighter isn't fit or whether its part of his structured game plan. We've a better sense of when a kid is hurt because, to the lay man, boxers disguise that very well. Because of my experience, I've been in most situations.

I think it's significant that, not only have I boxed, but that I'm still active today. Just as with football, the game has changed a lot since the 1990s, never mind the 70s when some ex fighters who commentate were at it.

Paul Smith action

Paul Smith in action action tommy Tolan, Liverpool, November 2012

What new skills did you need to acquire? What did you find particularly difficult?

Getting people to understand my Scouse accent, without trying to lose it. I consciously speak slower and try to finish off all me words! The Mancs probably don't like listening to me. Eventually viewers warm to it, hopefully. Initially I found Enzo (Maccarrinelli) very difficult to understand but your ear soon tunes in. Hopefully it's not a barrier.

How have the BoxNation team you work with helped and supported you?

Firstly, I have to thank (producer) Jim Bentley for providing me with regular work. Jim's always my 'go to' person, who smooths my passage and is always at the end of the (phone)line for advice; and always returns your calls or texts.

He's a real unsung hero, he works such long hours. He's a great fella, a good northern lad who really knows his boxing.

John Rawling is always 'spot on' as well. He's my lifeline. He always gives me leeway to say what I need to say and always tees it up nicely for me to get me input in. We feed off each other well and I like him a lot personally.

What research do you do to prepare for a show?

Honestly, all I do is find out who is fighting and make sure that I can pronounce their names accurately. I like to do it as natural as I can without too much prior knowledge, then judge them from the first bell. That way, my opinion isn't swayed.

I see all the facts and stats as more John Rawling's role and he's definitely one of the best in the business.

That said, I was a real anorak growing up. There are photos of me as young as six or seven, reading the 'Boxing News' and I've always been keen to discuss and analyse the sport with trainers like Billy Graham and Joe Gallagher, and boxers like Macklin and Ricky Hatton. All very knowledgeable boxing men.

What's your routine on the evening of a show?

I always time it wrong and arrive late. Jim (Bentley)'s emails read: 'Live on air 18.45....Paul Smith to arrive 18.47!' But I always get stopped by the security guards who run all the shows and like to say 'Hello', plus all the boxers in the building which delays me getting to my seat on time. But, once there, I can get stuck in straight away.

If it's a great night, it takes a while to come down afterwards. In Munich after Klitschko-Chisora, I had police knocking on my hotel door in the early hours looking for David Haye!

What's the best bit about the job?

The best bit is simply being at the fights, getting well paid for what is a labour of love, something I've done for pleasure since I was eight years old.

For some fights I've worked on, I'd have actually paid for a ticket, yet get the best seat in the house for free. You wouldn't believe how close I was for Dereck Chisora-Vitali Klitschko. Virtually touching the ring!

What would be the best fight that you've commentated on? Who would be the best fighter?

Best fight was probably Vitali Klitschko against Dereck Chisora in Munich, as much for the event as the fight itself, although the fight was very good. I know what happened before and after didn't portray the sport in the best light but it was one of them, when you like to say: 'I was there, I saw it!'

Everybody wrote Dereck off beforehand but he gave a great account of himself, took everything thrown at him. To cap it all off, them Germans really know how to put a show together, with the music, lights and ring entrances. It was like a rock 'n' roll show. The atmosphere was fantastic. I really loved it.

The best fighter is probably David Haye, who I commentated on for his fight with Dereck (Chisora) before 30,000 at Upton Park. David had been on the England Commonwealth Games team with me for Manchester 2002 so it was a bit surreal.

Reu _1478787

Chisora vs Klitschko in Febraury 2012

Being so active within the boxing community, and given that you are still competing yourself, is it hard to remain objective when providing commentary and analysis?

It can be, yeah. The worst part is when it's a kid you know personally, and they're not performing as well as you know they're capable of. You have to be professional and call it as you see it, but it's not nice.

(Journeyman) Lee Noble once pulled me on Twitter to complain because I said he had 'a head like a coconut'! It was meant as a complement. Equally, you get fighters coming up and thanking you if you've been positive and complimentary about them. John Thain recently told me his mum was delighted about what I'd said about him. That was nice.

People forget I'm just employed to give my professional opinion. One thing I will say is that, if I'm proved totally wrong, I'm happy to admit it. For Burns-Mitchell, both are very good fighters and great lads who I like a lot. But I was quite confident Kevin would win. I'd been a big, big fan since I say him knock a kid out when he was a 32 kilo eleven year old in a schoolboy final.

But I got it wrong... badly! Sometimes, it's nice to be surprised. It's partly the upsets and uncertainty that makes the sport so special.

How would you like to develop your career in the media in future?

I really enjoy both the commentary and the punditry that I do at present but I'd love to have a job similar to what Johnny Nelson does at Sky Sports. Trouble is, there are so many capable of doing it and so few positions. I'm not one for treading on toes so you just have to wait in line until hopefully you're asked.

I'm a regular studio guest on both Sky and BoxNation and have to give a big thank you out to both Frank Warren and Adam Smith for allowing me to work on both channels. I've great relationships with both, and always remain impartial, down the middle.

In your opinion, how healthy is British boxing at present?

Very healthy. There's several cracking fights waiting to be made at British level that all fans would love to see; namely David Price v Tyson Fury, Amir Khan v Kell Brook and Scott Quigg v Carl Frampton.

The changes that are happening in amateur boxing with the World Series Boxing and the return to three-threes and smaller gloves could benefit pro boxing down the line as it won't be such a shock to the top kids when they turn over.

Equally, if they're continually gassing their balls in hard training camps on the national squads in Sheffield and engaging in long, hard amateur careers, how much will they have left? It remains to be seen. We'll have to reserve judgement.

Generally, though, I believe boxing is still in great health.

Name one prospect for BoxNation viewers to follow in 2013.

If not our Liam (his brother, the reigning Commonwealth light-middle champion), I'd go with Mitchell Smith. I love his attitude. He genuinely couldn't give a shit who the opponent was, just like Tyson. He shows 'em no respect. He's also naturally relaxed and has a good rhythm. If he continues to train right, he could go a long, long way.

Mitchell Smith2

Mitchell Smith knocks down Igor Tsujev at the ExCel London, December 2012

Finally, what are your hobbies away from boxing?

I've a little bulldog that's got some puppies and I still get over Liverpool (FC) as much as I can, but my real love is racing pigeons. It's nice and warm down in me shed. Very relaxing!

 

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