Friday, February 03, 2023  |


Paul Smith: “I need to make Arthur Abraham respect me”

Paul Smith (left) in action with Jamie Ambler at ExCel on Dec. 14, 2013 in London, England. Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Paul Smith (left) in action with Jamie Ambler at ExCel on Dec. 14, 2013 in London, England. Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images


The stakes rise significantly for Paul Smith, from Liverpool, England, on Saturday night when he faces “King” Arthur Abraham for the WBO super middleweight title. Written off by experts and odds makers, this immensely popular 31 year old is a two-time British champion who has ventured to Germany in the hope of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in world boxing.

Smith (35-3, 20 knockouts) makes up one quarter of the most famous fighting family on British shores. His brothers (Stephen, Liam and Callum) are all highly touted professionals within their respective divisions and Paul, the eldest, is the first to receive a world title opportunity.

Personable, articulate, and dedicated to his craft, Smith has overcome heart breaking losses and serious injury to reach this point and, as a result, has no intention of simply making up the numbers. Some fighters expect an easy time, but the battle hardened Smith facing off against a hard hitting and relentless warrior like Abraham (rated No. 2 by THE RING at 168 pounds) is almost fitting.

Promoter Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing have worked extremely hard to secure a world title shot for Smith and one of Britain’s most successful trainers, Joe Gallagher, has been working him to the bone at his Manchester gym. Many critics have said that Smith hasn’t earned his chance, and they have a case, but that has made the Englishman even more determined to seize the moment.

Ring spoke to an extremely confident challenger about his date with destiny. Less than two weeks until your first world title fight. Did you ever lose hope of securing a title shot in your career?

Paul Smith: When I woke up in hospital, a week after the George Groves fight, with a rod sticking out of my right hand I thought it might be the end. I’d broken my hand in the first round and got stopped in the second by a punch I’d never been caught with before in my career. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong and it was hard to pick myself up from that. I’d already come back after the loss to James DeGale, and some problems at home, so I knew what was required of me. Gradually, over time, I began to realize that I had something left and after spending time with Joe (Gallagher) and the lads in the gym I got the bug back. I got stuck into training and had the ideal team around me to get back to business.


RTV: You’ve only had four fights in three years. Have you made up for that with the quantity of sparring you’ve had?

PS: Yes, definitely. It’s not like I just got the Abraham fight and started training from scratch. My camp has lasted 12 weeks, but I’ve barely been out of the gym for 12 months. I’ve been to the Wildcard (Boxing Club) in Los Angeles three times, completed loads of quality sparring and I’ve had a couple of fights as well. I’ll be more than ready for Sept. 27.


RTV: You will have had an eye on Abraham for years. What are his strengths and weaknesses, in your opinion?

PS: Abraham’s physical strength is his main asset and he’s a big puncher. He’s also good defensively and can be very hard to break down. With that said, there are weaknesses and he’s open for some of my favorite shots. His appetite for the game is another thing I’ll be looking to test. Does he really want it anymore? Arthur Abraham is wealthy, successful and he’s won world titles at two weights. Does he still want to go to the well? He seems to complain a lot during fights these days and acts like a spoilt brat. I want to force him to question his own desire in this fight, because I’m the one coming with the hunger. I’ll feel the same way he did the first time he fought for a world title.


RTV: The word is that Abraham’s power hasn’t come up to 168 pounds. Are you buying into that or is he as dangerous as ever?

PS: Yes, I watched the Jermain Taylor fight today and you couldn’t tell him that Abraham can’t hit at super middleweight. Abraham won that fight in the final round, so he definitely still packs a punch at 168 pounds. At middleweight he may have been a bit more explosive, but he’s still dangerous. I also want to see if my own power comes up to this level. This is a world title fight and, while it’s okay being a banger at the lower levels, you have to bring the power up with you. Abraham is a very strong man but I know I can capitalize on some of the mistakes he makes and, let’s not forget, it’s not only power that hurts you. The punch that George Groves caught me with wasn’t the most powerful of shots, but I didn’t see it coming and it was the speed that got me. The next thing I knew I was trying to beat the count. Boxing isn’t only about brute strength and power.


RTV: Abraham can be out boxed. He was outclassed by Dirrell, prior to the DQ, and both Froch and Ward won wide decisions. People will be expecting you to box intelligently, with an air of caution. Is that the plan or do you have one or two surprises that Abraham won’t be expecting?

PS: I need to make Arthur Abraham respect me, first and foremost. The way to beat Abraham is to outbox him and I have quality amateur experience, counter punching skills and I can fight effectively off the back foot. Those things will be useful against Abraham and I believe our game plan will work very well on the night, but I can’t win by just going backwards. I’ll be making adjustments, but I need to get Abraham’s respect or he’ll try and walk straight through me. If you can’t keep an opponent off, it doesn’t matter how good you are, they’ll just keep coming. Eventually you’ll get worn down, so it’s important that you have the punching power to keep them honest. I’ve known that since I started boxing and every trainer has reinforced it: Billy Graham, George Vaughan, Buddy McGirt and Joe (Gallagher).


RTV: You’re fighting abroad for the first time since you appeared on The Contender seven years ago. Do you like the idea of entering the lion’s den for this one?

PS: I’m looking forward to it. Big fights are like concerts in Germany and they make for a terrific spectacle. It’s not like a wild Ricky Burns crowd in Scotland, or Carl Frampton in Belfast, or the Liverpool fans for me. I don’t really view it as entering the lion’s den in that respect because the atmosphere is totally different, plus the 500 fans I’ll be bringing will make plenty of noise in that arena.


RTV: Joe Gallagher is known for encouraging his fighters to diligently study the opposition. What orders has he given you?

PS: The fight I’m watching most is Abraham versus Andre Ward. I’m not saying I’m anything like Ward, but Abraham was at his very best that night and gave it everything. I’ve only watched the Carl Froch fight once because, even though that was a great game plan, Carl and I are totally different when it comes to delivering shots. For example, he throws his jab from the hip and does a lot of things that only work for him. Carl is obviously a great world champion, but there is more than one way to skin a cat.


RTV: What has the atmosphere been like in the gym?

PS: It’s been quiet because Scott Quigg, Anthony Crolla and Scott Cardle all fought recently, so they haven’t been in. It’s just been me, my brothers, Matthew Macklin and some of the sparring partners. Overall, it’s been a terrific atmosphere in camp and we’re a lot more excited after watching Quigg and the other lads. My fight is coming soon and I’m just trying to make the most of the hard graft now.

RTV: The timing on Kell Brook winning a world title, away from home, couldn’t have been better for you. That must have been a source of real inspiration as Kell was an underdog against Shawn Porter?

PS: Yeah, I’m more of an underdog than Kell was but not many people fancied him to beat Porter. Despite those odds he went over to the US, boxed out of his skin, did what was required and he’s world champion. Full credit to him and I was absolutely delighted that he pulled it off. I’m also over the moon for Carl Frampton and it’s great to see these world titles coming back to Britain. Hopefully I can add another name to that list because all I’ve ever wanted is to be a world champion and make my family proud.


RTV: What would victory mean to you and the family?

PS: A victory would mean everything. With me being the eldest, I’ve always led the way. I’m not talking about being first, that doesn’t matter, but winning a world title would give my brothers that extra bit of belief, and hopefully that would start a nice domino effect. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.


Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing