Sam Smith

Reece Macmillan
It can be a wide gap between the amateur and professional forms of boxing for any boxer, a gap that can take significant effort to bridge.  Imagine then when you first turn over that your coach is Paddy Fitzpatrick, a man who was in the corner for George Groves in his record setting fight with Carl Froch as well as his world title attempt in Las Vegas.  A man who has been there and done that in nearly all areas of the sport and has a phone book full to the brim with the top contacts in boxing, who at the drop of an (infamous) hat can call upon some of the biggest names in the sport.  For Sam Smith, this was what he was facing when he first stepped foot in the paid ranks of boxing.

“My old trainer introduced me to Paddy last January after they got talking at an amateur show” Sam tells me.  “He said he would have a look at me in his gym and invited me up that January. He wasn't taking anyone on at the time and then decided to take me on. We went from nothing really to suddenly I'm sparring George Groves and all these top pros!” he laughs, reflecting back on his entry into the deep end of boxing.

At 23 years of age the light heavyweight has already accumulated many years of experience in the sport.  As an amateur from ten years old and having over 45 amateur fights, Smith is someone who already knew his way around a boxing ring when it came to turning professional in 2015.  “I had a years break after the amateurs as I had a lot of injuries towards the end. There were also issues about weight as they got rid of my category so it was suddenly boxing at 81 or 91 kilograms, where I boxed at 85 so it was a big jump. I had the year out and decided to turn pro.”  Sio what was it that made him make the decision to try out as a professional?  “I used to get a lot of bad decisions and the amateurs wasn't really for me, I used it as a stepping stone. I always wanted to turn professional from an early age, I had just turned 22 and decided to turn pro even though it was a long process.

Smith describes how when he started at Fitzpatrick’s gym (read out piece with Paddy here ) it was “an apprenticeship”, a hard transition going from three rounds of sparring to suddenly eight or nine in a session.  “I’d never done eight rounds in my life” he chuckles.  “I'm very lucky to have such a good coach, plus the amount of people that he knows! He can phone up former world champions and have them come over, it helps you grow in confidence. For my first bout, even though I boxed a really tough journeyman I thought 'we'll I've sparred all these tough world champions and there's no way you're as good as them!'.  It gives you a good edge.”  Fitzpatrick’s gym in Swindon is now building into a stable.  It is not just Smith training there, he is kept company by the likes of heavyweight Luke Watkins and middleweight Eamonn O’Kane who recently lost his own world title eliminator out in the famous Madison Sqaure Garden in New York.  Sparring is also available with the likes of former world champions Nathan Cleverly and Enzo Maccarinelli, a daunting task for even seasoned professionals. 

No doubt the hard introduction to professional boxing has helped Smith out.  Two wins from two in the light heavyweight division and there are ambitious plans ahead.  “Our aim is to box for the British title in the next two years” says Smith when he looks down the pathway to the future.  So does that mean there are progressional steps he wants to take?  “Anything that comes up before that is great. We're aiming Southern area title, English then British and wherever it takes us. We would never look past the Southern area belt. You see a lot of fighters who jump into other fights. I want the Southern area and box ten rounds for that then defend it and start to move on to the English.”

Light heavyweight itself is not a packed division within the British scene.  A cursory look down the rankings shows Nathan Cleverly on top of the pile, then names such as Tom Baker and Callum Johnson populating the top ten.  In other words, it is an open division that can be seized upon by the right fighter.  It is something that Smith acknowledges.  “It's a deep division but not a great deal out there. You see people who have had seven or eight fights and next thing they're fighting for titles! Fair play to them. You can only beat what's put in front of you, like cruiserweight is a very shallow division and there aren't many names out there. I couldn't really name the top ten in the British rankings, only a handful.”
Unfortunately for Smith his opportunity to get in the ring this weekend was called off at short notice.  He is able to put into context the setback though and is realistic enough that providing all goes well in his career there are many years ahead for him.  “Yeah it got cancelled last moment, it was a pain. I went and met with my Manager and Paddy yesterday and he's given me a few days off now. We had a long camp for this even though I only boxed in February. We were still ready and sharp from that last fight for this one. I wanted to fight each month, the plan was to box February then. March then April but I've been told the April one isn't going ahead now so my next one will be in May. It's a long way but we are still in a good place.”
The ascension of Smith is well timed.  Boxing in Swindon is seeing a boom, less a resurrection and more a rising.  Along with promoter Keith Mayo, Paddy Fitzpatrick is aiming to put on a large number of shows over the next 12 months in the area.  As with all boxers making their mark though, one of the biggest issues for Smith is not getting teak tough for the ring but spending his time shifting troublesome tickets.  “Part of the problem is selling tickets too. You talk to someone about having your next fight and them buying a ticket and they look at you like an idiot when you say you're boxing again next month. I know it's expensive, it's not just the ticket it's getting there and the money on top of it as well. It's the hardest part tickets!” 

Tickets aside, there are plans to be busy for the rest of the year as he tells me.  “Our plan is to get as many learning fights as we can this year. If we can get in six this year I'll be happy. Last year I had issues with getting my licence, it took seven months in the end and I could have had one or two fights there! Paddy said to me to look at it as I've only just turned 23 and I've had two fights with my next in May. If we can get it to six this year I'm in a good place.”
There is a bright future for Smith, an open division and an unbeaten start to his professional career along with a good schooling in the amateur sport.  The fact that Fitzpatrick is in his corner bring both attention and potential for quality gym work.  For Smith, the key is staying busy and building his CV in the environment where he can learn best.