Boxing: Smiths keep British titles in the family
Alan Hubbard talks to an extraordinary set of Liverpool brothers who have made history between the ropes
Sunday 06 October 2013
When the 25-year-old Liam Smith defeated Erick Ochieng to claim the vacant British light-middleweight title last week it completed a unique hat-trick of British championships for the Smith family – the first time in the 104-year history of the Lord Lonsdale Belt that three brothers have held the prized gold-and-porcelain trophy simultaneously.
His 28-year-old brother Stephen, the former featherweight champion, now has the super-featherweight belt, while the eldest sibling, Paul, 31, is the current super-middleweight champion.
The Boxing Board of Control secretary, Robert Smith – no relation – confirmed to The Independent on Sunday: "It is certainly unique in British boxing history. Not only is it a wonderful achievement but they are really nice lads, a credit to the sport and their family."
Remarkably, that family also happens to have another potential British champion back home in Liverpool. Unbeaten Callum Smith, at 23 the youngest of the scrapping Scousers, is already the English super-middleweight champion and hopes to fight for the full-blown British title, which Paul says he will vacate should he make a successful defence against Luke Blackledge in Liverpool on 7 December.
On what is billed as a historic night, boxing's band of brothers Paul (aka Smigga), Stephen (Swifty) and Liam (Beefy) are all due to defend their respective titles on the same bill at the Echo Arena, though there was a shock twist last week when Stephen claimed he is now in a contractual dispute with promoter Frank Warren, who manages all three. He announced that he had terminated their agreement, which came as a surprise to his brothers, and to Warren.
"Once again this seems to be a case of someone trying to tortuously interfere with existing agreements with my fighters," said Warren, who has lost several of his stable to other promoters (notably Eddie Hearn, who manages Callum Smith), including the WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns. "Stephen Smith is still under contract to me, as the Board of Control will confirm. A letter has been sent to his solicitors to this effect and the Liverpool show will go ahead as scheduled."
Should it do so, it will be trebles all round, with a packed house of family and friends – but one Smith who won't be there is their mother, Margaret. She resolutely refuses to watch any of her sons fight.
"She hates boxing," says Paul. "She came to see me fight once when I was 15, boxing for England as an amateur. I knocked out a Canadian kid in about 80 seconds and she ran to the toilet vomiting. People told her, 'It wasn't Paul who got knocked out.' But she said, 'I know, but there's a mother back in Canada waiting for a phone call and I know how she must feel.' " Since then Mrs Smith won't even watch them box on television. Instead she usually goes to bingo to take her mind off it, and has told them: "The happiest day of my life will be when you all retire."
Both Stephen and Liam were drawn into boxing by the success of Paul, the senior pro who is now making a name for himself as a sagacious ringside analyst with BoxNation and is very much the mentor for his younger brothers, regularly working in their corners.
Between them they boxed more than 150 times for England as amateurs. Stephen, Liam and Callum were the first siblings to win a trio of ABA titles, and Stephen (gold), Paul and Callum (both silver) were Commonwealth Games medallists too. Joe Gallagher, who trains all four in Manchester, says: "With Callum now winning the English title, there is simply no one to touch them as Britain's number one boxing family."
The triple crown is an achievement that has eluded other great boxing family threesomes, including the Turpins (Randolph, Dick and Jackie), the McKenzies (Duke, Clinton and Winston) and the Eubanks (Chris, Peter and Simon). Callum also made history of his own, becoming the first British boxer to win six successive fights by a first-round KO with his defeat of Patrick Mendy last month. Says Paul: "Potentially he is the best of all of us".
Despite their mum's disaffection with the sport, the family is steeped in boxing. "Our dad [Paul Snr] had some amateur bouts and we've always been brought up around boxing, as dad's brother and mum's granddad also boxed," says Paul, who is having a rewarding renaissance in his own 10-year pro career, regaining the vacant British title in June that he lost to James DeGale three years ago on a last-round stoppage.
"I was in a bad place when I lost to DeGale, both in my boxing and personal life," he admits. "But since I moved to Joe Gallagher I've never looked back."
There is also a poignant aspect to their ring appearances. Twelve-year-old Holly, the younger of their two sisters ,is autistic. The brothers have the word "autism" displayed on their shorts to raise awareness of the condition. "People don't really understand autism," says Paul. "Holly is a lovely girl but she can't speak or communicate. So in our own way we are fighting for her."
Paul Smith Super-middleweight. 31 today. 5ft 11in. 33 wins (19 KOs), three losses. Turned pro in 2003. Regained British title in June. Known as 'Smigga'.
Stephen Smith Super-featherweight. 28. 5ft 6in. 17 wins (10 KOs), one loss. Turned pro in 2008. Won British super-featherweight title in August. Known as 'Swifty'.
Liam Smith Light-middlewweight. 25. 5ft 9in. 15 wins (5 KOs), one draw. Turned pro 2008. Won title last week. Known as 'Beefy'.
Callum Smith Super-middleweight. 23. 6ft 3in. Turned pro in 2012. Undefeated in eight fights, last six by KO. Won English title last month.
The British title defences of the Smith brothers on 7 December will be live on BoxNation, Sky channel 437/Virgin 546; www.boxnation.com.
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