Smith will embark on another voyage of discovery at the Utilita Arena tomorrow night, ahead of his battle with Sam O’Maison for the vacant British super light-weight title. An intriguing contest, not least because it brings together two Sheffield fighters apparently on opposite sides of the city’s footballing divide – “Red versus blue,” Smith, a passionate Wednesday supporter, hints following this week’s media workout near United’s home ground – the bout has been portrayed as a contest between two concussive punchers.
Both men can bang, with O’Maison known to carry deceptive power despite knocking out only a third of his previous opponents. But even though all but two of Smith’s first 11 outings have failed to go the distance, the 25-year-old knows brute force only takes you so far.
Boxing is called the hurt business for very good reason. However, listening to Smith explain what will be going through his head once the first bell rings and he begins stalking O’Maison across the canvas, serves as a reminder it is an extremely cerebral one too. A sport which not only takes its followers into some extremely dark places but also requires them to complete complex geometric calculations and possesses in depth understanding of their own psyches.
“Anyone can get in there and throw bombs,” says Smith, who has won all of his 11 outings as a professional so far. “You’ve got to be able to use your brain, that’s the really important part and it’s the bits lots of people never really see or get.
“Boxing is all about physics and timing. It’s about knowing angles and how you can use them to your advantage. But most of all, it’s about understanding and knowing yourself.”
“The fight can sometimes be the easy part,” he continues, determined to emphasize that point. “The hardest part can be the battle in your head. You’ve got to be present in yourself. Be prepared to work on things and learn all about your own mind. Split second decisions can change the course of a fight, we’ve all seen it and those of us who do it or have done it before in the past know from experience.
“The key bit though, the part that brings it all together, is being able to control your own emotions.”
Smith began that process at the start of his training camp, imagining what it will be like to compete in Sheffield for the first time since entering the paid ranks.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of eyes on me. That’s fine, it doesn’t bother me. So when I’m sitting there in the dressing room beforehand, it’s not going to be a distraction. Everything will be right. I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been in touch with how my brain works in situations like this. I can detach myself from everything else that doesn’t really matter and focus purely on what does.”
“I’m not superstitious but I’ve got my own little breathing methods that I go through in the dressing room, a bit of meditation and stuff like that. You know when to flick the switch.
“I’m able to stay calm through fight week because I don’t think about the fight much. Thoughts, they don’t change what’s going to happen in there.”
One of the bright young stars in the Matchroom and DAZN stable, Smith has some big muscle behind him and even bigger ideas. “I want to win world titles and along the way, pick up the other belts.” Refreshingly, he wants to take a traditional route towards the pinnacle of his game. Beating O’Maison would see him follow in the footsteps of Dave Boy Green, Clinton McKenzie, Junior Witter and Curtis Woodhouse, who have also worn a Lonsdale belt in the 63.5kg category.
“This is a prestigious honour, look at the people who have won it before, never look down on the British title,” Smith says. “I want to create my own legacy on the sport and this is one way of doing it.
“I’ve won English titles, a couple of internationals, and now it’s time for this one. I’d love to win the belt outright, but my business team might take me in a different direction. Don’t get me wrong, of course I want to make as much as possible for my future and family. But people don’t remember bank accounts, they remember titles like this. I’m a great believer in the fact that you shouldn’t go chasing the money. If you do well, then the money will eventually find you. If you follow the bucks, you’re going to come unstuck. I’ve got years ahead of me.”
Eventually, Smith wants to be headlining shows at his beloved Hillsborough – competing against the very best the division has to offer. But before any of that is possible, he must overcome O’Maison; a fighter Smith knows, likes and respects.
“Definitely, we certainly have that for each other,” he says, detailing how they have “shared a couple of rounds” of sparring over the years. “There’s no bad blood but we’re both going for something that we desperately want. We can be mates before, knock seven bells of crap out of each other and then be friends again afterwards. That’s why there’s no sport like boxing.”