Smith on the right path

Terry Dooley
05/09/2015 10:15am

When Margaret Smith described one son as the most “streetwise” of her four fighting offspring, the matriarch of the Smith family was understating the concerns the family had over their third boy when he got in with the wrong crowd as a youngster. “I was a tearaway,” Liam Smith (20-0-1, 10 early) told Boxing Monthly. “I’d be throwing stones at taxis, getting brought home by the police and thinking it was funny. I was going the wrong way.

“The others would be in the gym from 4.30 to 7.30, so that kept them busy. I’d come home from school as quick as I could, not have any tea and go straight out on the streets or into town when I got older.

“If I’d have stayed on that path, I would have ended up drinking and smoking weed like my mates did. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging them, they work hard five days a week and like to take drugs on the weekend when they’re on the ale - ninety percent of the British public does that.”

The family decided to move away from Kirkdale - a working-class area of Liverpool - in the hope of arresting his descent into the type of behaviour that drags down too many inner-city youths. 

“I’m proud of where I come from, but something needed to be done,” admitted the 26-year-old British light-middleweight and former Commonwealth titlist. “I had a cob on for about two-years after we moved. I didn’t want to do it. I understand it now. We moved to a nice area, a nice house, but I wanted to be back there. It killed me.”

It is already shaping up into the old tale of ‘Boxing saves a young man from a life of crime’, only boxing was not Smith’s first option. “Beefy” was a promising footballer as a youngster and despite going to the boxing gym as a kid, he only came back to the sport when it became clear that he was not going to forge a career in football.

“I still play football now - Saturday and Sunday league - and I love it,” he said, although Joe Gallagher, his trainer, told me he would prefer it if Smith spent his weekends resting and not risking injury.

“I enjoy it, but it was hard to give up the dream of being a professional - I’m just not as good as football as I am at boxing so maybe I’m meant to be in boxing,” he admitted.

When he went back to the Rotunda ABC, however, he was adamant about one thing when speaking to the late Jimmy Albertina about his return. Telling the amateur coach that he would not diet and: “Was not going to eat pasta!”

The professional game eventually came calling, as did healthy eating, although it took him a while to make the transition. He said: “It is a massive change. I can’t watch those early fights. I’m not the same fighter.”

A draw against Terry Carruthers in 2010 left a blot on his record and tears in his eyes; the 2008 ABA light-welterweight champion openly admits that he considered it as bad a result as a loss.

“It wasn’t about my style, it was being scared of head clashes, because you don’t have the head guard, so I’d throw a one-two then a body shot and try to get out of there. Now I’ll stay inside and feel comfortable. I was too negative then.”

Many within the trade expected Smith to follow his brothers to Matchroom when Callum turned professional with Eddie Hearn and Stephen and Paul left Frank Warren to join their brother.

Liam, though, said that he was “his own man” when signing a new deal with Warren. Things are rarely cordial when changes occur in boxing; Smith has had a difficult time of it since his brothers moved on.

“You’ve got my brothers saying things about him, Frank’s having digs at them and I have to listen to it or read it all - it is hard. It just seems to be a problem and one I have to deal with. If someone slags my brothers I’m going to have something to say and if someone slags Frank to my face I’m going to have something to say. It’s been stressful.”

The Smiths' “Fighting family” story is great for fans and pundits alike. They are also fighters and individuals in their own right. Liam’s decision to stay with Warren underlined this and the four fighters have started to break away from the pack in recent years whilst retaining their brotherly bond.

Not to mention that the assumption that Smith would jump ship just because his brothers had implies that he is not his own man. “Exactly,” he said when this was put to him.

“I never had a reason to leave Frank. I’m my own person, so we sat down and I was happy with what he offered.”

With the familial bond still as strong as ever, fights nights are stressful occasions for the brothers who are left outside the ring. Watching his siblings fight is like a rollercoaster for Smith; he becomes just another onlooker.

“I was more nervous for Paul’s fight (against Andre Ward) than I was for my own fights,” revealed Smith. “I can control what happens when I fight. I don’t have control when Paul and my brothers do. It is hard. It is the worst thing in the world.”

All four brothers have ‘Autism’ adorned on their shorts; they have a sister, Holly, who has Autism and always try to raise awareness of the condition, which requires around-the-clock care in many cases. Their mother looks after their youngest sister, who does not know that she is part of a famous fighting family.

“Due to her Autism, Holly doesn’t know anything about our careers or that we’re known locally,” said Smith. “All she knows is that she’s got four brothers who shower her with hugs and love her.

“My mum cares for her 24-7, so we clubbed together to get her over to Turkey, where we have family, because my mum works very hard. People don’t realise how hard it is to look after someone with Autism. I wouldn’t have realised if I wasn’t living with someone who has it. It is a hard job for a parent. It’s good that we can take our mum away to give her a break.”

Smith fights for the WBO light-middleweight title on 10 October. He meets America's John Thompson on a Frank Warren-promoted show at the Manchester Arena for the belt vacated by Demetrius Andrade. It means that he could steal a march on his other brothers by becoming his family's first world titlist, not bad for a self-confessed tearaway who, truth be told, would prefer to kick a ball around football pitches for a living rather than battering someone around the ring.