Smith ready to light up New York
Stephen Smith has told Boxing Monthly that his 26 March IBF super-featherweight title fight against Puerto Rican Champion Jose Pedraza is likely headed to the Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“That's what I've heard but we are waiting on full confirmation soon,” said the 30-year-old former Commonwealth and two-weight British champion when speaking to BM from his home in Liverpool.
There had been some confusion late last week as to the exact date and location of the fight, with Puerto Rican based promoter Peter Rivera discussing the possibility of having Pedraza face his mandatory Smith on 20 February.
Pedraza is not promoted by Rivera of Puerto Rico Best Boxing but by Lou Dibella and Javier Bustillo leading to the confusion when a deal was done, prior to purse bids being called, for Pedraza and Smith to fight in New York on 26 March.
“I wish the promoters were a little more forthcoming about this, we were training for the 20 February,” said a less than impressed Luis Espada, the father and trainer of Pedraza, when speaking to Boxingscene.com.
“These things can happen in boxing,” Smith told BM in response. “He [Pedraza] had been training for the 20 February date but it has happened to me in the past and you just have to get on with it. I don't think it will effect him at all come fight night.”
A world title opportunity has long been touted for the talented Smith after capturing Commonwealth and British titles at 9st and 9st 4lbs; he was close to agreeing a fight with then WBC champion Takashi Miura in Japan before opting to pursue a different route.
“We'd been in negotiations with Miura's camp for a while,” said Smith. “I saw the emails that were going back and forth and it looked as though that was the way he were headed.
“I'd always been highly ranked by the WBC but then the IBF matched me in an eliminator so we sat down and looked at all the options. It was supposed to be me vs Romain Jacob in the IBF eliminator and Francisco Vargas [now WBC champion after beating Miura by ninth round stoppage in Las Vegas in a 2015 FOTY contender] in the WBC one.
“Everybody has seen how good a fighter Vargas is when he beat Miura and we felt as though that [Smith vs Vargas] was effectively a world title fight without the belt so we opted to go the IBF route. Romain Jacob pulled out of the fight and we got Devis Boschiero over here which worked out for the best.”
Smith proved to be levels above 34-year-old Boschiero when the pair met in September 2015 at the Liverpool Olympia and, roared on by his ever present siblings, 'Swifty' despatched his Italian foe in six rounds via a bunch of knockdowns. Now, after watching elder brother Paul fall short against Arthur Abraham on two occasions at 168lbs and brother Liam capture the vacant WBO super welterweight title against American John Thompson in October, it is Stephen's turn at world championship glory.
“I think Pedraza is a talented fighter,” said Smith. “As an amateur, he won a world silver medal and boxed at the Olympic Games, but as a pro he has done what has been asked of him and nothing more. The Cherry fight was very close and the win over Klimov, although it was a good win, wasn't very exciting.
“I think it's a very competitive fight and there are a few different ways that it could play out stylistically, too, with him being a switch hitter. Also, from my perspective, I can box on the front foot or off the back foot, tactics could play a big part in this fight.”
Located inside the world famous Madison Square Garden, the theatre holds between 2,000 and 5,600 spectators and, whilst neither Pedraza or Smith are massive global names, New York boasts a large Puerto Rican community meaning the atmosphere on fight night is likely to be buzzing with a diverse mix of Latin American flair and passionate Smith supporters making the trip over from England.
“I'm expecting a great atmosphere,” said Smith. “And not just from the Puerto Ricans in the crowd because I've had massive interest from people wanting to travel over for the fight, especially because it's in New York. My phone hasn't stopped ringing since the fight was announced.”
As a professional, Smith has fought exclusively at home in the UK since turning pro in 2008, save for a solitary and brief appearance in Germany in his fourteenth outing, but he has oodles of top class amateur experience and the calming influence of trainer Joe Gallagher to call upon should things get tough away from home against Pedraza.
“I boxed at a high level all over the world as an amateur, it doesn't bother me one bit being the away fighter, in fact it focuses the mind,” said a confident Smith.
“I can't be too over eager because as I said Pedraza is a good fighter and it would be silly of me to rush things just because I'm the away fighter. I've got the brains and boxing skills to do what I'm told on the night.”
Victory for 'Swifty' over Pedraza would cap a fantastic five month period for the Smith family after brother Liam's WBO title victory in October and big little brother Callum expected to make great strides in the super-middleweight division in 2016.
“It's an amazing time for our family with Liam becoming the first of us to win a world title and now I have a chance to do the same. Callum is ranked number one by the WBC at 168lbs, too. We're just enjoying things whilst we can because you never know in boxing how long the success will last.”
Photo copyright: Lawrence Lustig.