His overriding memories were of a cut in the first round knowing that he had to box smart for the remaining nine rounds of the fight.
The jab would control and fend off the oncoming efforts of unbeaten Italian Vincenzo Bevilacqua inside Glasgow’s Emirates Arena. The venue was becoming a bear pit as Lee McGregor and Kash Farooq were nearing the beginning of their bantamweight rivalry.
Kieran Smith had his hand raised in victory against Bevilacqua but felt a pinch of disappointment because he believed himself to be about excitement, particularly for the fans and felt disappointed he didn’t put on a ‘show’. That was the last time the Scot would fight in front of the paying public. That was smidgeon over 15 months ago.
The 27-year-old, nicknamed ‘Chopper’, has his first fight, since taking his record to (16-0, 7 KOs), on Friday night at York Hall. Old amateur foe (from 2015 when Smith narrowly lost) Troy Williamson will be opposite him when the pair throw down in a final eliminator for the British super welterweight title at York Hall, live on BT Sport.
“The full preparation of it probably. I love it,” said Smith telling Boxing Social about what he has specifically missed during his absence from the sport.
“There’s nothing else that really compares to it knowing that it’s just going to be you and somebody else and you’re gonna smash the hell out of each other for 10-12 rounds. It’s crazy. It’s not that there’s malice in it or you absolutely hate the person but we’re able to do it so easily and it comes naturally to want to knock somebody out. It’s the competition I’ve missed. I miss the edge of competition.”
Smith v Williamson looks like a tasty appetiser on a Frank Warren menu featuring the return of once rising star Ryan Garner, Michael Conlan v Ionut Baluta and Sunny Edwards’ first world title tilt when he challenges Moruti Mthalane for the IBF world flyweight title.
Smith’s time away from smashing ‘the hell out of each other’ may well bring the emergence of a more mature and settled fighter. The win against Bevilacqua extended his unbeaten slate but it taught him that using boxing’s fundamentals is smarter than having a war with another man.
“You’re not really proving anything then. You’re not proving you’re a classy boxer, okay you’re proving you’ve got a set of stones, but I think everyone in the boxing world knows I have that,” he says.
There is a familiar saying in life when someone or something departs your everyday routine: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. The preparation and competition, as Smith touched on, are just two of boxing’s facets that he has missed. He realises just how much it has been missed and of what exactly it can do to a fighter when it’s all gone, citing a British all-time great as an example.
“I remember reading about Ricky Hatton, and he had depression because he couldn’t let it go, because of the big nights and being used to the big highs and that’s what it is like. You start getting used to it and at my stage of my career the highs are only going to get higher. I’ve boxed nowhere near the level Ricky Hatton has boxed at but I’m still chasing those highs all the time. Then when you take that away from people, I’ve dealt with it pretty well, a lot don’t know how to deal with it.”
Since March 2020 there haven’t been many highs for anyone. Lives have been lost because of Covid-19, jobs have gone, routine has been disrupted and the normality we once had has been anything but that. Britain has adapted as best as it could. Working and teaching from home during lockdowns have become a norm. New challenges have been sought and the late Captain Tom Moore proved you’re never too old to get out and about, and in his case raise millions for charity.
Fighters have been forced to train at home, to think outside of the box using garden or home apparatus to assist them in newly formed training methods. Keeping themselves busy has been paramount for their fitness and sanity in the hope that the phone rings to be told they have a fight date.
And while the country is very slowly returning to a life, they left behind over a year ago Smith took some time to tell Boxing Social of his own remarkable, physical exploits from last year.
“It was a section of the West Highland Way,” he says of an endurance run he participated in late last year.
“I was running with an ultra-guy. It was the end of a training week and he messaged me. He was going to do some crazy race that got cancelled. So, he was training for that and said he was going to do a marathon in a section of the West Highland Way. He asked if I was interested in it. Told him I didn’t have much planned, so I agreed. He picked me up at half six in the morning. It was supposed to be 26 miles we were doing. We were going out 13 miles and 13 back and he said to me if you got to 15 and a half miles and we turn back he says that’ll be you done your first ultra-marathon. Fifty kilometres, that’s 31 miles. I felt fine so I said let’s do it, let’s keep going.”
Small compensation, perhaps, for that missing thrill of fight night. It can’t be replaced or replicated but for Smith it played a small part in reminding him of that competitive edge.
“Fighters are used to putting their body through hell. I was putting my body through hell in other ways like running up mountains, cycling mad distances, doing mad challenges and pushing myself to the limit in other ways. So, aye, a bit of compensation for it.”
The ‘cycling mad distances’ was a 200-mile trek indoors for a baby loss charity.
“It was 12 hours basically. If you can imagine going to a spin class and doing intervals for 12 hours, I did that. I did 172 miles around Glencoe with a professional cyclist one day last year too.”
We’re now talking about one of the fittest fighters on the boxing circuit right now. His 2020 efforts have provided a different type of fitness and stamina that will still prove valuable, should he need it come Friday night. But the one thing missing from the running and cycling has been the explosiveness, as Smith put it, of a fight camp and a fight night.
Smith has had an eight-week camp for the Williamson fight. There will be no excuses for him come fight night, he says. He is primed for the biggest fight of his career and is thankful that his time away hasn’t been rewarded by a meaningless eight-round affair which he would be heavily favoured to win with ease.
“I’m at that stage in my career now where I need to be kicking on if I want to do things in this sport. I’d be as well sparring if I was going to do a warm-up fight.”
Fights against Anthony Fowler and Kieron Conway had already fallen through for Smith before the Williamson opportunity arose. Setbacks are just part of the business.
“This sport’s a business at the end of the day and you’d be very naïve if you didn’t think business doesn’t come first and promoters making money doesn’t come first. You’ve got to keep going and keep pushing on until you push your name to the front.”
His name is nearing the front of the bulging domestic scene at super welterweight. A lot stands in his way and that begins with Williamson. From there a shot at British champion Ted Cheeseman could come later in the year or may come in the form of a vacant title. Eddie Hearn wants to pit two of his 154lb stars, Cheeseman and Anthony Fowler, against one another next. The winner will need to get a shifty on if they want to do business on the world scene. Smith believes Fowler would beat Cheeseman if the two fought but his focus is on Williamson and proving his belief that he can out-box him and showcase, in his opinion, a better skillset than his rival.
“I believe that this fight has got the makings of a cracker,” he says.
“I’ve improved so much as a fighter since I’ve been away whereas before I was always over eager. Everything was about pushing and working hard, getting fit, whereas now I’ve settled down, started listening. If I wasn’t smashing a bag as hard as I could I didn’t believe I was working hard. We’re working smarter and working on things a lot, lot better. I’m listening a lot more. There will be no excuses on my part come fight night.”