In a sport which has been at times infamous for it's sportsmen picking and choosing their opponents to suit their own agenda it is refreshing when boxers such as Paul Smith Jr get the credit they deserve when fighting the best in their weight. Yet, in his most recent endeavour to not duck a fight of great proportion, Smith has ended up receiving some criticism from a minority of boxing fans. Is it deserved criticism, or, is he doing what so few are prepared to do in the sport?
Domestically, it has been a decent career for Smith with only the three blemishes to his record prior to 2014; one by points and two by TKO. Whilst they were individually, and collectively, disappointing losses, Smith would have been delighted at the opportunity that swung his way some three years later. It presented itself in the formidable stature of Arthur Abraham and his WBO Super Middleweight title.
Whilst Abraham himself didn't have a clean record, suffering four losses; one contentious disqualification, two unanimously and only the one TKO. Despite this, Abraham was regarded as a real step up in class for Smith, especially as Smith had accepted to take the fight in Germany. Not only was he accepting a fight many had written him off for before they'd entered the ring, he'd accepted fighting a German, in Germany...and we all know how the old cliché goes there. Smith was unsurprisingly but harshly outscored by the judges. It caused something of a small uproar ringside but more so to Smith and his corner - especially an irate Eddie Hearn.
Whether you felt the first bout was fair or not, Smith got the rematch that his performance thoroughly deserved. Again, he would try to tackle Abraham in Germany for the WBO Super Middleweight title. This time it was a much more refined display from Abraham, who won again on points, this time, to no bitterness in the result.
After two unsuccessful bouts in Germany which have won Smith a lot of respect as well as some more fans - Smith will now be going to the USA to fight Andre Ward on June 20th.
"I’ve had a little bit of stick but what do you want me to do? The people that say I’m stupid for taking the fight are the stupid ones who wouldn’t take it."
Paul Smith's column on SkySports
However, after the announcement that the fight had been arranged many boxing fans took to belittling Smith. The reasons including that he's now just fighting such names (Ward and previously Abraham) purely for the money, also, questioning why is he fighting people a level above him. One thing this writer will always look for in boxers is those that are willing to go above and beyond. Not, just 'play it safe' which is, as touched on, something which greatly hampers the sport at times.
The cynics will claim from the Ward perspective that this is a perfect fight for the American considering he hasn't fought for a lengthy period and Smith is not necessarily at his 'level'. That in itself does Smith a disservice. He is by no means a 'bum' fighter just looking for a paycheque. Sure, Smith may look at this and think of the money involved but since stepping up with his first fight against Abraham why shouldn't he enjoy the money these bigger fights are granting him? His performances in the ring warranted him the Abraham rematch and his performance in both of those highlighted him as a good match for Ward. Someone who is new to this level of boxing against someone who is very comfortable at this level. Considering how long Ward has been out of the ring for, it's exactly why someone a step below him has been targeted.
People were quick to disregard Smith as a challenger for Abraham but he proved everyone wrong. In the press Smith remains humble and plays down his chances but whose to say he won't come over to the States and give Ward more than he and his corner are anticipating?
They say lightning doesn't strike twice but Smith has got a taste for this level of boxing now and he will just want to enjoy it whilst the opportunities present themselves.