An Interview With Unbeaten Lightweight Prospect Lewis Smith
By Oliver McManus
“About a year ago I hung my gloves up,” Lewis Smith told me with such calmness, such pragmatism. The reasoning behind his fifteen month absence was the most painful of circumstances that, understandably, led to complete loss of love for boxing.
“My grandad had a stroke and he passed away two and half weeks before my fight with Josh Thorne. I wasn’t in the gym for a week, for obvious reasons. I was three or four kilos over the weight with two weeks to go because I was just comforting myself and I was angry when I got in the ring with Josh.
We had the funeral on the Tuesday after and then I was in the gym, a week later. I just couldn’t get up for it, I was meant to be boxing in a six rounder about seven weeks afterwards but I had no motivation. I said to Alec (Wilkey, Smith’s trainer), ‘If I get in that ring I will be unfit, I will be angry and I will have a tear up because I am just resenting life right now.’
Alec and Lewis made the decision to withdraw from the scheduled contest with expectations of a temporary career break. As time progressed, boxing almost became a forgotten chapter for Smith.
“I grieved hard, I’ll be honest, I was drinking and getting smashed out my face on the alcohol. It took me until December to actually say “I miss boxing.” I was adamant, before then, that I was never going to box again because my Grandad was such a big part of that. When I gave it up, I completely gave it up, I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t watch it, I didn’t miss it. I was living my life and it was the best thing ever – to a point.
Then in December, I’m not sure what happened, but I just thought ‘I’ve had enough of this’ and needed to get back boxing. Now it’s the other way round and I don’t miss going out, drinking, because I know why I’m back and I know what I want from the sport.”
WIth a rediscovered fire in his belly, Smith will take on Ivan Godor over a scheduled four rounds this coming Saturday. The 25 year old was eager not to go back to the butterflies of his first professional fight.
“It was a bit weird because I didn’t know what to expect. Apart from the obvious, three minute rounds and smaller gloves, it was the unknown that got me nervous for it. I didn’t know where it was going because in the amateurs they’re always 50-50 contests more or less. There’s no real thing as a journeyman amateur. Of course people might take a step up and get found out but that’s as close as it gets.”
“You could tell from the first two rounds that I was very nervous. I wasn’t throwing much and Dylan wasn’t doing a lot for me to work with, if I’m honest. (In) the third and the fourth I started to look better but before I knew it the fight was over. It felt like a missed opportunity to show what I can do, I was quite annoyed, because I wasn’t able to move through the gears quick enough.”
Three months after the routine, rhythmic debut that saw Smith barely trickle from first gear, he was back in the ring for a second time against someone who, this time, was coming to knock the youngster down a peg or two.
“Josh Thorne was a completely different adversary. Looking at his record it was like “if he fancies it, I’m going to have a tough night”. Within the first five seconds he came over and threw a big looping left hand. I managed to get out the way and drop him with a hook. That surprised me as much as him, I think, and it riled him up.
It was a massive learning fight. When I’m relaxed and throw my shots in the moment, when I’m having to think, I can be quite dangerous. The set-up to that never happened in the gym, it’s not something you prepare for, but it showed I have actually got a bit about me. A lot of people will look at me think “cor, he’s a lanky fighter” so it was interesting to learn that about myself.
In the amateurs I’d given people eight counts but I’d never rocked anyone to the seat of their pants, as such.”
Basildon’s lightweight prospect looked back on that fight with boyish energy, telling me “It was hard not to get excited in the middle of the fight”. Thriving with the thrill of a fight, the experience is one Smith wants plenty more of.
“I enjoyed that fight. I look back on it and think ‘I should have done more’ because I wasn’t doing as much as it felt when I was in there. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though, to have someone landing clean shots on me and making me think about what I’m doing, it was massive.
I was in a huge rhythm against Dylan, a huge rhythm, but with Josh I was able to counter the punches he was throwing and it was easier for me to look good. Dylan came to get paid, he wasn’t offering those opportunities to counter against. I didn’t ever feel in trouble against him, I went into the third round and thought ‘ah, I’m okay here’. You want a little bit of fear, it keeps you on edge.”
After over a year out you’d forgive the eleven fight amateur (yes, eleven) for taking a few warm-up fights. Desperate to stray away from that Anthony Yarde model of career progression, Smith insists he has to put on a show this Saturday and then move immediately on to stiffer challenges.
“I’m viewing this as a debut of the new way I want to come out and fight, I need to put on a performance to keep bums on seats. It’s no good to me being another ‘motions’ fight, I need to use what’s good for me and entertain from range. Look, I’ll give him a false sense of security with all that and when I step inside, I’ll let the hands go and then we’ll see the make of the man.
When I first started, being professional was my title. I just really want to be in fifty-fifty fights as soon as possible. I look around in boxing and there are just too many people looking to get to 14-0 by beating journeyman. That might be alright for people that are pretending to be boxers but I’m not pretending. I don’t care if I have to be an underdog or go in the away corner, that’s what I want, what is the point of being a boxer if you’re not going to test yourself?”