BOXING IS MY LIFE: JAMIE SMITH
Smith has no shortage of talent and skill, and, having watched his two-round demolition of Daniel Mendes last month, the boys at the top may have company soon, as the 6’3” shape of Smith starts to gain traction.
A classic orthodox fighter, Smith uses his long arms and natural power to bully his opponents, snapping their head back with sharp jabs and straights, before cornering them and unleashing his full ferocity. Southpaw Jab saw this first-hand at York Hall: as Smith cornered Mendes and blasted him away to claim the Southern Area Cruiserweight title, a fellow journalist leant across and muttered "I wouldn’t want to get hit by him."
Although a relatively latecomer to the sport (he started boxing at the age of 20, turning pro at 25) Smith is no stranger to the big leagues. Boxxer fans will remember his barnstorming televised fights earlier this year with Jack Fay and Ellis Zorro. Smith also enjoyed an endorsement from former unified cruiserweight champion David Haye, and he has sparred with elite heavyweights Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora. As Smith explains to Southpaw Jab, though, life as an up-and-coming boxer isn’t all trips to elite camps in the Algarve and promos on Sky:
"It is a challenge," he says, "It’s almost overwhelming when I actually stop, as I’m on the go all the time. I go for a run in the morning, have breakfast with the kids, go to work, then training afterwards, get home in time to put the kids to bed, and then perhaps have an hour with the missus, and then I do it all over again." Smith currently works full-time as a maintenance engineer. I try to change tack: what does Smith enjoy outside of boxing? Perhaps country walks, or jigsaws? Having interests is one thing, but having the time to enjoy them is another matter.
Despite the difficulties boxing brings, Smith clearly loves the sport and what it has given him. "I was a bit off-key when I was younger, getting in trouble and things like that,’ he says. ‘It was actually Kim who pushed me to try it, to give me an outlet for all my energy. She didn’t expect me to take to it so well!"
Smith started out in High Wycombe, getting carded as an amateur and winning medals at the Haringey Cup and the England Boxing Development Championships. When his long-time coach, Andy Gill, moved to Evolve Gym in Amersham, Smith decided to follow him there and take his boxing career to the next level as a pro.
After several early contests, Smith’s management team were approached by the organisers of the Boxxer cruiserweight series, and Smith grabbed the opportunity with both hands. "My manager Steve [Goodwin] mentioned it", says Smith, "and I’m happy to fight anyone. It was a good amount of money, and you’re also on the telly with Sky, being viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, so it was good to get the exposure and experience under the lights". Despite a record of just 3-0, Smith’s ability and pedigree meant he entered as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
Smith triumphed in his first fight against Jack Fay, finding his range in the second round to stop his opponent. He went on to face the wily, experienced Ellis Zorro- who went on to win the competition. Here, by Smith’s own admission, experience came into play: Zorro’s record at this point was 12-0, with 40 professional rounds under his belt. Smith, by contrast, had just 10. Zorro controlled the fight, using his speed and footwork to take a unanimous points decision.
"I reckon I was a bit too gung-ho," Smith says in hindsight, "I didn’t focus on my defence enough. The experience of Boxxer was great, but the whole concept of fight-rest-fight-rest is tough, and I didn’t give myself time to calm down between fights. Three rounds is tricky: I reckon I might have beat him if it had gone on longer."
The drama with Zorro might not be over just yet, however, thanks to the ever-shifting landscape of boxing: Luke Watkins has recently become the English Cruiserweight champion, and Chris Billam-Smith won an epic bout with Isaac Chamberlain to retain his British and Commonwealth titles. If Billam-Smith vacates and looks for a world title fight or eliminator, this could mean everyone moves up in the chain, and, as Southern Area champion, Smith could be first in line for a crack at the English title, and a certain someone might be sitting in the corner across from him.
"There’s nothing in place at the moment for my next fight," Smith says, "It’s a case of waiting to see what happens [with Watkins and Billam-Smith]. But I definitely want to challenge for the English belt, and it could potentially be a rematch with Zorro, there could be a real story there."
With more fights, rounds and victories now on his resumé, Smith is more confident, with more belief in his own ability and an increased focus on training making himself into a tricker, more elusive opponent. "We know the power will always be there," Smith says, "so instead I try to focus on technical fundamentals, creating those gaps and angles."
And what about his sons? Boxing often seems to run in families. Could they be destined for a fighting career like their father? Smith isn’t too sure. "I’m going to push them to try boxing in terms of fitness, self-confidence, self-belief," he says, "but I’m not sure I’d like them to fight, as it’s hardly a nice sport. If they want to, though, I’m not going to stop them."
So, the next time we see Jamie Smith in the ring, there could be an English championship on the line, but what about long-term goals? Could a move to heavyweight be on the cards, emulating one of his favourite boxers, hall-of-famer Evander Holyfield? "I’d 100% be interested in moving to heavyweight, I’ve got the frame for it," says Smith, "but I need to achieve some good things at cruiserweight first. I enjoy sparring heavyweights though, as they’re a bit easier to read. Of course, they punch hard, everyone punches hard, but I can use my speed and agility to make a difference."