Paul Smith tries to upset the apple cart against Andre Ward

June 19, 2015

PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos/Roc Nation Sports

Oakland, Calif. -- It is 11:50 am on Wednesday, and Paul Smith sits with his hands folded in front of Oakland City Hall.  He taps his sneakers accented with hints of neon green on the steps of the amphitheater.  It’s only three days before his third consecutive world title fight, but the veteran contender (35-5, 20 KO's) says he couldn’t be more relaxed as he prepares for his bout against boxing star Andre Ward.

“I’m in his town, he’s got the crowd, the judges know it . . . I expect him to be cagey,” said Smith.  “I’ve got nothing to lose, the pressure is on Andre Ward, he’s got to win and win spectacularly.”

Smith commented that he hopes Ward will feel that pressure and make this a “real fight.”

A few curious fans enter the amphitheater for the press conference, many are wearing Golden State Warriors gear, as its been one day since they won their first championship in 40 years.

Smith goes by the nicknames "Real Gone Game" and "Smigga," the latter of which is incomprehensible to an American fight fan, the former slightly less so. Andre Ward goes by "S.O.G.," an acronym for Son of God.

Smith believes there is a difference between the ways fight fans in different countries view the sport.

“There really is a difference in the U.K," said Smith.  "The culture is really different, you go to the fight and you’re really into it, the fans are hanging on every punch, the fans have a few pints during the fight, and maybe one on your way there.  On the continent, you know in Germany, it’s a different atmosphere as well, a man and his wife dressed up for the evening.”

Smith explained that in the U.S there is an entirely different crowd.

“With the Yanks it’s a different atmosphere . . . (I mean nothing by Yank) maybe Americans are sometimes a little spoiled because there are so many great American fighters here," said Smith.  "While we in the U.K. have to appreciate what we have and really get behind our fighters.”

He spends a minute or two discussing the most popular British fighter of recent memory, Ricky Hatton, who will “be mobbed in the U.K. and will always be mobbed, we don’t get fighters like that all the time.”

Smith went to a recent Wladimir Klitschko fight in New York and felt the fans were not engaged. “I seriously saw three fellows asleep in their chairs,” said Smith.

This is the first fight ever televised by BET, and the fourth fight promoted by Roc Nation Sports under their “Throne Boxing” venture.  It is also Ward's first fight with new promoter Roc Nation.

Rap star Jay-Z has combined music and boxing into Roc Nation's approach, and before the first punch is thrown, Los Angeles’ own Eritrean-American rapper Nipsey Hussle will deliver a musical performance. Paul Smith thinks such innovations are helping the sport, and he himself fought in a tournament on the television show The Contender.

Smith feels the health of the fight game is better than it was just a decade ago when UFC entered the combat sports picture.

"Boxing will never die, it’s a conveyor belt, there will be new fans, new fighters, new titles, and new writers," said Smith.  "Even if the sanctioning would go away it would go underground.”

In the last month or so, Paul Smith’s countrymen have fared well against American fighters, as Amir Khan, a former Olympic Silver medalist, didn’t bring his A-game, but easily defeated Chris Algieri to hold onto his WBC Silver welterweight title in New York.

Prior to that fight, James DeGale became the first former British Olympic Gold medalist in boxing to subsequently become a world champion when he won the IBF World super middleweight title in a fight against Andre Dirrell in Boston.

Will Paul Smith be the third Brit to win a championship fight on American soil this year? Smith is coming off two championship fights against Arthur Abraham, and most ringside observers thought he won his first bout with Abraham.  Perhaps he might catch a rusty Ward off guard.

“I want to retire healthy and decent, still having my facilities, I haven’t had the hard wars,” said Smith.

The 32-year old mentions in passing he wants to continue working as a fight commentator when he retires. He has three younger brothers (Stephen, Paul, and Liam) all involved in boxing who are prospects at various levels.

Before long, it is time for Smith to speak at the podium.  With sunglasses and all-black attire, Smith is short with his words.

“Hard not to be a fan of Andre Ward,” Smith concedes, as he promises to give “100%” against Ward.

“I must try my best to upset the apple cart and throw a spanner in the works,” said Smith.

Moments earlier, members of his own camp had lined up to receive the free Andre Ward t-shirts being handed out to the public.  Hardly a promising sign.  Even less promising, on Friday, Smith clocked in 4.4 pounds over the agreed 171 pound catchweight, potentially costing him $48,000.

Andre Ward easily made weight, showing little sign of an extended layoff.

By Joseph Hammond
Contributing Writer for

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