Teenage terror Ben Smith is threatening to light up Harrow Leisure Centre when he makes his eagerly anticipated pro debut on Friday evening.
The nifty 19 year old light-welter from High Wycombe scorched his way to a brace of national junior titles and skippered Young England during a glittering amateur career. And this weekend he begins a march through the profession which he hopes will end with his name illuminating the Las Vegas strip.
‘I think the venue is almost sold out and I know the atmosphere is going to be brilliant. I’ve personally sold over 250 tickets without really pushing it,’ says the eloquent Bucks lad who boasts eight GCSEs.
‘I can’t wait. As an amateur, my best performances were always in national finals or internationals so I’ve always dealt with pressure well. I know I’ll be fine.
‘I’ve been knocking around pro gyms since I was 15 and had my last amateur bout almost a year and a half ago so acclimatizing to the pros won’t be a problem.
‘I like to entertain. I’ve got quick feet, fast hands and punch in flashy combinations. Though I’m still to get my ‘man strength’ I can bang a bit through my speed and snap. Sugar Ray Leonard was my hero growing up.’
Battling Ben first acquired a flavour for the fight game by smashing the bags and pads at the garage of a family friend, aged eight. Two years after, he was up and running at the Marlow ABC before transferring to the highly regarded High Wycombe outfit.
‘I’ve played golf for longer than I’ve boxed,’ disclosed the Mark Tibbs trained starlet.
‘As a kid, I was a very good rugby player from a strong rugby family. I represented London Wasps up to under 12 level but stopped when all the others started to put weight on.
‘I’m also a big Wycombe Wanderers fan and they paraded me on the pitch in a promotional thing three or four weeks ago. But those sports were always secondary to boxing.’
Young Smith hails from one of the UKs most affluent counties, certainly not a place synonymous with prizefighters.
‘Wycombe is a nice area but everyone here is really into boxing,’ claims Ben.
‘People from all over the Home Counties come to the High Wycombe Boxing Club and my dad Max was always a huge fan who sponsored boxers like Kevin Mitchell and Frank Buglioni and went to Vegas to watch Hatton-Pacquiao.
‘As a 15th birthday present, he arranged a one-on-one coaching session with Mark Tibbs which gave me a huge buzz and, thereafter, I sort of grew up around the likes of Frank Buglioni, Kev Mitchell, Colin Lynes and Billy Joe Saunders at the TKO gym. I sparred a few rounds with Kev and even when he was ‘playing’ you could see how talented he was.’
Nevertheless, he concedes that success was not immediate.
‘At one point I was 6-6 (wins/losses) then lost just two of my next 27 or so,’ says Ben.
‘I made four national finals, winning twice (NACYP in 2012, ABA Youth in 2014) and captained England but I was never Team GB’s favourite boy for some unknown reason.’
Consequently, he opted to punch for pay under the guise of coach Tibbs as soon as he was legally eligible.
He says: ‘I really trust Mark. I box in a very similar style to he did. Often, I’m already thinking what he’s telling me. His dad Jimmy is always around and, between them, they’ve always got a fresh idea to try out if I’m struggling in sparring.
‘I’ve got a very experienced team behind me and, because I’m so young, I know they’ll take things very slowly. I trust them fully. I’m really looked after. Most of my learning will be done in the gym. The fights are just to showcase my development.’
Fight fans finally get to assess his development when he scales the steps for the first time as a pro on Friday in a scheduled four rounder against Nuneaton warhorse Kristian Laight.
‘Early on, plenty of the journeymen will be physically stronger than me but I’ll just find other ways to deal with them. At the end of the day, it’s boxing,’ says the sharpshooter.
‘Kristian is a very cagey and experienced journeyman who’ll be trying to frustrate me and make me look messy. I know he’ll be extremely difficult to stop. I’ll just be looking to showcase all the skills I’ve got so that the fans come back again next time
‘My goal is to win a world title and I won’t stop pushing until it happens. It’s been my dream since I was eight years old.’
Mark Tibbs, the quality ex pro turned trainer who schools Smith at his gym in West Ham adds: ‘Ben has got all the ingredients to be a good, good fighter.
‘He’s a real sharpshooter, very skilful. Already he’s got a really good fighting brain, reads a fight very well plus he’s very eager and understands instructions….and he’s got plenty of balls!
‘Personally, I’d have preferred if Ben had stayed amateur a little while longer, boxing internationally and making full use of the GB set-up. But he didn’t like staying away from home and he’s such a talent, I didn’t want to lose him.
‘Whilst amateur, he’d train with me: a day in, a day off. Gradually he started schooling some of the pros!
‘Ben’s still only a kid. You can’t buy maturity or experience but, in time, he’ll evolve into a real sharp, snappy banger.
‘I’ve had Ben sparring the likes of Jamie Kavanagh, Tommy Martin and Sam McNess and none of them enjoy it. He’s so sharp. Frank (Warren)’s sure to bring him along slowly, ensure he has a good apprenticeship.
‘On a personal note, he has a crack with the lads at our gym but he’s a very quiet, respectful person. Provided he continues to stay away from all the vices, he’ll do very well.’