Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
Mason Smith is a man who has been around the boxing scene for a long time, having started at Finchley A.B.C in 2007 – Anthony Joshua walked through the same doors just one year later. Now aged 22 the light-welterweight is keen to create a legacy of his own. He began by telling me what first inspired him…
“Well, like you say, I’ve been around it for a long time but I started in Junior School, got into a few fights at school, and my mum and dad just thought about taking me along to a gym. My dad did a bit of boxing when he was in the Army so he took me down to Finchley and from there on in I’ve stuck to it.
I’ve Seen Anthony Joshua From The First Day He Was In The Gym
I was playing football at the time, like most kids, when I was 10 but I gave that up pretty much straight away. The goal, almost from the off, was to go all the way as an amateur – win national titles, go on to Team GB and then see where it went from there. I saw the lads in the gym with ABA vests on and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to get myself one of them’.
Eleven years of learning on the job saw Smith achieve just about everything – he fought in the Senior ABA’s, Haringey Box Cup, went out to Los Angeles to compete and spar with Devin Haney – but when it came to his best memory, Team GB proved to be swings and roundabouts –
“Reaching the Senior ABA Finals in my second year, winning the Southern Area title and getting on Team GB – I’ve seen Anthony Joshua from the first day he was in the gym, we both came out of Finchley and seeing him rise up the ranks gives hope that I can follow his footsteps. It’s bittersweet that Team GB memory, actually, they released me even though they told me I had passed the assessment and three month trial.
I was told I’d be in tournaments but six months after that they shut the door on me and said I wasn’t learning quickly enough. I asked for it in writing and they then said I wasn’t ‘mature at the weight’ but they moved me down from 64kg to 60kg so I don’t know how they came to that conclusion.”
From an understandable low point of, seemingly, bizarre rejection by Team GB and the dashing of any Olympic hopes it was impressive to hear that Mason quickly realigned his plan towards the professional game,
“I lost a hunger, to be honest, there was nothing else for me to do. I did feel like what’s the point anymore, I had one more fight and then it was off-season so I had a break and got in touch with Mo (Prior). From there I went on with a professional mindset and thought ‘right, let’s see what we can do in here’.
I Expect Nothing But Domination
Making his debut on September 29h, at York Hall, the BT engineer faced teak-tough Rudulf Durica. I asked him if his debut lived up to expectations. The answer was resounding.
“100%, I couldn’t have asked for a better debut. I had a tricky opponent, Durica, he did bring the best out in me because he kept switching from southpaw to orthodox so it really brought out the skills that I had been working on in the gym. To be honest I felt more nervous in the ABA Finals and the amateurs, everything on that night felt like it was meant to be.
I just went out there knowing I had a job to do and having so many people supporting me was just more motivation, everyone who turns out works hard to earn their money and they’re coming out to support me. Everything on fight night is to repay those supporting me, along the journey, and getting the win for them.”
A subsequent points victory over Jamie Quinn advanced Smith’s record to 2 and 0 in as many months and 2019 gets started on February 16th with a scheduled four rounder against Lee Williams (0-3).
“I’ve been working really hard in the gym this camp, been learning a lot in sparring and I expect nothing but domination on February 16th. I’m hoping for an early stoppage because my fights so far haven’t really came for a fight, they’ve held and been slippery. If the moment comes to finish the fight, believe me Ollie, I’m going after that opportunity.
I won’t be reckless but I’ll open up my opponent for the finish. Shut him down, close in on him and do the job. We’ve got a good card on the night so hopefully a good crowd and I can get my name out there.”
In his corner on the 16th will be Darren Smith, Mason’s dad and trainer, as he has been since Mason was 14. I asked the British Warriors’ prospect if this ever caused any friction.
“No, not at all, we have a little bit of arguments in the gym and out of it but he knows me better than anyone else. I did try teaming up with a different coach but I really didn’t feel the same. My dad has been training me for eight years so it’s only right for him to keep coaching me.
You’ve got to separate the two so that in the gym it’s just ‘coach’ and ‘boxer’, he treats me as any other boxer and I might have more back-chat than usual but it’s all part of staying professional.
And what will happen if boxing doesn’t take off for the young gun? Love Island, of course…
“When it comes to Love Island, I know it’s once a year, but I do sit down and watch that. Idris Virgo was on it last year, Jack who won it was an amateur boxer, winner gets 50 grand so you can never say never!”
In all seriousness, though, there’s a very real sense of expectation in the camp surrounding young Mason Smith – who has seemingly managed to avoid hyperbolic hype thus far. Smasher, as he’s known, will look to send a statement come February 16th to the crowded pack of prospects across both the light-welterweight and welterweight divisions.
Tickets are available from myfighttickets.com for a stacked night of boxing featuring Southern Area champion Jeff Ofori, Jez Smith vs Samuel Antwi for the vacant Southern Area welterweight title and, of course, Mason himself.