Sheffield’s Dalton Smith says Lee Appleyard fight for English title is ‘just a stepping stone’
Sheffield’s Dalton Smith has admitted his upcoming English title fight is his biggest test yet – but claimed it’s just a ‘stepping stone.’
Boxing’s rising star, who trains at the Steel City Gym in Darnall, will meet the experienced Lee Appleyard from Rotherham in a South Yorkshire showdown at Manchester Arena for the vacant English super-lightweight title on May 15.
Former Team GB boxer Smith boasts a perfect record from his seven professional fights to date – including six knockouts – but has never boxed more than five rounds.
"On paper he’s my toughest test as a professional,” said the 24-year-old, “I have got to up my game.
"It’s a test for me, I have been sparring 10 and 12 rounds but I just need to do it on fight night. I believe Lee’s going to be there until the championship rounds.
"I’m never one to worry, I have been there plenty of times. It’s just another day at the office.”
Appleyard is nine years Smith’s senior and a former English lightweight champion who has boxed 100 more rounds as a professional than his hotshot opponent.
His record stands at 16 wins, five losses and one draw.
“I know Lee from the boxing circuit and out of boxing I know him,” Smith said. “I class us as friends through boxing but it’s business and it’s a fight I thought was perfect for this stage of my career.
"He’s no mug. He’s a lot more experienced than me in the professional game. He’s had a full training camp so there’s no excuses, I’m expecting the best Lee on 15 May.”
The pair were due to meet in February at Wembley Stadium before Appleyard was struck down with coronavirus. It means he will have been out of the ring for 18 months by the time their rescheduled bout comes round.
Asked how his opponent will cope, Smith replied: “There’s going to be ring rust there for Lee.
"Come fight night we will see why being active is a big thing. I haven’t stayed out of the game and I have been improving for a long time.
"I believe I’m going to show my class in this fight.”
Appleyard, who has been trained by Stefy Bull along with stablemate Terri Harper throughout his latest camp, hit back at Smith’s suggestion he will be rusty.
He told The Star: “If that’s what he’s banking on I think he’s going to be shocked when we fight. I’m the best version of me.
"I have never been in the position where I have been out the ring for that long, however, I have been in the ring constantly sparring and the sparring I have is like being in fights.
"The time out has been good for me. I feel like I have had a good rest and been able to recover through sessions rather than put my body through hell.”
The underdog has been able to give up work to focus solely on training this time round thanks to his sponsors, having originally only had a few weeks’ notice.
He is also bidding to make some personal history by becoming the first two-time English champion from Rotherham.
Appleton added: "The best version of me beats the best version of Dalton. I believe it’s my time. If he beats me, he’s as good as they say he is.
“Dalton is definitely the best person I am ever going to go in with but he’s a seven-fight novice.
"I have got far more experience than him. I have been in with undefeated fighters before. They have never been tested so you never know how good they are."
But Smith said: “For Lee, this is his world title fight. English title level for me is just a stepping stone. I want to reach the pinnacle of boxing and become a world champion.”
One thing both men agree on is their potential to make a brilliant fight on an exciting card which also features Terri Harper’s world title unification clash against Hyun Mi Choi and three European title fights.
Appleyard, who admitted this fight could be his last, said: “It could steal the show. It’s a local derby, both lads can fight. I think it’s going to be the fight of the night.
"It’s worthy of a British title. This is a hard, hard fight for me and Dalton at English title level. Whoever wins will be stepping up.”
Smith added: “I think me and Lee would have sold a few tickets between us if there were fans.”
All eyes will be on one of Matchroom Boxing’s brightest prospects on the night, who has been tipped to win world titles by Eddie Hearn.
“It’s just hype,” Smith insisted. “It’s early days in my career. It’s nice to hear those comments but at the end of the day I have got a lot more backing up to do.”
His dad and trainer Grant will once again be in his corner.
On his influence, ‘Thunder’ said: “He’s massive, he’s been there from day one and touch wood he’s going to be there until the end.
"My dad’s got a faith in me and I have got faith in my dad. I’m a believer in don’t fix something if it’s not broke. What we have done up until now, it’s worked wonders. Nobody is going to have my back like my dad, it’s a great bond we have got.”