Dalton Smith v Jose Zepeda: Hillsborough still in sight as Sheffield star prepares for 'toughest challenge'

As Dalton Smith climbs each rung of the British boxing ladder, a fight at the home of his beloved Sheffield Wednesday comes further into view.
Dalton Smith is set for a return to Sheffield's Utilita Arena. Image: Marc Atkins/Getty ImagesDalton Smith is set for a return to Sheffield's Utilita Arena. Image: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Dalton Smith is set for a return to Sheffield's Utilita Arena. Image: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

For many fighters, a headline show at their local football club is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Buckets of blood and sweat may be spilled to get there but history shows it can be worth every sacrifice – just ask Josh Warrington.

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He basked in the admiration of a raucous Elland Road crowd in 2018 and Smith is enjoying a similarly exciting upwards trajectory, reminiscent of Yorkshire greats who have come before him.

Smith’s unbeaten record, standing proudly at 15-0, will be on the line in his hometown of Sheffield tonight (March 23). The WBC silver super-lightweight title will be up for grabs against Jose Zepeda, in a bout Smith is expecting to be his toughest yet.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “I'm expecting a tough challenge, a tough test, but I'm more than confident of going in there and putting in a big performance. He's mixed it at a high level and proven himself there. It's my turn now to pass over that flag and put my name up there with the biggest names in the division.

“If you look at it on paper, this is my toughest challenge so far - but we'll see on Saturday night.”

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Zepeda is a seasoned fighter, a savvy operator who is a two-time challenger for the WBC light-welterweight title.

The 34-year-old could potentially punch a ticket back to the big time with a win over Smith, whereas the Yorkshireman will be hoping to use the fight as a launchpad to get there himself.

Smith is under no illusions regarding the dizzy heights this fight could propel him towards. It is a showdown that is essentially an audition for the big leagues and a role among the best is one he is keen to land.

He said: “A big win on Saturday, it puts me in the top numbers in the world rankings. We've got the WBC silver on the line, a lovely belt, one I've always dreamt of winning since being young. It's adding another great belt to the collection and putting my name up there with the big names in the division.

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"I've definitely got the better boxing ability. I've got the speed, I've got the power. For me, there's nothing he's got that I can't match or better. The only thing he's got is the experience but for me that will come. The only way to get experience is to be in these fights. He was once making his career stepping up and it's my time now.”

Smith, an avid Sheffield Wednesday fan with a passionate Steel City following, is increasingly being talked of as the man who can bring boxing to S6.

He said: “That's my goal - it's top of the list. I want to sell out Hillsborough Stadium. These are the fights I need to win, and look good in, then those big opportunities are going to come.”

The 27-year-old is undoubtedly on the right path and continually attracting fans to UK arenas will only strengthen the argument that it is a leap he can make.

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Like he had against Sam Maxwell in July last year, Smith will have home advantage against Zepeda. A return to an arena he has already scored two wins in is an exciting prospect.

He said: “It always makes me feel good being on my home turf, walking out there in front of my home supporters. I can't wait. It's going to be busy, it's going to be rowdy, and I'm looking forward to it.

“Boxing's always been a big part of Sheffield. Locally, there's some great talent coming through and it's our job to inspire the next generations coming up to keep flying the flag.”

15 fights in and the wheels of Smith’s career are already turning at pace. A fight with the unbeaten Adam Azim is looking increasingly inevitable and it is a sign of progress when potential future paths are being laid.

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For Smith, however, the focus must be on the here and the now. The bout against Zepeda represents a step-up for Smith and a blot on the record at this stage could pump the brakes on his race towards the home of his beloved Owls.

He said: “[Preparations have been] good. I've had a week in camp. It's just the last few days, chipping away, ready to get in there and put on a big performance.”

The South Yorkshire contingent inside the Utilita Arena will be considerably bolstered by the presence of Doncaster’s own Terri Harper on the undercard.

‘Belter’ does not have particularly cherished memories of the venue, having suffered her only career loss within its walls in November 2021, against Alycia Baumgardner.

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She set out to banish those ghosts on the undercard of Josh Warrington’s clash with Leigh Wood, but a frustrating draw with Cecilia Brækhus did not quite do the trick.

Next up for the 27-year-old is Derby’s Sandy Ryan, who will be putting her WBO welterweight title on the line. As is the case with Smith, a win for Harper could act as a launching pad.

As reported by Boxing Scene, Harper said: “It’s a big domestic fight and I’m just keeping that in the back of my head. I’m an experienced championship fighter now and I can only use it to my advantage. Win this fight and it opens up many doors and really sets me up there with the elite.”