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Royston Barney-Smith Watching, Learning From Leigh Wood, Anthony Joshua, Campbell Hatton


The term “peer pressure” comes loaded with negative connotations. 

People cave in or submit to peer pressure. They are very rarely described as thriving or improving because of it.

Royston Barney-Smith puts his progress solely down to the habits he observes every day at the busy Ben Davison Performance Centre. The 20-year-old super featherweight speaks glowingly about the way former featherweight world champion Leigh Wood sticks rigidly to the plan through the direst of situations. He praises the professionalism and all business approach of two-time unified heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua.

The lessons have turned Barney-Smith, 9-0 (5 KOs), into one of the most exciting prospects in British boxing. The southpaw returns to action on Saturday when he fights the aggressive Brazilian Jonatas de Oliveira, 6-8 (5 KOs).

“Our gym is a very big ocean with a lot of big fish in it. That’s what brings you on. You want to punch a bit faster on the bag and you want to look a bit better when you’re shadow boxing,” Barney-Smith told BoxingScene.

“Just being in their company and listening to how they go about things or talking about fights with other people. You can get where they’re coming from and you can learn something from that. You might think, ‘Oh, I didn’t see that in that fight. They did though. I’m gonna watch it back.’ You keep adding little things and those little one per cents keep adding up.”

For an ambitious young boxer, walking into a professional gym for the first time is a dream come true but, pretty quickly, the gruelling reality of fighting for a living hits them.

Slowly but surely though, times which once seemed impossible begin to become the norm and sparring the day after a heavy leg circuit doesn’t seem like such an ordeal.

Most important, though, is the change that comes when a fighter stops blindly following every instruction a trainer gives them and begins to understand why he is asking them to do it. 

Still, the daily grind can make it difficult to notice small changes. Fighters have come and gone during Barney-Smith’s time at the gym and seeing new arrivals – even those as accomplished as Joshua – taking the same early steps and making the same improvements that he did acts as a reminder of just how far he has come.

“It was all new to me when I went there at 17. They had Josh Taylor who was a unified world champion. Leigh Wood was there. Lee McGregor. Shabaz Masoud. There was a big squad of good fighters and I was the young pup. Now, I’m cementing my name in the gym and showing everyone what I’m capable of doing. I’m getting good props for it and it’s good to know that good people are seeing what I’m about and recognising me,” he said.

“I’m watching people like Campbell [Hatton]. He’s a new member and I’m watching the routine and him getting his foot in the door and chipping away at the little things that make people good fighters. He’s picking it up fast and so is AJ and I see big improvements in the pair of them and as you can see from AJ’s last few fights, he’s been ticking all the boxes and getting the job done.

“It’s not like a fluke where I’ve just got through it. It does work and down at the gym they are pushing good fighters out and getting some good wins.”

So far, Davison and Lee Wiley have done an excellent job of turning Barney-Smith from a talented amateur into the exciting prospect he is today, but there are some aspects of professional fighting that he needs to learn himself.

His corner can immediately see if he is getting his feet into the correct position or whether he is feinting often enough but they can’t teach him how it feels when his opponent begins to weaken slightly during clinches or how to recognize the changes to his breathing.

Barney-Smith has learned to pick up on the subtle, tell-tale signs that his opponent is ready to be taken out but he is also working on how to create them. 

“It sort of comes from noticing what they do good and what they do bad. You have to pick up on what they do bad so that you can get the most bang for your buck,” he said.

“I can tell when someone’s in trouble now. I can tell when to up it and get them out of there. The last couple of fights, I’ve let them go a few rounds. I could have got them out a bit earlier but I let them go a bit longer to make sure that when I do put them together, they are going to land rather than thinking I’m going to push through and try to open the gap. Let the gap come and then take it with both hands.

“We try to start breaking them down fast rather than leaving it till later. Don’t leave it too late and then decide to start following the gameplan. Start at the start.”

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