Former boxing champions Paul and Stephen Smith on co-founding the Global Fighters’ Union, regrets from their own careers and the future of younger brother Callum after his recent world title loss.

Former world title challengers Paul and Stephen Smith have hailed the creation of  a new union that will strive for better pay and conditions for fighters.

The pair stressed the Global Fighters’ Union (GFU) was ‘long overdue’ with the official launch set for March.

Both retired Liverpool boxers, whose younger brothers Liam and Callum are still competing at the top level of the sport, spoke about having wasted years of their career embroiled in court cases with ex-managers and said the GFU will aim to prevent that happening to any other fighters.

The union has been co-founded by the brothers alongside Labour Party activist Phil McCauley and former trade union leader Paul Maloney, with former world champion Amir Khan also involved. The GFU has stated its aim to champion the rights and wellbeing of fighters, including better access to medical insurance and pensions as well as increased fighter pay.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Paul. “I had an idea about it years ago but there was no way I could get either a team or the resources together to see it through. It’s been tried before but the people that were doing it maybe had ulterior motives, maybe didn’t have the right people’s interests at heart.

“They were coming at it from a purely boxing perspective, so this one is more from a union perspective. We’ve done it the right way. We’ve got the right people involved helping us and advising us. We’ve been speaking with the likes of the PFA and other unions out there and trying to use bits of their information or their manifesto, things like that so we can get the right sort of framework in place for the fighters’ union.”

The GFU has stated that combat sports is one of the last remaining professions with little regulation and union representation, pledging to protect fighters’ interests and prioritise their health and safety as well as giving them access to legal advice.

“A lot of fighters have just boxed all their life so they don’t have a background in terms of contractual things or even what rights you’ve got,” said Stephen. “For us going through court cases ourselves it would have been beneficial to know that we had a union behind us and someone that knew what they were doing in that department.

“We had to go and find our own legal team and it was a scary time in my own career because it was so unknown to me. I’d never been in those scenarios before. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my career and worst times of my life going through contractual disputes, it’s not nice.

“I think now being a trainer, it’s made me look out for my fighters and make sure I’m someone who’s got their best interests at heart. I will make sure they’ve got a union behind them so if you ever do fall into anything wrong or anything goes against you you’re covered.”

Paul, a former English and British champion and WBO title challenger, echoed this message and recounted his own experiences dealing with the darker side of boxing as he prepared for a world title fight.

He said: “I look at boxing differently now than I did when I was fighting at the start because of the court case I was in. It was the worst part of my career. I had basically three years of my life in an environment that no fighter should have to be in. I’m in Germany fighting for a world title and I’ve got bailiffs knocking at my door serving me papers for court.

“If that can be stopped for any fighter then the union will be worth it. The average fighter will not be looking at contracts and understand what’s going on. They need a manager to look after them and some of the managers in boxing that I’ve seen are absolutely horrendous. They’re not there to look after the fighter, they’re there to benefit themselves and that’s got to stop.

“The union is going to be there to help and that’s what the fighters need. We want the fighters to receive the right pay, we want the fighters to be covered by some sort of healthcare when they get in the ring. Me and Stephen have both been in court with ex-managers, we’ve both been involved in things with the boxing board of control that should never have happened, and if the union was in place when we were fighting that would all have been put to bed earlier.”

The GFU is currently in the final administrative stage of its development and is set to be officially launched as a union in March.

Stephen also commented on the future of younger brother Callum, who came up short in his attempt to capture the WBC, IBF and WBO light-heavyweight titles earlier this month after losing to unbeaten Russian champion Artur Beterbiev.

He said: “I spoke to him immediately after and he mentioned things like that (contemplating retirement) but that’s completely natural being a winner. He’s just lost and you’re thinking the worst. We all know, but you sit down, go and have a break with your family and you assess your future.

“Knowing Callum as well as I do, he wants to be at the top level. He’s been world champion, he’s been ring magazine belt holder, the first from Liverpool ever to do it – it’s a massive achievement. Will he want to come back to have a British/domestic dust-up? I’m not too sure he’d be motivated for that, but again after a rest he might start twiddling his thumbs and think you know what I’m getting back in the gym.

“He’s obviously gutted he lost but apart from that personally he’s in a really good place. He’s earned a lot of money, he’s getting married this year. If he walks away he walks away, and we as a family are really proud of him.”