Super lightweight contender Dalton Smith (16-0, 12 KOs) was surprised former three-time world title challenger Jose Zepeda (37-5, 28 KOs) could not get to his feet after dropping and stopping the Mexican in the fifth round.

After a cagey opening three rounds, Smith established his range and countered the onrushing Mexican, establishing his rhythm and negating the visiting Mexican's attempted assaults. 

A stabbing right hand to the pit of Zepeda's abdomen saw the visitor drop to the canvas in distress, remaining on the canvas and was ultimately counted out by referee Victor Loughlin. 

"I thought he was actually going to get up," Smith said at his post-fight press conference. “I think he dipped down for a second time, and I thought, at that point, 'He is not getting back up here.'

"But you have to respect the Mexicans; they are tough as nails. To be fair, I did expect him to get back up, but it was a peach of a shot."

The former standout amateur believes Saturday's win will elevate him towards a world title opportunity.

"That win is going to propel my name up into the rankings, but I knew a few people who were saying that this [vs Zepeda] might have been a fight too soon," Smith admitted. "Don't get me wrong, I knew the pressure was on but not many people can rise to the occasion. I knew I had to remain switched on and focused throughout, knowing the performance would materialize. 

"This was not a Jose [Zepeda] who was on the slide. He has only lost at the world level and it is not like he has been beaten easily. He is a world-class fighter and he is proven at the world level. I need that performance to prove that I, too, belong at the world level. 

"I definitely felt the pressure this week. But I knew it was going to bring something more out of me. I have always said the bigger the occasion, I will rise to it. Few people can do that, so I am very proud tonight.”

Promoter Eddie Hearn said the manner of Smith's victory makes his job very easy and compared Smith to former IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook.

"When he produces performances like that, it makes it very easy to do my job. There is so much similarity between Dalton's career-building process and Kell Brook's career-building process," said Hearn. 

"Kell made the lunge to fight Shawn Porter for the world title and we are not a million miles away from doing that. Tonight felt much different from the Sam Maxwell fight, the Maxwell fight felt different from the Sam O'Maison fight. 

"After that performance tonight, the next one is going to be even bigger. That is when we can start opening up the top tier of this Arena [Sheffield Arena], going from 5,000 to 7,000 and then to 9,000 people and that is when you can start thinking about going to Hillsborough Stadium." 

Hearn claimed Regis Prograis is interested in facing Smith and while Dalton is open to exploring that option he insisted his main priority is to secure a fight at Hillsborough, the home of his beloved Sheffield Wednesday football team. 

"If you look at the 140lbs division, there are some big names and there are going to be some special nights," said Smith. “I have been a fan of Regis Prograis for a very long time. It would be great to fight him, but there are plenty of options and some big fights to be made. 

"My main goal is to work towards a fight at Hillsborough Stadium. I don't mind whoever it is against; if it is for a world title, we will fight them there." 

Domestic rival and fellow prospect Adam Azim (11-0, 8 KOs) congratulated Smith on his victory on social media platform X.

"Great performance @daltonsmith over Zepeda. Adam Azim vs Dalton Smith will happen. You don't need to be worried about that," Azim's post read. 

A prospective fight between Smith and Azim has gathered momentum since the turn of 2024, with the fight being ordered by the European Boxing Union [EBU] with Smith being named as Azim's mandatory challenger. The British Boxing Board of Control [BBBofC] also ordered Smith to defend his British super lightweight title against the up-and-coming Azim. 

Hearn continued to throwdown the gauntlet down to Azim and his promoter Ben Shalom, imploring him to take the fight against Smith. 

"We really want that fight against Azim, but I do not understand their delays because they could end up embarrassing their fighter [Azim] a little bit," Hearn said. 

"If it was up to Adam Azim, and I am sure Dalton would agree, he would take the fight because all fighters think they can win, but it is the team's responsibility to guide them. 

"What the world knows now is that Dalton is a world-class fighter and Adam Azim is just not ready for a world-class fighter, but he is a good fighter. 

"But he [Azim] has been called out in the ring. Everybody on social media is tagging him and his promoter, asking them what is happening. I answer all questions on their behalf because they do not want to answer them," joked Hearn. “They [Boxxer] have a fight week next week, and journalists will ask him, 'Are you going to take the fight?' Dalton is going to be there, and he is going to ask them that question.

"I just do not understand. Why haven't they said that they are not ready for that level [against Smith] and that we're going to pass and hopefully meet down the line?"