Every boxer benefits from having a rival. A fellow fighter who can help keep both of their names relevant, inject some jeopardy and controversy into their careers, and, hopefully, provide them with a big payday.

Dalton Smith’s blossoming rivalry with Adam Azim is one British boxing’s hottest themes. 

An eye-catching fight between Smith, the British and Commonwealth super lightweight champion, and Azim, the European champion, has been mandated by both the British Boxing Board of Control and the European Boxing Union, but political machinations mean that it has yet to move far beyond the initial stage of any big-fight negotiation – power plays on social media, and provocative interviews on YouTube. 

In the short-term Smith probably couldn’t care less. Azim can wait. Smith has much more pressing business.

The 27 year old is considered a potential future world champion, but rather than plotting the path of least resistance to a title or waiting for an opportunity to present itself, he accepted a fight with Jose Zepeda – a respected puncher who represents a dangerous passage to world level. 

Smith (15-0, 11 KOs) fights Zepeda (37-4, 28 KOs) at the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield on March 23, and he believes that a win will take him into the upper reaches of his division.

“This wasn't a fight what got forced on to us,” Smith told Matchroom Boxing. “We was like, ‘You know what? It’s a good fight that's going to put me right up there in the 140lbs division; put in a big statement here against Zepeda and I'm up there in the mix’.  So, yeah, I'm looking forward to it.”

Zepeda has been mixing with the best 140lbs fighters on the planet for the best part of a decade.

The Californian is 34 years old and has lost two of his past three fights, but to Regis Prograis and Richardson Hitchins. The only other defeats he has suffered during his 14 years as a professional are his majority decision loss to Jose Ramirez for the WBC title, and his second-round retirement of Terry Flanagan, when a dislocated shoulder forced his withdrawal. 

Zepeda also possesses that one ingredient that so often transforms fights – raw, natural power.

The younger, fresher Smith will have his own advantages on fight night but he is yet to progress beyond domestic level, and will need to reach a new level to get past Zepeda. So far he has passed every test set for him; he may even have been matched in the perfect fight at the perfect time.

“He's got the resume and he's got the experience,” he continued. “He’s got the power and he's boxed at a much higher level than I have as a professional. Obviously, he’s a lot older than me but these are the fights we’ve got to take if we're going to be the best. 

“Especially in the 140lbs division – there's going to be no easy fights to win a world title or even a world title eliminator. There’s no easy route.

“I’m confident in my ability. I believe what I can do and go on and achieve and these are the right fights to get me there.”