FROM SHOWTIME BOXING ANALYST STEVE FARHOOD
When breaking down boxers, we analyze jabs and powerpunches, chins and conditioning, activity and ring experience, sizes and styles.
But we don’t usually consider life skills.
Maybe we should reconsider.
The arc of a championship-level fighter’s career invariably includes astronaut-in-orbit highs and spirit-sapping lows. There’s no amount of roadwork, no furious combination on the pads, that provides adequate preparation.
So how does Ishe Smith summarize his 15-year professional career?
“It’s been mind-blowing and heart-breaking,” he said. “It’s been a helluva ride.”
On Dec. 12, Smith will attempt to regain a portion of the world junior middleweight title when he challenges Cuban southpaw Erislandy Lara. The showdown will be the main event of a SHOWTIME BOXING: Special Edition from San Antonio.
Even by boxing’s standards, Smith’s journey has been extraordinary and extreme. Check out this timeline–but first a warning: You may want to pop a Dramamine to handle all the ups and downs.
1988, Age 11: Smith spars with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is a few months older. It’s the beginning of a lifelong association.
April 1996, Age 17: In the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic Trials, Smith loses by four points to Zab Judah. Discouraged by the loss, Smith doesn’t fight again for 2 1/2 years.
July 29, 2000, Age 22: Smith turns pro at the Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, stopping Jose Meraz in three rounds.
While his win doesn’t exactly make headlines, insiders take notice because Smith had been an excellent amateur. The native Las Vegan had won the Nevada State Golden Gloves for 10 consecutive years.
April 24, 2003, Age 24: Smith makes his SHOWTIME debut on ShoBox: The New Generation, virtually shutting out the veteran Sam Garr. “There’s a lot to like,” I say after the decision is announced.
Smith would fight on the series four more times and come to view ShoBox as his boxing anchor.
2004, Age 25: Having made a career-high purse of only $11,000, and struggling to support his wife and children, Smith files for bankruptcy.
“When I made $11,000 to fight Randall Bailey, after deductions, taxes, and expenses,” he said, “I took home about $3,000.”
2004, Age 26: Smith is cast in the premier season of the NBC boxing-reality show “The Contender.” From the start, he assumes the role of villain.
“I went in with a chip on my shoulder,” he recalled. “I was just an angry person.”
A welterweight facing bigger fighters, Smith wins once before being eliminated by eventual champion Sergio Mora.
Smith earns six figures on the show.
2007, Age 29: Smith goes through a divorce. Depression follows, and a few months later, he considers suicide. “My wife, my kids were gone,” he said.
2009, 2010, Age 31: Smith loses consecutive fights to unbeaten and heavily hyped prospects Danny Jacobs and Fernando Guerrero. It seems he’s been reduced to fodder for rising stars.
“I was discouraged because I thought I won the Guerrero fight,” he said. “But I still thought opportunities would come.”
2012, Age 33: After an 18-month layoff, Smith returns to the ring with a new promoter–Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“I was in camp, helping Floyd get ready for the Miguel Cotto fight, and I was a free agent [promotionally],” Smith said. “And they showed interest.
“I told Leonard [Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe] I wanted a fight with Erislandy Lara, but after a couple of wins, he and Floyd got me a title shot with Cornelius Bundrage.”
Asked why he hadn’t secured a title fight opportunity earlier in his career, Smith said, “I was a young asshole.”
2013, Age 34: Fighting in Detroit, Smith outpoints K-9 Bundrage and wins the IBF light middleweight title by majority decision.
Sobbing during his postfight interview on SHOWTIME, Smith says, “Thirteen years, man. Thirteen years. That’s all I can say.”
2013, Age 35: In his first defense, Smith loses the belt to Carlos Molina by split decision. At an age when most fighters are in precipitous decline, Smith finds himself rebooting.
“Floyd called and said to keep my head up,” recalled Smith, whose middle name, Kamau, is of Kenyan origin and translates to “Silent Warrior.”
“I’ve been through a lot worse. I’ve learned to deal with things as they come.
Dec. 12, 2014, Age 36: Smith will challenge Lara for the WBA 154-pound title.
“You gotta think pressure,” Smith says. “Lara’s shown chinks in his armor. I’m 36; I know I have to produce a great fight.
“This train is just getting started.”