Ishe Smith: One More Time



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.”

Breaking Down the Pay-Per-View Rebound



On Friday, December 12, WBA Super Welterweight titlist Erislandy Lara will fight for the first time since his controversial split decision loss to Canelo Alvarez in July.

Lara will defend his title against former champion Ishe Smith.

In most cases, a pay-per-view main event is the biggest bout of a fighter’s career. A loss in such a bout can be devastating … or not.

Here’s a look at recent pay-per-view losers and how they fared in their very next fight.

Marcos Maidana surprised almost everyone by pushing Floyd Mayweather in May. The Argentine powerpuncher was about a 10-1 underdog, but he roughed Mayweather up and halfway through seemed a legitimate threat to win. Mayweather rallied, of course, and remained unbeaten by securing a majority decision.

In the September rematch, Mayweather dictated the terms and won again on points, but this time far more convincingly.

It was only the second rematch of Mayweather’s career.

Two other Money victims fared much better than Maidana, probably because they didn’t face Mayweather again. In May 2013, Robert Guerrero, a former world titlist in two divisions, challenged Mayweather and lost by one-sided decision. “The Ghost” took more than a year off, then in June engaged in one of the year’s best fights, decisioning Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai.

Guerrero remains a top contender at 147 pounds.

When you’re as young and popular as Canelo Alvarez, there’s plenty of life after Floyd. In September 2013, Canelo lost for the first time when he was thoroughly outboxed by Mayweather. The Mexican has gone 2-0 since, destroying Alfredo Angulo in March and edging Lara in July.

Alvarez is the No. 1 ranked junior middleweight in the world–assuming you list Mayweather only among the welterweights.

When Brandon Rios fought Manny Pacquiao in November 2013, he was coming off a loss to Mike Alvarado. It didn’t shock anyone when, in November 2013, he finished second-best to Pac-Man as well. But all-action Rios rebounded in August with a disqualification win over tough Argentinean Diego Chaves.

Rios was behind by a single point on two cards at the time of the DQ.

It’s been tough to figure future hall of famer Miguel Cotto. The Puerto Rican fought well in losing a decision to Mayweather in May 2012, then lost again on points seven months later to difficult southpaw Austin Trout. At that point, most observers decided Cotto was near-finished.

But after a blowout of fringe contender Delvin Rodriguez, Cotto was reborn with a crushing stoppage of middleweight titleholder Sergio Martinez in June.

He is the only Puerto Rican to have won titles in four different weight classes.


Finally, there’s the curious case of Victor Ortiz, who is among boxing’s most unpredictable performers. A title-winning effort against welterweight king Andre Berto landed Ortiz a shot at Mayweather in September 2011. After suffering a knockout loss, Ortiz lost twice more, both times by stoppage, to Josesito Lopez (Ortiz was ahead on points when he suffered a broken jaw) and Luis Collazo.

Ortiz, who has always made for good fights, is scheduled to return to the ring on Dec. 13 against an opponent to be announced.

Six Fighters. Three Fights. One Man’s Opinion. A Look At Saturday Night’s Fight Card.



Andrzej Fonfara is a fan-friendly TV fighter.

Have I just praised him or insulted him? Maybe a little of both.

Glass half-full: A TV fighter is someone who’s fun to watch. Aggressive. Capable of scoring KOs. Never in a bad fight. Certainly worth an hour of your viewing time.

Think Gabriel Rosado. Or Chris Arreola. Or Josesito Lopez.

Glass half-empty: A TV fighter gets hit more than he should, which usually prevents him from attaining championship-level status.

Think Gabriel Rosado. Or Chris Arreola. Or Josesito Lopez.

In his most recent bout, the 26-year-old Fonfara, 25-3, challenged WBC 175-pound titlist Adonis Stevenson in May on SHOWTIME®. The Polish light heavyweight was a 10-1 underdog, and when he went down twice in the first five rounds, the odds might as well have risen to 100-1. But Fonfara roared back to drop and almost stop the imposing Stevenson.

The challenger faded late and lost by unanimous decision, but made a name for himself in the process.

Glass half-full: It was a moral victory that significantly raised Fonfara’s stock. Now he was somebody.

Glass half-empty: There are no moral victories in boxing, nor any such thing as a good loss. A somebody could be anybody.

Whatever your perspective, Fonfara, who’s based in Chicago, returns home to face France-based Doudou Ngumbu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ngumbu, 33-5, is a road warrior who’s faced local fighters in the Ukraine, Poland, and South Africa, so the 32-year-old veteran is not likely to cower in his corner.

This time it’s Fonfara who’s the favorite (5-1), and his in-the-pocket style and reasonable punching power give him a sizable advantage. But Ngumbu is as awkward as his name, and he’s been stopped only once. If he lands his right hand often enough, he’ll trouble Fonfara.

Remember, Fonfara hits and gets hit. Add the fact that Polish fans might just top even Puerto Ricans and Mexicans as the most passionate in boxing and we’re looking at a lively and energized main event.

In other words, both a good live fight and a good TV fight.


In the co-feature, WBO bantamweight titlist Tomoki Kameda returns to SHOWTIME after his one-punch KO win in July. (Remember, little guys can punch!) The Mexico-based Japanese 118-pounder will defend against a countryman of sorts, 28-year-old Alejandro Hernandez of Mexico City.

It’ll be Hernandez’s third try at a world title; he previously fought for championship belts at 112 and 115 pounds.

For a four-month period, Kameda and his brothers, Daiki and Koki, simultaneously held world titles. They are the only trio of brothers to have won world championships.

Kameda came to Mexico at age 15 because he wanted to be “different from his brothers.” His entire amateur career was fought in Mexico, and he lives there now. He’s known as “Mexicanito,” and his hook-to-the-body kayo of Pungluang Singyu on the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara PPV was evidence that it’s not just a nickname of convenience.

The 23-year-old Kameda, 30-0, seems a complete package, with exceptional speed and eye-popping power. Having committed to fighting in the USA, he has an opportunity to do something unique: How many Japanese fighters have established themselves as championship-level stars in the West?

In Hernandez, who is 28-10-2, Kameda faces a veteran boxer-puncher who’s been tested by the likes of world titlists Leo Santa Cruz, Omar Narvaez and Marvin Sonsona. The Mexican, who’s a big underdog, will try to become the only current world champion with double-digit losses.

Hernandez is game (he’s been stopped only by Santa Cruz), but on paper, at least, he’s out of his depth.

The first televised fight will feature a 130-pounder who’s demanded attention for good reason: His one-punch power has produced several spectacular knockouts.

I called Javier Fortuna’s U.S. debut back in 2010, and his first-round wipeout of prospect Victor Valenzuela was nothing short of frightening. Since then, the southpaw Fortuna, 25-0-1, has also obliterated Yuandale Evans and Miguel Zamudio via first-round knockout.

Quality of opposition? Valenzuela, Evans, and Zamudio were a combined 49-1-1.

This’ll be the 25-year-old Fortuna’s fourth fight at 130 pounds. As was the case with junior lightweight titlist Rances Barthelemy on the most recent SHOWTIME boxing broadcast, Fortuna, a native of the Dominican Republic, has a precious opportunity to separate himself from the other top fighters in his underwhelming division.

For a pure puncher, all it takes is one timely performance…

Fortuna will take on Abner Cotto, who’s on a bit of a run. Last time out, Cotto, 18-2, outpointed former world title challenger Jerry Belmontes on the road in Corpus Christi. Before that, he lost a competitive decision to unbeaten top-10 contender Francisco Vargas.

Here’s the key: Fortuna often comes out of the blocks like Usain Bolt, while the 27-year-old Cotto has had his share of first-round issues. (In April 2013, Omar Figueroa blasted out Cotto in one round, and Belmontes hurt the Puerto Rican in the first round as well.) It’s imperative that Cotto extend the fight; Fortuna has scored only one stoppage past the fourth round.

The guess is that Fortuna has a bit too much of everything for Cotto. But the only thing I’ll be looking for is that put-away punch.

See you on Saturday!

Cuban Boxers: The Best and the Busts

Erislandy-Lara-vs-Alfredo-AnguloPhoto: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

From Showtime Boxing Analyst Steve Farhood
IBF Super Featherweight Titlist Rances Barthelemy, who will defend his title on Saturday, October 4th SHOWTIME BOXING Special Edition, is the latest in a long line of Cuban world champions.

Here are the five best Cuban professionals of the last 20 years … and the five biggest busts. Continue reading

The Best vs. The Best: When the Top Two in the Division Collide

From Showtime Boxing Analyst Steve Farhood
It’s a special moment – and an increasingly rare occurrence – when a division’s best fighters square off. That’ll be the case on Saturday night, when the world’s number one and two junior middleweights, Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara, clash in Las Vegas on SHOWTIME PPV.

A sampling of recent matchups that pitted the best against the best:

Johnny Tapia W 12 Danny Romero Jr. Bantam 1997
Felix Trinidad W 12 Oscar De La Hoya Welter 1999
Erik Morales W 12 Marco A. Barrera Jr. Feather 2000
Kostya Tszyu KO 2 Zab Judah Jr. Welter 2001
Bernard Hopkins KO 12 Felix Trinidad Middle 2001
Marco A. Barrera W 12 Erik Morales Feather 2002
Manny Pacquiao D 12 Juan M. Marquez Feather 2004
Joe Calzaghe W 12 Mikkel Kessler Spr. Middle 2007
Manny Pacquiao W 12 Juan M. Marquez Jr. Light 2008
Israel Vazquez W 12 Rafael Marquez Jr. Feather 2008
Giovani Segura KO 8 Ivan Calderon Jr. Fly 2010
Andre Ward W 12 Carl Froch Spr. Middle 2011
Guillermo Rigondeaux W 12 Nonito Donaire Jr. Feather 2013
Danny Garcia W 12 Lucas Matthysse Jr. Welter 2013