A New Chapter for Ishe Smith
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (May 5, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Ishe Smith
The fight everyone is focusing on this week is the pay-per-view contest taking place this Saturday night at the MGM Grand between WBA junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather. For Ishe Smith, the night before at the Hard Rock Hotel is the biggest night of his professional career, one he really cares about as he’s scheduled to face Ayi Bruce on a Fox Deportes-televised card. Oh, he’s had bigger showcases on the likes of HBO and Showtime but this fight represents a turning of the page for Smith, who’s as enigmatic as he is talented.
You might say this page represents the beginning of a new chapter- of both his career and life.
“In a way, it does feel like that. Unfortunately, it’s been awhile; it’s been rough to get fights,” said Smith, who last faced live fire back in November of 2010, when he stopped Alexander Quiroz in two rounds in Fargo, North Dakota(yes, there is pro boxing in North Dakota). “I’ve had a couple fall through; sometimes the second chapter is better than the first. I’ve learned a lot in the beginning of my career and the middle and now, this is the second chapter. I’m looking to make it a nice one.”
Was it that long ago when Smith was propped up by Fernando Vargas for his sharp skills as a sparring partner in the lead-up to the Oxnard native’s grudge match against Oscar De la Hoya? Well, yeah, actually; a full decade has passed since “Sugar Shay” first entered our consciousness. Since then, Smith has gone on a rollercoaster ride of a career, good enough to earn significant opportunities but never good enough to capitalize on them- all the while becoming a polarizing figure to those in the industry.
"I think, in the beginning, I came from nowhere. I splashed down on the scene; Fernando Vargas gave me a shout out on HBO and everybody wanted to see who I was and I signed with Gary Shaw and then, I just kinda took off,” he explained of his journey in pro boxing. “From that point, I had a couple of bad things happen in my career. I wasn’t making a lot of money for my fights, then I went to “The Contender” and that split decision [loss to Sergio Mora, Smith’s first], it kinda just mentally...I mean, I looked at myself like I couldn’t be beat.”
Unless you were inside the “Contender Arena” in Pasadena, CA. that night, you can’t necessarily form an opinion on who really won since all those fights were highly edited on NBC. But on this boxing reality show, Smith was its version of Omarosa from “The Apprentice,” an individual who drew the ire of the audience for his behavior during the show. Most were not sad to see him eliminated by the upstart “Latin Snake,” believing he deserve his comeuppance.

“When I lost that split decision, especially feeling like I won it, it got set me back a little bit. Then I came off that; I had some problems with ‘The Contender’ people, didn’t want to do that anymore,” said Smith, who earned a reputation as a malcontent for not acquiescing to the every wish of co-Executive Producer Jeff Wald’s “promotional” entity, “Tournament of Contenders.” But while others who didn’t win that inaugural season- most notably Alfonso Gomez- were able to craft a nice living by sticking with them, Smith decided to leave the organization. “Then I signed with Golden Boy and, at the time, I wanted big fights and end up fighting Sechew Powell and I had a lot of stuff going on personally in my life with my marriage and stuff like that. I never fully felt like I was that young kid.”
Smith lost a desultory 10-round decision to Powell in February of 2007.
He then made this blunt admission, “I was a young a**hole. When I look back on it, I should’ve been that guy who studied the game a little more, not been so brash and I never really recovered, especially from the divorce. I think it wasn’t till about ‘10, when we became friends and we were working together with the kids. I just put a lot of stuff behind me and realized I had made some mistakes in my career.”
As his relationship with his ex-wife, Latoya, improved, so did his performances inside the square circle.
“I think when I fought Fernando Guerrero, even in defeat, that was the best- to me- I ever looked, in my eyes,” he said of his 10-round loss in July of 2010 on “ShoBox” that many observers had him winning. “Even when I go back and look at it, because Guerrero was a tough kid, he had a lot of heart, a lot of will and I went in there and fought him. I’m not going to sugarcoat you; I don’t think I beat Daniel Jacobs. A lot of people say, ‘Well, Harold Lederman [of HBO] had you beating Sechew Powell’- I don’t think I beat him. I think I just left a little bit in those fights, to leave a little doubt, but I do think I beat Fernando Guerrero. I do think I beat Sergio Mora but I don’t think that I beat [Joel] Julio either. I think I left a little in those fights and that was all personal problems, no excuses. I never mentioned my divorce. I’m pretty private; I never mentioned my divorce. It’s something I don’t wish on anyone and I’m just trying to get back to that stage. I’m a lot wiser and older.”
Smith is now 33 years old and you can hear it in his voice; he’s been humbled to a certain degree. But he’s also a man now content with a clear conscience as he moves forward. What do they say about youth being wasted on the young?
He states, “I think I took my gift for granted and like I said, I was kinda an a**hole. I was like, ‘I can’t be touched.’ I went out there and I fought like that and I think as I got older and I sat down and you get to raising kids, you can look back over your life and you’re like, ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve done some things different.’ I wouldn’t be where I am today without that guy but I wish I would’ve done some things different. But I am who I am; I’m just looking to make it a good chapter but definitely, I’ve been humbled.”
The once angry and disgruntled Smith is now reflective and wise but there is a stark reality that still exists. He has to go out there and make a living, which, for a good deal of time, he simply was not able to do as he could not land a paying gig inside the squared circle.
“I had made some good money in ‘10 but it started getting to that time, probably about the end of last year, that I was getting like, ‘Whoa, what am I going to do here?’ It was a very rough time for me because I knew I had a lot of fight left in me,” said Smith, a few months shy of 34. “I’ve never been knocked out; I’ve never been down. I mean, Showtime voted the Fernando Guerrero fight one of the best of the year along with six to eight other fights on their end-of-the-year program. And I’m like, ‘Why can’t I get a fight?’ I just couldn’t believe it. It came a time where I was just like, ‘Maybe I should do something else.’”
There was still one thing gnawing at him. For all his high-profile bouts, Smith never actually fought for a title. He says what inspired him was the career of his “Contender” colleague, Gomez (who was to have faced Jessie Vargas on Saturday night before his back gave out), who was able to persevere in boxing and get the most from his ability. Perhaps if he had fought for a belt or two, he’d walk away. “That’s what keeps me motivated,” he explains, “to say, ‘Get your shot; make the most of your shot; take it from there.’ That’s what kept me in the game, kept me motivated, kept me going to the gym.”
Smith is a guy who can handle himself with anyone in the gym (after all, it’s how he first gained recognition in the sport) and he got a call from the camp of one Floyd Mayweather, who, in addition to his duties inside the ring, also runs Mayweather Promotions (which, by its sheer influence, can create opportunities for boxers).
When he was asked if he signed with them, Smith answered, “It was something that we spoke about. I came in; they called me in to help Floyd. I told them I was having some problems getting some fights and I was having some issues.” Smith’s association with “Money” goes back to when they boxed for trophies and medals. “I’ve known Floyd since I was 10 years old and we’ve been sparring since we were 10 and we went to the ‘96 [Olympic] Trials together and he went into represent the country, of course, and I lost to Zab Judah in the semifinals. [Mayweather] told me to not worry about it; he was going to keep me busy. I would say, yeah [I did sign with them] but this is boxing; I don’t know.”
Smith speaks highly of his old friend.
“One thing I can say about him, if he tells you he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it. I’ve had promoters where I had signed contracts these past two years and they fell out and he looked me in the face- he and Leonard Ellerbe- ‘We’re going to get you a fight; something opens up, we’re going to get you a fight, man. You’re a good fighter. We’re going to make sure you get a fight.’ About four days later, they called and texted, ‘Hey, we got you a fight, man; get ready. You’re going to be fighting on May 4th.’ 
“I’m excited. I just gotta go out there and make the most of it.”
For a good period of time, while you didn’t see him in the ring, Smith was as active as any fighter in the always interesting Twitterverse. And last year, he had a rather memorable back-and-forth going with Peter Quillin, whom he wanted to face. Things got quite heated between the two and Smith admits he let the frustrations of his stalled career get the better of his emotions.
“I think it was a combination of him and I was really frustrated but then I stepped out of the box and said, ‘This isn’t doing me no good,’ because people already have a view of the type of man I am,” said Smith, well aware of the perception he carried with the public. “So I said, ‘Peter, I wish you the best. Good luck in whatever you do.’ I left it alone. One thing I realized is that we’re never going to fight. He’s not going to agree to it, so why am I going to argue with a guy to get a fight and it’s not going to happen? I would fight him in a heartbeat and in the beginning, yeah, I was a little animated and I was upset because of the way he came off towards me, ‘Oh, you’re this; you’re that.’ At the end of the day, I’m like, ‘It’s not going to happen; it doesn’t make sense.”
He admits, there was a time when he wouldn’t have backed off so graciously.
“The old me, the young me would’ve probably kept going on Twitter every single day, doing interviews. I used to do interviews, calling people out all the time. I don’t do that kinda stuff anymore,” said Smith, who realizes that, at this juncture, the focus should be on regaining his own career momentum.
Interesting move by Golden Boy to win the purse bid for the IBF junior middleweight title contest between titlist Cornelius Bundrage and Cory Spinks. I think the hope is that “K9” retains the title so they can set up a unification bout with WBC beltholder Saul Alvarez down the line...Bob Arum tells me that the plan (for now) is to set up a Showtime doubleheader in August with Mikey Garcia and Nonito Donaire at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA...Is anyone really surprised by the revelation that Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd was on crack during the 1986 season for the Red Sox?...Hey, on the bright side for Knicks fans, at least they can never say Amare Stoudemire has never attacked the glass...

More of Steve's recent work below his contact info...
I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.Twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.
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