By: Sean Crose
“I started when I was eight,” Ishe Smith says. “Kinda just getting bullied at school…my mom’s friend was into boxing.” So began what eventually morphed into quite the notable career for the first Las Vegas native to ever win a major title. “It’s a part of who I am” the 39 year old former champ states. Still, with a world title win on his resume and 29 victories to his credit, the affable Smith is growing wary of the Vegas way of doing things.
Photo From Ishe Smith Media Workout with Bounce TV
“I can’t get a fair shake,” he says. “It’s just the judging, man.” Smith, who boasts a 29-9 record, makes it clear that he’s not a diva. “I’m a throwback fighter,” he claims. “I’m old school. I don’t care to take a loss.” What Smith does care about, however, is taking a loss he himself deems unfair. “If I offend the commission, I’m penalized for it,” he says, “(but) there’s no suspension for when a judge turns in a bad scorecard.”
One need only look at last year’s bout against Julian Williams to understand where Smith is coming from here. Smith may have lost by unanimous decision, but as Boxing Insider’s B.A. Cass put it: “The scores were too lopsided to be taken seriously.” Cass certainly wasn’t alone in his assertion of Vegas judging that night. “Nobody won that fight 9-1,” says Smith, referring to one of the score cards. “It’s disappointing.”
Those who take these words as evidence that Smith is bitter after a long career are sadly mistaken. A thoughtful, positive individual, Smith serves as living proof that an objective attitude and clean living can lead to longevity in the world’s most grueling sport. “It’s about the work you put in,” he claims, “and I plan on living.” Whereas some fighters fall victim to partying and unhealthy lifestyles, Smith goes the opposite route. “I don’t do those kinds of things,” he says. “I don’t drink. I never do drugs.”
Smith is also into personal growth…and just plain acting one’s age. “When I was young, I was a lot more brash,” says the fighter. “As you get older, you get wiser…I tried to mend relationships that may have been broken.” The more mature Smith now believes in the benefit of trying “to build a relationship and take down a wall.” This, after all, is a man whose personal motto is Muhammad Ali’s famous statement that: “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
Not that long ago, the younger Smith made a name for himself by besting Randall Bailey and by appearing in the first season of The Contender. “We didn’t understand it then,” he says of himself and his fellow cast mates, regarding the exposure the show provided. Referring to iconic hosts Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone, Smith claims “They were on set every day.”
“It was a good platform,” he says. “People still recognize me from the show.” Television aside, Smith’s career got a serious boost when he became a member of Floyd Mayweather’s famed Mayweather Promotions in 2012. It was as a Mayweather Promotions fighter that Smith stepped into the ring as on the night of February 23’d 2013.
The IBF light middleweight championship of the world was at stake, a championship defended by hometown fighter Cornelius Burndradge. Undeterred by the moment and location, Smith went on to win a majority decision. The first Las Vegas fighter to ever win a major title did so by defeating the first Detroit fighter to win a major belt since Thomas Hearns.
“It was the greatest feeling in the world other than seeing my kids being born,” Smith says. “I had trained so hard for these ups and downs.” And being the first true Vegas champ? “That was key to me,” he adds. Smith ended up losing his belt to Carlos Molina, then lost a chance to attain the WBA world super welterweight title when he was outpointed by the masterful Erislandy Lara in 2014.
Yet Smith’s still a major part of the Mayweather stable. He’ll be facing another Detroit fighter, Tony Harrison (26-2) on May 11th. While admitting that Harrison is no slouch, Smith is now at the point in his career where his perspective turns inwards when it comes to a particular fight. “I’m at the age now,” he says, “where I don’t focus on opponents. I just think about myself.” The fighter has clearly learned not to sweat the small stuff. “I’m a veteran,” he claims. “You don’t worry about what you’re making tomorrow when you got dinner tonight.” Being a part of the Mayweather team must offer some peace of mind, as well.
“It’s a good gym,” Smith says of the Mayweather Gym in Vegas. “It’s where most of us train at.” Smith not only admires the gym, he admires those who occupy and operate it. “It’s run by great people,” he claims. “It’s an old school gym, only cleaner.” So, does he frequently see Floyd, the man he’s sparred regularly with and known since childhood? “He’s a very busy man now,” Smith says, “so it’s a lot different (than it used to be). He’s very busy and I’m still fighting…I don’t see him as much as when he fought.”
And so here Ishe Smith is, a working man in a sporting world seemingly ruled by the loudest people in every room. He’s a vet, he’s 39, and yet he’s still a force. It’s obvious when speaking to this religious, charitable individual, however, that there are things in his life even more important to him than boxing. A father of six, Smith speaks of his children with pleasure. “They’re all healthy,” he says. “I love being a dad.”
I ask Smith about his toughest opponent. It doesn’t take him long to answer. “The toughest guy I ever fought was Randall Bailey,” he states. “It was a growing up lesson…I had to grow up very fast that fight.” Sometimes, it seems, you just have to jump into the deep end.
“I don’t know what the hell I was thinking,” he laughs.