I usually try to avoid writing in the first person, but as a boxing fan and writer who lives in North Dakota I’ll tell you that I just don’t get to see big names fighting locally. That’s one reason why this Friday night’s ShoBox event in Fargo is such a big deal for me – I get to see some really good fights within five miles of my own home! There will be no long drive after the fights end, and I won’t be up until 4am unless I want to be.
Probably the brightest star to shine on Fargo this week will be light middleweight Ishe Smith (21-5 with 9 kayos). Well known for taking part in a handful of entertaining fights over the course of a ten year prizefighting career (so far) and famous in particular for appearing on The Contender television series back in 2005, Smith recently took the time to talk with me in general terms about the state of his career and specifically about this Friday night’s ShoBox event.
Interviewing a stranger can sometimes be a little uncomfortable, and that’s one reason why interviews often begin with inane chitchat about ridiculous subjects. Ishe Smith strikes me as an authentically genial person, the kind of person who makes an easy and interesting interview. No insipid banter required.
To set the stage: Smith has had just 26 fights in a ten year professional career. That means that he’s averaging 2.6 fights per year, far below the desired level of busyness for a pro boxer. Smith had fought 14 times in the first four years of his career when he was selected to appear on “The Contender,” the innovative but sadly short-lived television show which pitted a number of promising young studs against each other in hopes of producing one genuine world-class contender. After winning two bouts and losing one on The Contender, Smith has achieved mixed results in the last five years, winning 5 and losing 4 fights against some very tough competition.
Years of blood, sweat and tears go into producing a record and a career like Ishe Smith’s. I wondered how Smith feels about the state of his career. “I’m pretty happy with the team I have in place, starting with my trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and my promoter, Lou DiBella, and also my adviser Brett Mauren. This is a stay-busy fight and we’re looking to get back into the mix of things, but I’m pretty happy with the way things are going right now,” said Smith.
But is there a master plan? And is this business with James Kirkland for real? “Yeah!” Smith enthused. “Hopefully it is! [Promotional agencies] DBE and Golden Boy have done business before, and hopefully this is something that we can make come together and and happen. It’s a fight that I want, and hopefully a fight that he wants, and definitely a fight that I think the fans will want to see.”
Some professional athletes don’t love their own sport. Some love to compete but are not fans of the games that they play. Some even seem to feel trapped in the wrong profession. Don’t count Smith among these unfortunates. “I’m a student of the game,” he says. “So after my fight is over I’m sure I’ll just kick back and enjoy the rest of the evening, watching the other fights and cheering the other fighters on.” That raises another question – when Smith surveys Friday night’s fight card, are there any fights on the card that intrigue him? “No, not really,” Smith deadpans, and then laughs. “Not unless I was fighting them!”
A native of Las Vegas, Smith reminisces easily about his childhood, his introduction to boxing (by his mom), and the frequency of bouts in his hometown. “Growing up I was a big fan of boxing. You know, Las Vegas has fights all the time, so it’s kind of special to help bring boxing to some people that are really going to appreciate it, and I’m sure that the people from Fargo are going to turn out and be really enthusiastic about this fight card.” A timely arrival in Fargo should make it easy for Smith to take in some of the local flavor. “I’ll be there I think Wednesday or Thursday. I’m excited. I’ve been to a lot of places, but Fargo is one of the more, ahh – unique!”
Not content to mind my own business, I asked whether Smith – a guy who only fights one to three times a year – does any work outside of boxing to make ends meet. “No, I’m a full-time fighter, and a hands-on parent,” he responded proudly. I coach my son’s football team, I coach soccer, I pretty much do it all. I’m a mister mom, and thank God, because I wouldn’t trade this time for nothing.”
Notwithstanding such sentiments, the high point of Smith’s boxing career to date has to have been his 2008 defeat of unbeaten 21-0 prospect Pawel Wolak, then 21-0. But Smith comes to Fargo on a two-fight skid, most recently a painfully close loss to 18-0 Fernando Guerrero in July. “I feel good though,” Smith protests. Even though I got a bad decision in my last fight I think that was the best I ever looked.”
I pointed out that Smith is no longer a young boxer. Does he ever think about the end of his career, I asked, or is he still in it for the long haul? Smith was silent for just a moment before answering: “I don’t drink…and I don’t smoke…I take good care of myself, and I think that as long as I continue down the right path I can keep fighting for a long time. I feel the best that I’ve ever felt.”