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James "Bonecrusher" Smith

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  • James "Bonecrusher" Smith

    So have we finally come to this charismatic heavyweight of the 80's. James "Bonecrusher" Smith was a top contender of the 80's and also fought in the 90's, up until 1999. As his epiteth alludes, he was a very hard puncher. With his height (6'4), reach (82 inches) and power, he was a pretty formidable and intimidating opponent for any heavyweight of that era. He also had a rather good stamina and was clever, despite not being technically polished. However, he started out as a pro very late, aged 28, so his career was destined not to be successful too long. He did win the WBA belt but held it briefly, losing it to Mike Tyson, of all people. He became the first man to go 12 with Iron Mike in a losing effort. Alongside Tony Tucker and Donovan Razor Ruddock, he is the only fighter to last the full 12 rounds against Tyson. He is also one of the few heavyweights in history to win a world title after the age of 30. Here is the story of Bonecrusher.

    Born James Odell Smith on 3 April 1953 in Magnolia, North Carolina, Smith graduated from the Shaw University of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration. He then joined the army and started boxing there. It was there he earned his moniker. He compiled an amateur record of 35-4. He turned pro in 1981 and lost his first fight by KO4 to James Broad, a rather highly rated contender back then. It was a left hook to the body that did him in. He then scored 14 straight wins before going to England for the first time to fight their great hope, Frank Bruno. Bruno was a big favorite when the two commenced on Wembley, 13 May 1984. Bruno was 21-0 going into the fight, all of his wins were by knockout. The fight was rather uneventful and Bruno ahead on points going into the tenth round. It was then that Bonecrusher produced an amazing turnaround as Bruno tired and drove him to the ropes where he hit him with a barrage punctuated by a right which put him down and out. This victory earned him a fight for the newly-created IBF title against Larry Holmes. Holmes had been practically awarded the title after he chose to forfeit the WBC belt. The fight happened at Riviera Hotel & Casino in Vegas, an outdoors venue, 9 November '84. Holmes won the first four rounds but in the fifth he was caught by a big right after missing with one of his punches and hurt. He held on till he recovered, but in the eight he was again hit by a big right and was again holding on. Holmes was also cut on the brow in the seventh, but came back in the eleventh to open a bad cut on Smith's left eyelid with a straight right. In the following round, the doctor stopped to look at the cut and then asked Bonecrusher if he wanted to continue. "Call it off", was his response and that was the end of it, 2 minutes 10 seconds into round 12. He had lost but had given a good enough account of himself to get more big fights in the future.

    He got one against Tony Tubbs in his next fight, but the 19-0 Tubbs proved to slick and elusive and took home an unanimous 10-round decision on 15 March '85. Smith then scored a SD over Jose Ribalta in a tough fight where he had him down in the first round, before fighting Tim Witherspoon for the first time, 15 June, only 3 months after Tubbs fight. Once again, he was outboxed and lost by a wide UD12. Even worse, in his next fight against Marvis Frazier, which was on 23 February next year, he had Frazier down in the fifth and broke his jaw, but Frazier valiantly got up and came back to snatch a close UD10. However, many present ringside believed Smith deserved to win and the decision might've been influenced by the "name factor", i.e. Marvis being the son of Joe. He finally caught a break again when he stopped the hard-hitting Mike Weaver by TKO1 on 5 April that year. It was the first time Weaver was stopped so early. Smith then decisioned Jesse Ferguson and David Bey before signing to fight Tim Witherspoon for the latter's WBA title. It was 12 December at MSG when Smith stopped an unmotivated Witherspoon in one round, dropping him three times and costing him a tooth, before the fight ended after 2 minutes anad 12 seconds. "I knew his mind couldn't be on the fight. He wasn't thinking about me. My plan was to be allover him. He embarrassed me the last time and I wanted to pay him back. I did." Those were Smith's words after the fight. Mike Tyson was present ringside and praised Bonecrusher's performance and physical power. It was then almost imminent that Tyson would turn out to be Smith's first opponent as a champion. Tyson had already taken the WBC belt from Trevor Berbick and this was also his first fight since becoming a champ. The two commenced on 7 March '87 at Las Vegas Hilton Outdoor Arena, but the fight turned out to be a sleeper. Bonecrusher used his physical advantages (6 inches in height and 11 in reach!) to tie up Tyson each time he came close. Tyson hit him after the first round ended, due to Bonecrusher giving him a questioning look, a "what's your problem?" type look. The two frequently taunted eachother and had several wrestling matches and Smith's holding got him two points deducted. But in the last round, Smith managed to land a good punch which rattled Tyson. Tyson was also down for the first time in his career in round 7, after getting caught by a body punch while charging at Smith, but it was ruled as a slip as he was off balance before the punch landed. Otherwise, Smith absorbed quite a bit of leather and lost convincingly on the scorecards, only getting that last round from two of the judges. He got 1 million for the fight.

    He was now no longer the champ but became the first man to last 12 against the guy that struck fear into hearts of all heavyweights, more or less. In his next fight 9 August, he fought the Brazilian contender Adilson Rodrigues in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but lost by a hometown split decision. One judge gave him all the 10 rounds while the other two gave it to the home favorite but by only one point. He took almost a year off from the ring before coming back on 30 July '88, but his fight against the 11-0 Mike Rouse ended as a technical draw after 3 rounds, after Rouse was cut by an accidental headbutt. He then took one more year-long sabbatical before coming back in a vital fight against rising contender and another man who would go 12 with Tyson: Donovan "Razor" Ruddock. It was an entertaining action fight that night 2 July '89 in Fayetteville. Bonecrusher first caught the younger Ruddock by surprise in round 2 and sent him crashing down with a big right hand. However, Ruddock quickly got up and even grinned while down. The 10-year difference in age started to show soon and Ruddock took control of the fight in the middle rounds, before stopping Bonecrusher in the 7th, after putting him through the ropes with a big combination. He was 36 now and had lost 3 of his 4 last fights, but wasn't feeling ready to call it quits. He stopped the huge Calvin Jones by RTD8 in his next fight and also beat Mike Rouse in the rematch by KO7, all in that same 1989. On 4 April '90, he again faced Mike Weaver but this time the fight went the distance and Smith won the minor WBA Americas title by a wide UD12. He also put Weaver down in the first round. That would prove to be his last achievement. He also stopped the teak-tough Everett Martin by TKO8 and knocked out hard-punching Jeff Sims in 1 round in 1991, but then lost by UD10 to unremarkable fringe contender Levi Billups and then to Michael Moorer, both by UD10. In 1993, he first stopped the former Riddick Bowe-adversary Elijah Tillery by TKO6, before taking part in the "People's Choice One-Night Only" tournament, 3 December in Casino Magic, St. Louis. He advanced to the final, where he lost to surprise winner Daniel Dancuta on points in 3 rounds. He was knocked out by Lionel Butler, unremarkable but hard-hitting fighter, in 3 rounds next and then also stopped by Brian Nielsen by TKO5 in a fight in Denmark, both in 1994. In 1998 he faced the even-older Joe Bugner (48) in a fight for the World Federation title, but was retired in the first round with a back injury. In his last fight on 18 June '99 in Fayetteville, he again faced his old opponent, Larry Holmes. Though older by 3 years, Holmes was in better shape and stopped Smith by TKO8. Smith told his trainer to stop the fight after being hurt by jabs while trapped against the corner. Both fighters were swollen up at the end however and they embraced. The fight was a part of the "Legends of Boxing" series.

    Bonecrusher was 46 when he finally retired, 18 years after his pro career began. His record is 44 wins, 32 by ko, 17 losses and 1 draw. He was the first college graduate to win a world heavyweight title, a feat later replicated by the Klitschko brothers. He lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, today. In 1996, he became an ordained minister and devoted his life to helping young people stay away from crime and drugs. In 2004 he founded the non-profit organization "Champion for Kids Inc.", which works to help high school students get scholarships. James Bonecrusher Smith was and is an anomaly in the sport in several ways. First, he was a man who chose to start boxing out of love for the sport and not the need of money. He had a higher education and didn't need to fight to provide for himself and his family. He was also one of the few world champions and famous boxers never to get involved with drugs or to have brushes with the law. And for that, he truly deserves to be revered. He is also one of the hardest punchers in the history of sport, but it is a shame he chose to box and defend instead of slug with Tyson. Who knows...maybe the history would be different.

  • #2
    Good article Boz-meister

    I maybe think Tucker was the best of this bracket of also-ran heavyweights of this era (he beat McCall and Buster Douglas) but I think Smith was definitely better than Witherspoon - who I didn't rate at all, but many did highly for some unknown reason....?
    (I mean overall in general terms; not just their two fights which was 1-1)

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    • #3
      Originally posted by selij View Post
      Good article Boz-meister

      I maybe think Tucker was the best of this bracket of also-ran heavyweights of this era (he beat McCall and Buster Douglas) but I think Smith was definitely better than Witherspoon - who I didn't rate at all, but many did highly for some unknown reason....?
      (I mean overall in general terms; not just their two fights which was 1-1)
      Thanks Lord Selby! I think Witherspoon was good but he had problems with work ethic etc, and he got screwed by Don King too much, so his career didn't develop like it should have. Hard for me to say who was better, him or Smith...technically, Witherspoon was better but overall, it's pretty close.

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