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Oakland Billy Smith


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Oakland Billy Smith is not a name you will hear very often when boxing history is discussed, but he was a dangerous and solid contender at light heavyweight who hit hard and knocked out some outstanding fighters, most famous ones being Harold Johnson and Lloyd Marshall. He also knocked down Ezzard Charles in a memorable bout which he lost by ko. He also managed to fight to a draw with Archie Moore once. He was likely the best boxer to come out of Oakland. Smith was not polished technically, but he was game and a great puncher who came to fight.


He was born on the New Year's Day 1921 in Oakland. He was raised in a devout Presbyterian family, but still chose boxing as his profession. He turned professional in June 1941 and first fought as a middleweight, but gradually, the 6-foot Smith grew into a light heavyweight. He didn't have an easy start in the pro ranks and after 22 fights his record was 11-8-3. He lost to a guy called Aaron Wade three times, but most losses came by decisions in 4, 6 and 8 round bouts. In 1944 he entered the light heavyweight ranks and started winning. In March 1945 he came up short in a 10-round decision to Newsboy Milich, but avenged the loss with a TKO 8 two months later. He then beat Watson Jones by TKO 11 for the California light heavy title only eight days later and defended it against the same guy by decision 19 days later. He defended it twice more against Kenny Watkins, by TKO 2 and TKO 7 respectively. He then for the first time faced the future hall of famer Charley Burley, widely considered one of the best pound for pound boxers in history. Needless to say, Smith was outclassed and decked once, but managed to last the 10-round distance. He also gained a valuable lesson. He then defended his California title twice more, against the same guy called Buddy Millard, both times by knockout. He then signed to fight another hall of famer, Jimmy Bivins, 30 January 1946. Even though Bivins used to fight at 175, this was a heavyweight fight and he came in at 186 while Smith weighed 175. He received a beating again and was put down twice this time, in the fifth and the sixth rounds, but again survived till the final bell to lose on points.


In his next fight, he scored his first great victory against the feared contender Lloyd Marshall, who once knocked out Ezzard Charles himself. Marshall was also vastly more experienced, but Smith got the best of him in the 9th round, when he first hurt him with a right hand. Marshall tried to hold but was unable to keep balance and started falling. Smith hit him with two light left hooks to the body as he was falling and Marshall landed on his face, unable to beat the count. Even better, that fight was held in Auditorium in Smith's home town Oakland. He again signed to fight Burley, this time coming in at a significant weight advantage of 12 pounds, but it helped him little, as he was outjabbed by Burley and also got taken six points away for holding. He again lost on points. He made the fiftth defense of his belt by outpointing Bobby Zander by split decision in a close 12-rounder. He knocked Zander down in the 2nd but after the 6th he was largely ineffective, winning only thanks to that extra knockdown point advantage. And then, in September '46, he faced the greatest light heavyweight for the first time: Ezzard "Cincinnati Cobra" Charles. Despite hurting Charles with a left hook that wobbled him, Charles put him down with a left hook of his own in the 6th and coasted to a deserved decision victory. And in the very next fight he faced another legend, Archie "Old Mongoose" Moore, in the 6th defense of his California belt. It was a 12-round bout in the Oakland Auditorium and the fight was even all the way. In the 5th and 6th, Moore hurt Smith with right hands but then Smith started to land more from the outside and by the 10th he had swollen Moore's left eye shut. Smith closed strong and thereby earned a draw. He again faced Bobby Zander in January next year and again put him down twice but nearly escaped with a majority decision victory in the end.


A month later he had a rematch against Ezzard Charles and after a slow first round, Smith put Charles down with a short left which caught Ezzard as he was moving away. He rose quickly and didn't appear hurt. Smith was the better man in the next round and Charles appeared cautious. He then came on strong in the 4th and wobbled Smith before exploding in the next round and landing a sudden right to the chin which sent Smith down. He tried to rise but was unable to get his legs up and so the fight was over at 1:38 of the 5th round. Next year he lost to Moore in a rematch on points and then suffered his worst defeat when he was knocked out in 1 round by hard-hitting future heavyweight Bob Satterfield. He also was knocked out by Moore in 4 rounds of their third fight, all in the same year. It appeared Smith was damaged goods, damaged by fighting too much against the ace fighters. He was also stopped in 3 by unspectacular fighter Leonard Morrow, who would later also get koed by Archie Moore. He then won a fight by TKO 1 before getting thrown out from a fight against Clarence Henry for stalling, along with his opponent. In January '51 he had his fourth fight against Moore and this time managed to put him down in the 6th round with a right hand. After punching himself out in the 7th after trying to stop Moore, he started coasting. In the 8th, he turned to look at his corner when he was suddenly hit by Moore and floored for a nine-count. He got up but was then pounded into the ropes. As the ref started counting, Smith just ducked through the ropes and walked out of the ring. For this he was suspended indefinitely and his purse was witheld.


He took a year off due to the suspension and next year came back looking in good shape. He knocked out the 21-1 Billy Noble in the first round with a combination. It would be Noble's last fight as he died in a plane crash seven months later. But the best was yet to come. Oakland Billy Smith's final and greatest achievement happened on 8 October 1954 when he went to Philadelphia to fight their legend, Harold "Hercules" Johnson. Johnson was a splendid boxer and a physical specimen, also a future hall of famer. He started the fight best, outjabbing Smith and then hurting him at the end of the first round with a hard right. In the second, Johnson seemed to still be in control until he was hit by a monstrous right and put down for the count. He didn't make it and Smith had made a major upset. After the fight, Johnson said that he was still dazed from the punch while Smith said "He drops his left. When he did it again in the second, that was it. It was a short right, the best punch of my life." And his best victory also. He then dismantled Archie McBride in 9 rounds but in his next fight he was surprisingly stopped by Paul Andrews in 6, after getting knocked down three times. In his last fight on 26 October '55, he took on the heavyweight John Holman and was stopped in 7 rounds. Holman weighed 203 and half and Smith 175 and half. Smith was now 34 and decided to retire, with a record of 58 wins (33 by ko), 24 losses and 4 draws.


His fighting nickname was Boardwalk, since he fought out of Atlantic City. His manager was Jerry Gormley, a sheriff of Atlantic City. After his retirement from the ring, he took a job at his manager's sheriff office and worked as a deputy. Amazingly, Smith is still alive today and recently turned 95. Despite the fact that he was knocked out nine times, by some of the hardest hitters of the division. Well done.

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