A couple of years ago, a television program aired that I thought had a chance to re-shape the boxing world for the good. A tournament type of boxing series, culminating with a championship fight at the end of the season, The show, “The Contender” featured fighters that have been around for a bit, but for one reason or another, have not been to the top of their division. One of the fighters featured on this show was Ishe Smith, 21-3 (9), an unassuming young man who was undefeated at the time of the taping. Having seen Ishe fight and defeat former WBO light welterweight champion Randall Bailey, I immediately looked at him as the favorite to win the Contender belt. Ishe did not win the belt, losing a very close decision to the eventual belt winner, Sergio Mora. That did nothing to deter Ishe’s progress, as he pushed forth into the world of boxing, striving towards a world title shot.
On August 22nd, Ishe takes another huge step in taking on hot middleweight prospect Danny Jacobs, 17-0 (15). Recently, Ishe sat down with Convicted Artist Magazine to speak about this fight, his past and the future.
Bob Carroll (BC): Ishe, what brought you to the world of boxing?
Ishe Smith (IS): I started boxing when I was eight years old. My mom got me started because I was undersized for my age. She had a friend that boxed and he took me down to the gym and started working with me. Since that first time in the gym, I fell in love with the sport and I have been doing it ever since.
BC: What type of amateur background do you have?
IS: I went to a lot of tournaments. I won a couple of national tournaments and won the Nevada State Golden Gloves like seven times in a row, I can’t remember. I won the national blue and gold twice and went to the nationals of the USA tournament and fought Hector Camacho Jr. I made it to every amateur fighters dream to fight in the Olympic trials and fight for a spot on the Olympic team. I got to the semi-finals of the trials in 1996, but lost to Zab Judah. So, I had a pretty good amateur career. Not like a Mark Breland, or some of those other guys, but it wasn’t bad at all.
BC: You started your professional career by winning your first thirteen fights before taking on Randall Bailey for the WBC Continental Americans, USBA and WBO NABO welterweight belts. You won that fight by UD. How did it feel to win those titles?
IS: Winning those titles was a big accomplishment for me at that time, being that I only had, like you said, thirteen fights. The win was very important; he was a former world champion and had been in there against some big name opponents. Speaking of Randall Bailey, he’s getting ready to fight for another world championship, so it tells you the kind of guy that I beat with only thirteen fights. It meant a lot to me and I think that then, I was young and I didn’t grasp what beating him meant. It definitely was not one of my best performances, but it was certainly a big win in my career. I think at the time he only had one or two losses, so that was important as well.
BC: You were invited to take part in year one of the television shows "The Contender". Do you feel the Bailey victory brought you to the show producer’s attention?
IS: I think that, at that particular time and stage of my career, they wanted a fighter to make the show more reputable and I think that I was the guy to make the show seem like it was a real boxing show. At the time, maybe it wasn’t the best decision to go on the show, but at that time, I was on top of the world and didn’t think that any of those guys could beat me. I had to move up in weight to participate on that show, and it was a great platform for me. I have a thousand some Facebook friends on my Facebook page and I still get recognized in the mall, the restaurants, the streets, when I am working out or running and it’s all because of that show. But now it is important to establish myself outside of that show and still carry those fans with me as I take the road towards a world title, and I think that is most important.
BC: In taking part in the show, you were brought in with another fighter you had previously defeated in Alphonso Gomez. When you first arrived, did you look around the room and think "Wow, I'm going to win this competition"?
IS: When I was brought in with Alphonso Gomez, I had beaten him and sparred against Sergio Mora. At that particular time I was ranked by the WBA, WBC, IBF and the WBO so I was in the top ten or at least the top fifteen of these organizations. I was rated in the top of all of the organizations. At that particular part of my career, I didn’t think that any of those guys could beat me, even on my worst night. I don’t know, things happen and that’s all I can say about that I guess. But no, I didn’t think any of those guys could beat me.
BC: In your first fight, you took on house rival Ahmed Khaddor, winning an easy decision over him. After that, you were defeated by the eventual show winner, Sergio Mora in a close split decision for your first professional loss. Did you feel you beat him?
IS: Um, it’s hard for me to comment on that fight because I never did see it. Sometimes as a fighter, you are so struck with emotions that it takes you a while to let it register that you have lost. I really had no one there to telling me I lost. A lot of the people there in the crowd, the production team and the fighters were telling me that I got robbed. With that being said, I also had people telling me that I was robbed against Sechew Powell and Joel Julio, but I thought that I gave those fights away. I thought that rather than them winning, I didn’t do enough for them to win. So I have never come to grips with the Mora fight because I have never seen it! I suppose I could go to you tube and watch the Mora fight, the Powell fight of the Julio fight and I could say, you know what, I don’t think I did enough as an athlete to win the fight! With the Mora fight, I was never given the opportunity to watch, where he was given the opportunity to actually see the unedited version. Maybe I won and maybe he won. I don’t know, but it’s a loss that I’ll discredit for the rest of my career. That loss may have done more damage to my career because it lingered so long, and it was probably only a year and a half ago that I finally said forget it. But when you have a kid that never touched defeat before, never been in any true adversity, I really had handled everyone I fought, and then you go into this show, looking around and think, “I could beat most of these guys on my worst day”! Then you go fight a guy that, in your mind, you can beat, you think you win the fight and they give the split decision win to him. One judge gave it a 5-0 win to him, giving him every single round. I think it did more damage mentally than anything. I didn’t realize that until, maybe this year, the reason that a lot has lingered and my style has changed is probably because I never got over that first defeat. I’ve kind of been going through the motions, but now with the team I’ve got, the trainer I’ve got, I’m back to my old self. I especially felt that way when I fought Wolak. The things we have accomplished these last couple of fights, I am happy with were I am going. I’m not sure though, that I will ever be comfortable with saying that I lost, because I have never seen the fight.
BC: Are the disagreements and drama that is shown on the show something that is camera made, meaning done for the show, or is it real?
IS: No, they never did anything like that with me. The verbal arguments I had with Jessie (Brinkley) and Khaddor were very real on my end. Now I did hear that the crew would record and write down everything and then in at least one instance, guys were told what another guy was saying about them, to rile those guys up. I can’t speak for those guys, but on my end, everything you saw was real. No one ever told me to do anything, it was what you see you get. Ahmed and I felt that those guys wanted us to fight, just to get one of us out of the house. At that time we were both undefeated and they wanted us to take each other out. We were talking about not even fighting each other, so through all of that, it was real. It came to the point that, with both of us having big ego’s, one of us had to go and that’s why we ended up fighting. At the end of the day, no one ever told me to do or say anything, or told me anything that was said about me by other fighters.
BC: You had some contractual problems with the Contender series after the show ended? Can you speak of those?
IS: Well, you know, it would kind of be a waste of time because it was so long ago and it is water under the bridge. It wouldn’t be worth elaborating on for me. My attorney’s did a great job working out a great deal with The Contender people, who were great also, and allowing me to pursue my dream without being bound by their contract. It was a mutual thing, a mutual arrangement. But it was so long ago and I’ve had a couple of promoters since then, so going into that would be an elaborate thing. I would have to dig through files and contracts because it’s been so long. I’ve had two kids since then.
BC: After leaving them, you signed with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. How did that help your career?
IS: Oh, they were good, one of the best in the business, and still are the best. I think it helped my career a lot; it gave me a platform to be with one of the best promoters in the game. It definitely helped my career out a bunch.
BC: You won twice for them until being matched up against "The Iron Horse" Sechew Powell, where you lost a unanimous decision. How tough was Powell?
IS: Um, once again, I think it was tougher mentally than it was physically. It was a mentally tough environment and situation. My camp was mentally tough, the training was tough, and the whole thing was tough. I just don’t think I was mentally prepared to fight at that time. I kind of just went out there in the moment and everybody knows when they look at that fight and the Mora fight, gave those fights away more than those guys won the fight. There are still several people who come up to me and say that I won the Powell fight, but on the record, I’ll say I did not win the fight. I don’t think I won the Powell or Julio fight. I feel like, as an athlete, I did not do enough. To answer the question, I don’t think he was tough; it was just a tough time in my life and a tough situation I was dealing with that affected that fight.
BC: I have to admit something. Just before you fought Powell, he was a guest on my radio show, Fightin' Words, and boxers that appear on my show have won their next bout 40 out of 47 times. Can you forgive us?
IS: (Laughing) Yeah, definitely!
BC: After this loss and another close loss to Joel Julio, you stepped into the ring against an undefeated Pawel Wolak and won an UD over him last August. You were seen as an underdog coming into this fight, do you feel that you came in and shocked Wolak with your skill as a fighter?
IS: No, I was surprised that he picked me as an opponent! I don’t know what these undefeated guys think when they pick opponents and why he would have picked me. I took that fight on very short notice, very short notice; I had like a four week training camp. I looked at that fight as make or beak, do or die because I have beaten guys much better than him and it was like, if I can’t beat this guy at this point in my career, then I needed to make a decision, to put up or shut up. I don’t talk much in the media anymore, I have gotten a lot older, a lot wiser, I don’t call guys out, but in myself, personally, I felt it was time to put up or shut up. I was just tired of fights going by and I felt it was disrespectful that a fighter that has been in the game, what, 8-9 years to call out a fighter that has put in 23 years, since I was 8 years old. I felt that it was very disrespectful for his people to pick me, to fight me. There was no way I was going to let him win that fight no matter if I had a one week training camp. It just was not going to happen. I am used to fighting undefeated guys and I do not get over excited when I beat undefeated guys, because I have fought so many. That was a fight that I realized it was a career defining fight for me, partially mental because I had felt he would never beat a David Estrada or a Randall Bailey or any of the guys I had fought, so it was time to put up or shut up!
BC: Now when you say you got older, I'm 43, how old are you now?
IS: I just turned 31 last month.
BC: (laughing) God, that kills me; I wish I were 31 again!
BC: Earlier this year, you defeated Chris Gray and now stand to fight fast rising middleweight prospect Danny Jacobs 17-0 (15). How much do you know of Jacobs?
IS: Nothing at all! I like it like that! I don’t watch tape or fights anymore unless they are really big. I am more focused on myself now, and I like it that way. I like not watching tape and just focusing on myself and the things I have to do in order to win. I don’t need much press, like I said, I got older and wiser. May the best Danny Jacobs show up that night because the best of me will show up that night!
BC: Do you feel your ring experience will be a huge factor in this fight?
IS: I don’t know, we will have to wait to see on fight night. Everyone keeps talking about the ring experience. I still feel that I am young, and do not feel that I have accomplished what I should have accomplished, so I feel like I still have a lot to prove. When you think of a veteran or someone who has been in a lot of fights, you think of maybe Emanuel Augustus or someone like that, who has given people a lot of good fights. There were so many stretches in my career that there were no fights for months and months in my career and now this is the busiest I have been. Still last year, after I beat Wolak, it was a nine month lay-off, I couldn’t get a fight. I am hoping now that I am with the best promoter in the game, Lou DiBella and his staff, after this fight I can make my way to a world championship.
BC: What would a win over Jacobs do for Ishe Smith? On the other end would a win over Ishe Smith help Jacobs go from a prospect to a contender?
IS: Well, I am not looking at the second part of that question as happening, but the first part, I do not know. The media is the media, the media is full of opinions, so who am I to say I beat him up and you guys don’t say, “oh he was overrated anyway”. I never focus on what the media is saying. I used to, I used to care about what everyone was saying, but now I don’t. It really does not bother me at all. Like I said, the media is fickle and they really don’t care, they are full of opinions and not based on facts, so I beat him up and, yeah, I may get “ Oh, he’s back”, I may get the one guy who says “oh, he was overrated anyway and he has not proved anything!” I never focus on what you guys are going to say, I just go out and do my job!
BC: What type of fight can the boxing public expect form the Smith-Jacobs match-up?
IS: It should be a very exciting fight. Maybe one of those fights that steal the show. Maybe a year or two ago, I would have just said that and not meant that, but I truly believe it! This may be the fight that steals the show! I’m excited, I mean, I’m ecstatic about the fight! I can’t wait! As far as timing goes, I am ready! I wish it were next week. I am ready to go, really excited about this opportunity and fighting on HBO for the second time in my career. I have been blessed man, I mean a couple of losses have hurt me in my career, but above all, I have been blessed in my career. I have been on HBO twice, on Showtime numerous times, ESPN, so I am definitely not taking this option lightly! We will go out there and put on the best show possible! I think it will be a great fight!
BC: After this fight, who would you like to fight next?
IS: You know what, I am just focused on him! I just want to focus on him and whatever happens after this fight, whatever God has planned for me after this fight, whatever is the next step, we will go from there! Right now, I am totally focused on Jacobs; there is nobody else in my mind but him. I want to go out there and put on a great performance for all the thousands of fans I have and go out there and give a great show. I want to make my family and kids proud most importantly.
BC: Ishe, July 2009 has been a very bad month for boxing, so please be very safe. The floor is yours, what would you like to tell your fans and the readers of Convicted Artist Magazine?
IS: Just to continue to pray. Vernon Forrest was a guy I spent an extensive amount of time with, about a month last year, getting him ready for Sergio Mora rematch. We had a great camp and out of all the guys I have helped in boxing, he was top notch! He was a class act guy, and it hit me pretty hard when he died. Definitely pray for him, his family, his son and that the killer or killers are found. Definitely keep some of these fighters and people that are passing, in your prayers. Like I said earlier, especially keep Vernon’s son in your prayers. He has to grow up without his dad now. Like I said, it was pretty rough on me, because Vernon and I had gotten pretty close during that month I spent with him in camp.
It will be a great night of boxing on August 22nd; it’s going to be a terrific show, presented by HBO, Lou Dibella and Golden Boy.
I would like to thank Ishe for taking time out of his training to speak with Convicted Artist Magazine and Ray Campbell for facilitating this interview. For more on Ishe, listen to Bob, Butch and "THE Big Dog" Benny Henderson Jr on Fightin Words Radio Show