By Sean Bastow – James Smith was born on the 3rd April 1953 in a small town in the USA called Magnolia which housed around only one thousand residents, so as you can imagine opportunities were hard to come by.
Smith however made the most of the opportunities that came around, he earned a business degree in business administration before serving the US military, and then went on to work as a prison guard. During this time Smith competed as an amateur fighter obtaining a record of 35-4 before turning professional at the ripe old age of twenty eight which is relatively late to turn professional.
The professional career of James “Bonecrusher” Smith turned out to be a very respectable one. His big break came on May 13th 1984 at the Wembley Arean against our very own Frank Bruno, a fight which Smith was losing on the cards until the tenth and final round where he managed to catch Bruno with crushing right hand and sent “Big Frank” crashing into the ropes and to the canvas. As a result of this victory he went on to share the ring with the great Larry Holmes and notable names such as Tony Tubbs, Marvis Frazier (son of the late “Smokin Joe” Fraizer)
The biggest break of Smith’s career came on December 5, 1986. Don King called and offered Smith a world title fight but there was a catch….he had to fight the champion on just one weeks notice!
On December 12, 1986 on HBO TV at Madison Square Garden, Smith knocked down Tim Witherspoon three times in the first round to become the WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World. He became the first college graduate to win a World Boxing Heavyweight Title
There was also another clause in the contract Smith had with Don King, if Smith won the world title his first defence would have to be against the face of the heavyweight division, a 21 year old Mike Tyson who at the time had not long become the youngest heavyweight champion in history.
In March 1987 “Bonecrusher” Smith went up against Mike Tyson a formidable opponent who had stopped twenty six of his previous twenty eight opponents. In what was a surprising turn of events Smith managed to become the first man to go the championship distance. Smith lost the fight via a unanimous decision which also turned out to be his last major championship bout.
Smith would go on to box until 1999 dislocating his shoulder against Joe Bugner and then in his final bout fought former foe Larry Holmes for a second time and would finally retire at the age of 46
I recently spoke to Bonecrusher about his career and life after boxing, this is what he had to say:
What would you say was the hardest fight you was in
The hardest fight was when I fought Mike Tyson, I just couldn’t adjust to the guy’s style, he crouched low and I couldn’t hit him properly, the right hand just kept flying over his head anybody I hit normally, they were in trouble. Tyson was a guy who I just couldn’t get to he was slipping all my punches and always marching forward towards you. He was only 21 and at his peak, he was as intimidating as you would of expected which I think got to me a little, but I was never in any serious trouble in the fight.
Who was the hardest puncher you faced
“Mike Tyson, but Frank Bruno hit real hard too, as did Mike Weaver. I fought a lot of big punchers, guys who could stand up to my big punch. With Tyson, it was also his speed and his combinations. But Bruno also threw pretty good combinations. Bruno’s straight right hand was a hard punch.”
What would you say is the defining moment of your career
“That would be when I knocked out Tim Witherspoon in the first round to win the WBA Heavyweight crown. Tim was a tough guy and he had previously beaten me the year before. I was not expected to take him out especially that quick. To be crowned “new heavyweight champion” is something I will never forget”.
How do you think you would get on against the current top heavyweights
“I think me and some of the other guys in my era, guys like Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno and Larry Holmes would be able to beat a lot of those guys in the division, the 1980s was a tough era for the heavyweight division and the best always had to fight the best”.
What has life been like since you retired?
“Since retirement I have set up the “Champion For Kids” which is a nonprofit organization to provide scholarships to high school students. I have also set up the “Boxing Legends Hall Of Fame” to recognize the ten world champions which I faced during my boxing career, this is something I want extend to all the legendry fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns guys like that”.
Did you know that I am also an ordained minister and have been since 1996, I enjoy helping the younger generation and passing on the knowledge to help keep them on the right path in life.