By Terence Dooley
BoxNews have reported that Worcester-born journeyman Billy Smith passed away earlier today, citing suicide as the cause of death. Billy, 13-145-2, was a regular on the domestic circuit and he was due to fight this coming weekend. However, Smith’s ring record was deceptive, he was a bag of tricks and gave lots of prospects a hard night’s work. A general rule of thumb was that if you could land clean shots on Billy — and this also applied to his late twin brother Ernie (who took his own life in January 2010) — then you were a fine prospect.
Smith’s last win was a four-threes decision over Mark Adams in December 2011, he out-fought the novice en route to a deserved 40-37 victory and then went on a long losing streak, but he was not stopped during this last run of defeats and there were one or two that could have gone the other way. His final fight was a four-round decision defeat to Robbie Barrett on July 7th.
My abiding memories of the 35-year-old stem from his fights with Curtis Woodhouse and Jonny “Rocco” Hussey — I could barely believe my eyes when Woodhouse stopped Smith with a left hook to the body at Rotherham’s Magna Centre on April 10 2011. In its own way, the KO loss to Woodhouse was a bigger shock than Lennox Lewis’s knockout defeat to Hasim Rahman — very few people did that to Smith and we witnessed something that not many fans or pundits got to see.
Still, it wasn’t always about the defeats. Smith enjoyed a purple patch in 2006 when a win over Gwyn Wales was followed by victories over Hussey, Jonathan Whiteman and Martin Gordon (all on points over six). Dee Mitchell halted the run in December of that year, but Smith’s bubble of form was rewarded with a vacant BBBofC Midlands Area light welterweight title showdown against fellow journeyman Baz Carey in March 2007. Smith won that one on points and he picked up the vacant belt once again by out-pointing Carl Allen in September of the same year.
Hussey disputed his 57-58 loss to Smith, fighters always do, but he respected the man who handed him his first defeat and was keen to put things right. They never got the chance to do it again and the result went into the books as a stark reminder that, on his night, Smith could handle himself.
“Jonny thought he’d won the fight, but to be honest it was so close that it could have gone either way,” said Hussey’s then-trainer Bob Shannon when speaking to BoxingScene about Smith’s untimely death.
“People like Billy and Ernie Smith keep the sport going. Billy could have been British champion with the right backing. He gave ‘Rocco’ a hard night and it all hinged on the last round — I think Billy just pulled it out in that round and deserved to win it. Don’t forget, Jonny was unbeaten at the time, and the home fighter on the bill, so it was a very good result for Billy and just goes to show what he was capable of.
“If one of my lads was offered a fight with Billy I’d always have a think because he could turn it on at times and was a very capable fighter — if he put his mind to it he could win important fights.
“Ernie actually lost to [Shannon’s fighter] Denton Vassell in Dent’s first fight [L TKO 3 in September 2006], so I crossed paths with the Smiths more than once. I often joked with the two brothers about how much they looked alike. Sometimes I’d wind them up by getting them mixed up on purpose. They were very close. My heart goes out to their family and all the lads at my gym are very sad about this news.
He added: “I also had some close moments with Billy because he lost his brother, Ernie, and I lost my son, Robert, so we’d chat about the people we’ve lost. We didn’t shy away from talking about the upsets we’d been through. It was nice because we could open our hearts. We’d both reminisce about our loved ones. The two brothers had great character. I just wish I’d got to see Billy recently so I could put my arms around him and ask him if everything was OK. People forget that we’re a family in this sport and we all care about each other.”
Please send news and views to [email protected] or Twitter @Terryboxing.