By Thomas Gerbasi
Instagram isn’t usually where you go for profound thoughts, but on the day the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Erislandy Lara fight was made official for July 12, thus pulling Lara from his May 2 title fight against Ishe Smith, Smith took to the site to express his feelings on losing his shot at regaining a portion of the world junior middleweight title.
“Lara has pulled out of our fight to secure a bigger payday with Canelo,” Smith wrote. “I would have done the same, good luck to both fighters in their upcoming fight.”
It was as classy a response as you could get from a fighter who had to be devastated by this turn of events. At 35, and coming off the loss of his IBF 154-pound title to Carlos Molina last September, this was a crushing blow, but he took the high road. And though Smith will fight this Friday at the Hard Rock in his Las Vegas hometown, and he’s still the main event on a Fox Sports 1 televised card, it’s without a world title on the line. But he’s not bitter.
“Sometimes in life, there are certain things you can’t control,” said Smith. “This was out of my control. I’m grateful to still be fighting and that means a lot to still be on the show and be the main event. If I was him (Lara), he could be in one tough fight for six figures - no one’s ever been in an easy fight with me - or he could take a bigger fight for seven figures. If I was in his shoes, I know I would have done the same thing. But I waited 13 years for my first title shot, so if I have to wait a fight or two, it’s no big deal. I’m with good promoters in Mayweather Promotions with Floyd Mayweather and Leonard Ellerbe, and they have my best interests in mind, so I know if I do my job and don’t have any slip-ups like I had in September, I know I’ll get another shot to be a two-time champion, and that’s the most important thing.”
Again, that’s class. But it has to be asked, would the Ishe Smith of seven or eight years ago felt the same way?
“Oh no,” Smith laughs. “That little kid, that little a**hole would have been on the internet and he’d still be going crazy right now. He would have given you so much material, you could have taken it to Maury Povich. (Laughs) So no, definitely not. But when you get older and wiser and look back over your life, you just realize some things you could have changed and done differently. When you get older, you’re supposed to get wiser. I have a wonderful family, great kids, great friends, and in my old age I’ve gotten wiser and wiser.”
He has. And though he had his ups and downs in and out of the ring, when 2013 rolled around, everything came together for the boxer who got his first dose of the spotlight on season one of NBC’s reality show, The Contender. It was a long way from those days, but on February 23 in Detroit, Smith made the most of his first world title shot, decisioning Cornelius “K9” Bundrage for the IBF belt. It was an emotional win for Smith and the feel-good story of the boxing year. He would lose the belt a little less than seven months later to Carlos Molina via split decision, but with the Lara fight, he was going to get another crack at the gold. Then Canelo showed up and the fight disappeared.
So now standing in front of “Sugar Shay” will be Illinois’ Ryan Davis. Davis, 24-13-3, has lost four straight and five of his last six, with four of those losses coming by knockout. On paper, there is no way Smith loses this fight, but a fighter can’t think that way, and Smith certainly doesn’t.
“We see it every week in football,” he said. “Oh, this is gonna be an easy win for the Broncos or the Patriots, and these people go to the casino and lay all this money on these teams, and the team loses. Was it a lack of focus, a lack of discipline? But the difference between those sports and boxing is that they get to come back next week and right the wrong. They can fix it real fast. In boxing, you can’t do that. A slip-up like this would be crippling to my career, almost devastating to the point where I don’t know if I could ever come back. That’s what motivates me to take him very seriously, and to not go in there and take him lightly.”
That’s the voice of a man who knows this business and knows his place in it right now. A few years back, a couple losses wouldn’t help his case for a world title shot, but it didn’t rule him out completely. A loss at this point, especially to Davis in a nationally televised bout, would pretty much write Ishe Smith out of the title picture permanently. That may make this fight even more dangerous (pardon the pun on Davis’ nickname).
“In boxing years I’m getting up there, and when it comes to opportunities, it’s up to me now,” said Smith. “My promoter is going to get me the opportunities but I can’t have any slip-ups against a guy like Ryan Davis. He probably has all the confidence in the world. He’s fighting a former champ and he’s coming to his backyard, so I have to be very focused and very aware that if I want to get back to being a world champion, I can’t have any letdown performances. I can’t even afford to look bad against this guy or I’m gonna give all the guys in the industry material to write about. So I know what’s at stake here. I have to go out here and perform, and not just against him, but against anybody I fight.”
And if he does what he’s supposed to on Friday night – win, and win big – it’s likely that he’ll be back in a title fight before the end of the year. And that’s all Smith wants, another chance to prove himself as a legit world champion. He knows he can do it; all he needs is the opportunity. And though most fighters want that title belt for the glory or the money, Smith’s intentions are different.
“No excuses, I don’t know why things happen in life,” he said of losing his title to Molina. “But that chapter closed and now I want to make a new chapter. I don’t want to be that group that put out one good hit and you love that hit, and then you forget about it. I was so disappointed in September, and I wondered what I could compare it to, and you know what, it was Vanilla Ice. (Laughs) He had that one good song, “Ice Ice Baby,” and that was it. He fell off after that. I don’t want to be Vanilla Ice. I want to be the guy that leaves a legacy in this sport, that put Vegas on the map, that everybody can say ‘this guy endured it all, lost it, and he regained it.’ I want to have a great book. That’s what motivates me most of all. I know what it’s like to win it, and I’m working my ass off to win it again."