By Lem Satterfield
Former junior middleweight champion Ishe Smith has endured a career characterized by fights taken on short notice, disputed majority and split-decisions losses and general heartache, so much so, that at his life’s nadir during a period in 2008 and 2009, “Sugar Shay” pondered suicide.
But Smith has persevered, signing with Floyd Mayweather’s promotional company in 2012 and winning the IBF's 154-pound world championship in February 2013 by unanimous decision that dethroned Cornelius Bundrage in Detroit, becoming the first Las Vegas-born titlist.
Smith (28-10, 12 KOs) turned 40 in July after falling by unanimous and split-decision to once-beaten title challenger Julian Williams and twice-beaten Tony Harrison in November 2017 and May. He watched Harrison dethrone Jermell Charlo as WBC champ on December 22, and Williams (26-1-1, 16 KOs) position himself for a shot at IBF/WBA titleholder Jarrett Hurd in 2019.
“I had a plan to only go until I was 40, but I’m having some of my best fights at this age, so I may be the new Bernard Hopkins and go until I’m 45. I’m so proud and blessed given the dark places I’ve come out of and having overcome some bumps in the road. I’m more family-oriented than a lot of fighters, which is why over the second half of my career I’ve refused to set up camps out of town. I always told my family that if I can no longer compete, then I’m done,” said Smith, a father of six ranging in age from 6 and 20 who lives with his fiancee in Las Vegas.
“I see some of what boxing has done to some of these old-timers walking around and I’ve promised myself that I won’t let this sport get the best of me. I wanna be able to talk to you like I’m talking to you now, articulate with and enjoy my family, and be able to recall things. But I’m still able to compete with these young guys as a testament to the vows I’ve taken – no drugs, no drinking. I don’t have an Andre Ward or Floyd Mayweather career, but I’ve fought the best and I’m still going strong.”
“Sugar Shay” looks to rebound from those loses on February 9 against 23-year-old southpaw Erickson Lubin (19-1, 14 KOs), whom he'll face on the undercard of a 130-pound clash between three-division champion Abner Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) and left-handed WBA "super" champion Gervonta Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) live on Showtime at The StubHub in Carson, California.
In his last victory in September 2016, Smith overcame a 6-foot fighter in Frank Galarza, using a second-round knockdown to propel him to a 10-round majority decision in a 156-pound bout at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Smith gained the early edge when he caught Galarza with a counter right near the end of Round 2 and dropped the Brooklyn, New York, native. While the 33-year-old Galarza quickly got back to his feet, Smith danced in the neutral corner and smirked at his opponent while referee Vic Drakulich gave the count.
“A lot of young guys feel like I’m old, so they want to try and apply the pressure,” Smith said. “But from working with guys like Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather, it’s all about setting traps. As long as I’m competing and my body keeps feeling good, I’ll keep going.”