Former heavyweight champion James “Bonecrusher” Smith reflected on his career and offered advice on healthy living at the Winston-Salem Urban League Saturday.
Smith, a Madison native, boxed from 1981-1999, winning the World Boxing Association belt in 1986 by knocking out “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon three times in the first round.
He said he was inspired to box at an early age. Smith was six when he decided he wasn’t going to school anymore. Some “whuppings” from a teacher and his parents changed his thinking.
“And I got mad and I made a decision: one, I was going to school and two, I didn’t know what I was going to do at age six, but when I got grown, I was going to whup me somebody.” said Smith. “I whupped a lot of people.”
He was an amateur boxer while serving in the Army. Once he left military service, he fought his first professional bout, suffering a knock-out loss in a match that aired on ESPN. Undeterred, he said he rededicated himself to work harder. His resolve paid off. Smith accumulated 14 wins before making his first try at the world title, which initially illuded him after he fell to Larry Holmes.
Smith would sign a contract with promoter Don King to get another crack at Holmes, but the match didn’t materialize after Holmes lost to Michael Spinks. Smith and King would sue each other, both alleging breach of contract. They settled their conflict after King offered Smith the title fight against Witherspoon. Smith had only a week to prepare, but it was enough to make him world champion. The Shaw University alumnus was the first college graduate to hold the heavyweight boxing title.
Smith had an impressive run, racking up 44 wins (32 by KO), 17 losses and one draw.
“You can beat 80 percent of anyone you compete against by just hard work,” he said.
One of his losses was against “Iron” Mike Tyson. Though Tyson was famous for winning through knockouts, Smith managed to last all 12 rounds by fighting defensively and landing a hard right in the final round that made Tyson’s knees buckle. Smith lost by a lopsided decision, relinquishing his world championship title to Tyson, who would successfully defend it nine times.
Smith said he felt he could’ve taken Tyson had he not let the buzz about the then young boxing powerhouse get to him.
“I got caught in the hype,” said Smith. “I really allowed a certain type of fear to stop me from doing what I needed to do.”
Smith now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he uses boxing to mentor kids through his non-profit, Champion for Kids, Inc.
His local appearance was sponsored by Mayor Allen Joines and “Yes We Can” Boxing, Health and Fitness Club. Both the mayor and Yes We Can have made fighting childhood obesity a top priority. Smith drove home the importance of good health at the event, which also provided a healthy lunch to attendees.
At 60, Smith still works out five times a week. He talked about the dangers of an excess waistline, including the increased risk of diabetes and urged attendees to avoid sodas, even diet ones, altogether. Smith performed a live demonstration to show what he believes is the combustible nature of sodas.
Fredrick Whitaker, Smith’s former sparring partner, arranged his visit. The former boxer and trainer now teaches local kids the art of boxing through his “Yes We Can” Boxing, which is affiliated with United States Amateur Boxing, Inc. He’s trained more than 300 youth over the past 18 years.
“I train them in boxing to help them physically, mentally and spiritually,” said Whitaker, who currently trains kids at the Winston Lake Family YMCA but is hoping to someday run the program at a gym of his own.
Joines launched the Mayor’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative last year. Among the program’s features is a web site, theisleofsmile.com, that features exercise videos and tips for getting kids active and moving.
Tyrek Thompson was among the young people on hand for the presentation. The 12-year-old said he found the advice from both Smith and the mayor useful.
Learn more about Smith at championforkids.com. His book, “M.A.D.: Make a Decision,” is available at Amazon.com. For more information about “Yes We Can” Boxing, call Whitaker at 336-695-4280.