Former junior middleweight champion aims to tame another young lion when he faces Erickson Lubin this Saturday night on Showtime.
Ishe Smith is unusual in at least one sense: He is peaking in what is typically the final stage of a boxer’s career.
Smith, who turned 40 this past July, lost a split decision in a hard-fought battle with Tony Harrison this past May. Harrison went on to outpoint Jermell Charlo in his subsequent fight to win the WBC 154-pound title.
Further, Smith lost a unanimous decision to highly-ranked Julian Williams — a close, back-and-forth fight — the previous November.
These strong performances helped land Smith a meeting with Erickson Lubin in the co-feature to the Gervonta Davis-Hugo Ruiz fight this Saturday, February 9 at Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly StubHub Center) in Carson, California. The Davis-Ruiz card will be televised on Showtime (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
“What keeps me going at 40? Still being competitive,” Smith said. “I’ve probably done my best work later in my career. It took me 13 years as a professional to win my world title (against Cornelius Bundrage in 2013). And just recently, a current world champion beat me by a split decision and a lot of people thought I beat Julian Williams.
“I’ve been saying: I’ll continue to fight as long as I’m competitive.”
Smith has always been competitive, from the time he served as former 154-pound champion Fernando Vargas’ main sparring partner to his performances on “The Contender” TV series to the present.
His record – 29-10, with 12 knockouts – doesn’t scream elite but Smith has been a legitimate contender for most of the past 15 years, an impressive run that speaks to both his ability and staying power.
Among the 10 losses are three split decisions (against Sergio Mora, Carlos Molina and Harrison), a majority decision (against Vanes Martirosyan) and several tight unanimous decisions, which means his record could look considerably different had a few more rounds gone his way here and there.
The only decisive defeat occurred versus the unusually gifted Erislandy Lara in 2014.
Smith was at a loss to explain his misfortune in the close setbacks, saying several times during an interview that “it is what it is.” But he gets riled up when he discusses what he considers particularly inexplicable scorecards.
The one that stands out most to him was judge Max DeLuca’s in the Williams fight. DeLuca scored the competitive 10-rounder 99-91 in Williams’ favor, meaning he gave Smith only one round.
“I guess people say, ‘he’s more defensive, a counterpuncher. He doesn’t throw enough punches,’” Smith said. “Well, I threw a lot of punches against Williams and I still got robbed. I don’t mind losing a close fight – it is what it is – but sometimes it seems there’s no way for me to win. Fighters train hard, we’re away from our families, we’re dieting, we’re making a lot of sacrifices for two, three months at a time. We want to feel we have a fair shot.
“ What keeps me going at 40? Still being competitive. I’ve probably done my best work later in my career. ” Former 154-pound Champion Ishe Smith
“Anybody who scores that fight 9-1 … that’s crazy to me. No way Julian Williams won nine of the 10 rounds.”
The perceived injustices haven’t eaten away at Smith’s fighting spirit. He continues to make life difficult for his opponents, win or lose.
Smith won’t ever be mistaken for an Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather or even Lara. He isn’t a dazzling boxer. He doesn’t have tremendous punching power. He’s simply a solid all-around fighter who relies as much on fitness, determination and a world-class chin – he’s never been stopped – as his skill set to compete at a high level. That’s been his recipe for success since the beginning. And nothing has changed now that he’s a quadragenarian.
Smith acknowledged with a laugh that his body at 40 isn’t what it used to be, but clean living — no alcohol, no drugs, no significant weight gain between fights — has preserved it well.
“Ishe is a fighter,” said trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, with whom he has reunited for the Lubin fight. “He knows how to fight. He’s a true professional. Forty is just a number. One thing about Ishe is that he’s a health nut. I take him on five-mile runs every Saturday up Mount Charleston (near his home in Las Vegas) and then he’ll do an extra mile when we’re done. He has always taken care of himself.”
Said Smith: “I met an old boxing guy early in my career who said you can’t be a part-time fighter. He said, ‘You can’t train a few months of the year for your fights and party and get fat the rest of the time if you have aspirations of becoming a world champion.’ Those words stuck with me.”
At the same time, Smith is realistic. He believes he has only one more good run at a second world title inside him. And that run starts against the 23-year-old Lubin, who was four when Smith turned pro in 2000.
Smith was asked what specific challenges Lubin (19-1, 14 KOs) presents and he laughed. “He’s young, that’s it,” the old man said. “He’s full of energy and vigor and testosterone.”
Smith scoffed at Lubin’s suggestion that he could become the first to stop Smith.
“Harrison said the same thing. Williams said the same thing. They all say it.”
Lubin should know one thing: Smith won’t go away quietly, whether the fight goes the 10-round distance or ends early.
“I was very close friends with Diego Corrales,” Smith said. “I remember I asked him, ‘When you went down against Jose Castillo (in their classic first fight), what were you thinking?’ He said, ‘I was thinking, you better get the f--- up.’ That’s always stuck with me too. I may get knocked down but I’ll get the f--- up. I’ve modeled my career on that one line. It’s not wins or losses that define who I am as a fighter. I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish.
“When all is said and done, when it’s finally time to walk away, I just want people to say I fought my heart out in every fight and left everything in the ring.”
For a closer look at Lubin vs Smith, check out our fight page.
- Ishe Smith