DETROIT — It wasn’t always pretty, but it’s doubtful Ishe Smith cares.
Smith became the IBF junior middleweight champion on Saturday night, defeating Cornelius “K-9” Bundrage in the headline bout of a Showtime Championship Boxing telecast. Scores were 116-111 and 116-111 for Smith, and 114-113 for Bundrage.
For years, Smith was thought of as a hard-luck underachiever, who was likely to ultimately settle into a gatekeeper role.
In many ways, the arc of the fight mirrored that of Smith’s career. It was puzzling and difficult early on, but gradually built up to a watchable fight.
“Man I’ve waited 13 years for this. This is amazing. Honestly I need to thank Leonard and Floyd, they were the ones who made it happen for me,” said Smith. “It’s amazing because five years ago I wanted to kill myself, and I didn’t do it. And now I’m here 13 years later, a world champion.”
In the early going, it appeared as though Bundrage’s awkward, ambushing style would give Smith problems, as the beltholder landed a big chopping right hand in the first round that got the crowd at the Masonic Temple on their feet.
Unfortunately, that seemed to be K-9’s only plan of attack. He continued to paw with a jab, trying to deflect Smith’s guard, and drop a right hand over the top.
“Ishe fought a good fight. He won fair and square. He was the better fighter tonight. I didn’t follow my gameplan tonight, or listen to my corner, and that’s what happened,” said Bundrage.
The gameplan likely didn’t include plans to maneuver around the ring in a purely defensive fashion, but that’s what Bundrage began doing in the third round, making for some painfully boring stretches. It also allowed Smith to take rounds with relative ease.
“I didn’t know what the hell that was about,” said Smith. “I was thinking in my mind what the hell is he running for? I didn’t know what the hell he was doing when he started moving like that.”
That pattern more or less continued until the 10th, when a cut was opened on Bundrage’s left eye in the final ten seconds. Bundrage was then in serious danger of being stopped in the 11th, when Smith landed a short right hand that wobbled him. K-9 retreated to the ropes, and Smith unloaded combinations until time ran out in the round with the referee taking a hard look.
The only person in the building who may have been as happy as Smith was Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather promotes Smith, and his company Mayweather Promotions was the lead promoter of the event.
“When I was incarcerated, I wrote Ishe Smith a letter. I told him I’d make him a world champion,” said Mayweather. “Ishe fought his ass off. It’s one of the best nights of my life. Not just because it’s my birthday, but because he did it. I told Ishe in my letter, you are a champion, you just gotta go pick it up.”
For Smith, it’s a 360 not just in his career, but his life as a whole.
“If you would have told me in February that I’d be winning a world title, I’d have said you’re crazy. I mean, three fights, and I’m here?” said Smith. “No more payday loans. No more title loans. I’ve been through some dark times.”
In the broadcast opener, hometown favorite J’Leon Love scored a unanimous decision victory over Derrick Findley in middleweight action. Scores were 100-90, 99-91 and 99-91, but do not reflect the close nature of the fight.
Love started the fight off relatively cautiously, moving around the ring and flicking jabs at the charging Findley.
Round four was massive for Love, who had Findley reeling for nearly three full minutes after hurting him with a body shot early on. The attack down low persisted, and the crowd in Detroit remained on its feet anticipating a stoppage. Despite a hard right hook at the end of the round, it didn’t come, and the momentum began to swing almost immediately.
Findley began trapping Love along the ropes, and hammering him to the body. That likely set up a sweeping left hook that buzzed Love in the fifth.
Love was far less mobile by the sixth, and the fight remained at close quarters for the remainder of the night.
“I actually felt comfortable in that position. You can put me in a phone booth, and I’m comfortable fighting there,” said Love.
By the eighth round, Findley seemed to have expended all of his energy, as Love’s approach didn’t particularly change, but for the final two rounds he was the only one throwing punches consistently.
“The 10 rounds didn’t matter, I go 10 rounds all the time. He can’t punch though. If he could, I wouldn’t have kept going forward the way I did. But no excuses, the better man won tonight,” said Findley.
Of note, Floyd Mayweather was Love’s trainer for the bout, making his debut as a cornerman.
“I think he’s maybe four fights away (from a world title). He’ll be back in action on May 4,” revealed Mayweather, who of course faces Robert Guerrero that same night.
On the deep undercard, recent Golden Boy signee Steve Gefrard was stopped in his professional debut by Kentrell Claiborne. Geffrard was a highly decorated amateur, and naturally, was presumed to easily dispatch of his 2-6 opponent. Things were going as planned in the first two rounds, however Geffrard was wobbled and cut early in the third. The Boca Raton, Fla., native was on the defensive for the remainder of the round, with blood spouting from above his left eye. Before the round came to a close, the referee declared the bout could no longer continue.
Geffrard has been working with renowned trainer Ronnie Shields since turning pro.
In the final off-TV undercard bout, Badou Jack took a tight unaninmous decision over Don Mouton in what was unquestionably the toughest fight of his career. When the scores of 78-74 across the board were read, the crowd booed relentlessly, but cheered when Mouton mounted the ropes and raised his arms.
(For a full photo gallery of the fight click here.)
Photos / Naoki Fukuda
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman