By Lindy Lindell
Photos: Bob Ryder
Ishe Smith had to take a step back to gather himself as he addressed the folks in a packed room at Detroit’s MGM Grand Casino. The magnitude of obscurity and a career going Nowhere—only to suddenly, with the enormous help of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Mayweather Productions, put the now 34-year-old Smith on track for a title fight is the last in a series of events that has humbled the man. Smith will challenge Cornelius “K9” Bundrage for Bundrage’s IBF Junior-Middleweight Title in downtown Detroit’s venerated Masonic Temple Saturday night.
Smith collected his thoughts and re-approached the microphone. “I had been knowing Floyd and sparred with him since I was ten or so. He was a couple of years older than me, but we were just kids.” Smith led up to this: “He told me he’d get me a championship fight. Now I had to wonder about that because my career was going nowhere. My trainer, Eddie Mustapha Muhammad, was keeping me in the gym. Not that I was going there every day during this dry period, but he would keep tabs on me, and get me back in the gym.”
In a five-year period, Smith had won only four of eight fights. Then his sparring bud Mayweather, who had long since conquered the boxing world, made his promise to Smith. It has been said that there are no second acts in American Life, and Smith had had very little of a first act save for some notoriety on television’s contender. Smith’s emotional reaction seemed to indicate that he appreciated his chance to shine. Fighting in Bundrage’s home town doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. Smith smiled when asked this by a member of the press. He smiled, as if the perceived disadvantage of fighting in someone else’s home town was not a burden at all.
Trainer Muhammad told this reporter than Bundrage’s power punching, principally the right hand, was obvious. “You can see it coming. It’s as if he were broadcasting, ‘Here it comes.’ Bundrage is a muscle-bound guy, looks like a weight-lifter. After a while, he’ll get tired. He’ll start dropping those arms. We’ll take him into deep water and drown him.”
Bundrage, too, seemed appreciative in being on the big stage of a Showtime main event. After all, he had been buried in a non-televised fight when he won the title from Cory Spinks and in his first title defense against Sechew Powell. Only when he defended against Spinks did he finally make it to televised exposure. K-9 was catching a lot of flak from the Smith team as he was addressing the gathering but just shrugged, smiled and kept going. Bundrage repeated his claim that Smith, “came here with nothing and he’s going back home with nothing.”
Semi main event contestants J’Leon Love and Derrick Findley were short and reserved with their mic time. Love did pay homage to his Detroit roots. However, when they stepped away from the microphone, things quickly heated up.
Bundrage and Smith had set the tone as they jawed away at each other during the traditional face off pose. When they touched foreheads things nearly got physical and thankfully cooler heads separated the two quickly. Things did get physical when Love and Findley got together for their pose as Findley grabbed Love before others came in to break them up. Findley was visibly upset and angered, and remained so even as he stormed from the room. Love laughed it off with a comment, “he’s scared!”
Floyd Mayweather as co promoter of the show came in for the gathering to support his guys, Smith and Love, and as expected was mobbed by the press for comments and questions at the conclusion of the formal conference.
Bundrage vs. Smith, a 12-round fight for Bundrage’s IBF Junior Middleweight World Championship, will take place Saturday, February 23 at the Masonic Temple Theatre in Detroit, Michigan. The event is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and Mayweather Promotions, sponsored by Corona and MGM Grand Detroit and will be televised live on SHOWTIME beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast). The co-main event will be a 10-round middleweight bout between Detroit’s undefeated rising star J’Leon Love and Derrick Findley of Gary, Indiana.
Tickets priced at $200, $125, $100, $75, $50 and $25, plus applicable taxes, fees and services charges are on sale now and are available for purchase at the Masonic Temple box office, online at www.ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster locations or by calling 800-745-3000.