SUGAR RAY LEONARD QUOTES OF WISDOM By Niall Doran Today on the blog I was feeling a tad bit nostalgic. Recently I found myself watching some of the old fights of the great Sugar Ray Leonard and stumbled across compelling quotes from the man himself on the web afterwards. I thought it really illustrated the artistry of an athlete at the…
Our interview with leading US Boxing Expert James Smitty Smith
My Interview with leading US Boxing Expert James Smitty Smith
(Image courtesy of James Smith of In This Corner TV – www.inthiscornertv.com)
By Niall Doran
It was with great pleasure on Monday evening Irish time that I had the privilege to interview and talk to James Smitty Smith of In This Corner TV. James Smith or better known to many as ‘Smitty’, hosts America’s only weekly syndicated boxing interview TV show called In This Corner which airs to over 40 million people. Smitty has gained a reputation as one of the world’s leading boxing experts having amassed an incredible twenty eight year career interviewing many of the greatest fighters to ever lace up a pair of gloves – with legendary names such as Archie Moore, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya & Floyd Mayweather, to name but a few.
James Smitty Smith’s interview style is unique and like no other. As a former professional fighter himself who boxed for three years, he actually occasionally gets into the ring with some of the world’s top boxers while conducting highly engaging and thrilling in- ring segment interviews. He has an incredible knowledge on boxing technique which really shines through in his interviews with the fighters who have an amazing rapport with and respect for him. As the legendary boxing historian Bert Sugar once said “Smitty has one of the best pair of eyes in the sport of boxing”.
The following is some of our chat which gives a fantastic insight into his career, boxing as a whole and what the future holds for the sport.
Hi James thank you very much for your time today. Just looking through some of the names you have interviewed through the years, you really have interviewed the creme de la creme of boxing. From Archie Moore, to Muhammad Ali, to Joe Frazier, to Oscar De La Hoya, to Floyd Mayweather. How did you get started in the boxing media side of things all those years ago?
“My history goes back to a little boy at the 5th Street gym watching Muhammad Ali. I met Ali in 1970, early 71 when he was getting ready to fight Smoking Joe Frazier the first time. That really was my introduction to boxing, and what an introduction it was to be around one of the greatest fighters of all time and to have been in his inner circle. So much of my history was the 5th Street gym which was run by Angelo Dundee and Chris Dundee back in the day. So many great fighters came out of there like Luis Rodriguez, Florentino Fernandez and Gomeo Brennan. So many greats over the years trained there, Alexis Arguello, Roberto Duran, it was one of the iconic gyms in boxing history so that’s where it all began for me. When I got to be a little older and actually fought a few years myself, that’s where I trained at the 5th Street gym and that’s when I realised it was going to be a lot safer for me behind the microphone instead of in the boxing ring!”.
What would be some of your most memorable moments you have had as a broadcaster to date and some of your favourite interviews you have done?
“ Two stand out, but there’s been so many because I’m blessed that I not only get a chance to interview these great fighters, I get a chance to step inside the ring with them when we do our in-ring segments. I have actually been in the ring with more than forty world champions, from the likes of Bernard Hopkins, to Floyd Mayweather, to Manny Pacquiao, to Nonito Donaire, to Sugar Ray Leonard, to Winky Wright. But I think back to an interview I did back in the day, I forget what anniversary it was, I think it was 1970 or 71. It was probably the fifteen year anniversary of Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier 1, their first fight. I did a radio show and I actually had the three guys that were in the ring that night on the show. Ali – which was one of the last interviews I ever did with him, and of course Joe Frazier and Arthur Mercante, the late great referee. Those were the three guys that were in the ring that night. Just recently back in 2011 Joe Frazier came to town, and I was preparing to go to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and I found out Joe was here and I quickly set up an interview with him. That would turn out to be the last ever TV interview he did as he passed away several months later.”
“But over the years we have done so many and again those in ring demonstrations, being in the ring with Mike Tyson up close and personal, it does not get any more special than that! I always say boxers are the most common and uncommon of all athletes, so I have been lucky to have had the chance to interview them”.
I actually remember that Tyson segment you did and if I do recall he actually almost followed through with one of his punches did he?
“Haha. Ya he caught me. It’s funny because I have a little bridge on the left side of my mouth. I took a light punch on the left side of my mouth and as Mike’s hands are so heavy, even though it was a light punch, the next day that little bridge fell out and I had to get it cemented back in.”
“I took a pretty good shot at last years Hall of Fame too, a left hook from Ray Leonard! But you know getting hit from Ray Leonard is an honour! One other one that comes to mind was when I was doing the in ring demonstration with Bernard Hopkins. He was demonstrating some of his lets say, some of his less than legal tactics. Like what he did with Felix Trinidad, banging in behind the hips and thighs. As Bernard was demonstrating I did not really pay attention as I was so much into the interview as it was being filmed but the next day I could barely get out of bed! I thought to myself what the heck’s wrong, and then I realised that all those bruises were courtesy of Bernard ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins explaining to me how he breaks guy’s legs down by using some unsavoury tactics ina fight”.
One of the things I’ve really liked about your show is that you actually get into the ring with the fighters and talk boxing technique with the boxers. This makes your show really unique and different from a lot of the stuff that’s out there at the moment.
“Ya it’s funny because some of the fighters get weird when they have a fight coming up. One of the interesting things is that all of the fighters know about my in ring segments. I can remember when I was interviewing Paulie Malinaggi who’s a fan of the show, saying before he was due to fight Ricky Hatton ‘I don’t wan’t Hatton picking up any of my technique!’. This game really is artistic brutality at it’s best.”
I saw you recently commented on Canelo Alvarez putting on lot of weight after the weigh in before his fight with Austin Trout. Do you think that fighters putting on a lot of weight after weigh in’s is physically bad for boxers to dehydrate themselves like they do nowadays?
Ya I like Canelo and think he can become one of the guys who could upset Mayweather, that’s why when I see him I’m going to say it to him. One of the reasons I felt that he slowed down against Trout in the recent fight he won, was because he put on so much weight after the weigh in and rehydrates so much that he started to gas out towards the end of the fight. These kids nowadays don’t get that it would be so much better to fight at their natural weight and as they get older they simply move up in weight naturally. I think we should go back to the same day weigh in’s like we had in the past.”
I saw you were at the ‘MayDay’ fight week in Las Vegas recently for the Floyd Mayweather vs Robert Guerrero mega showdown. How did you get on fight week and what did you make of Floyd’s performance?
“Fight week I’m always incredibly busy with all the interviews and everything in addition to my own work. You kind of get used to it, you enjoy it, you have to pace yourself. I thought Floyd looked extraordinary, his defense was impeccable, his movement was much better than I thought it would be. He’s great at taking time off and getting back in the ring and seemingly never missing a beat.”
Just in conclusion to the interview Smitty, maybe you could give your opinion on the current state of the sport and how boxing is going to progress over the next decade with competition from emerging sports like the UFC?
“I think what concerns me is a more deep rooted issue. With young kids coming up that want to be fighters who end up going to an mma gym or mma trainer and learn that fight that way. You can’t learn boxing like that. But they are two completely different sports. I spoke to the head of Showtime Stephen Espinoza recently on this, I think if we should get into more tournament style formats like the Super 6 that was on in the past in the super-middleweight division. More exposure to get the stories out about these fighters. There needs to be more about the other fighters too, not just when there’s a Mayweather or Pacquiao fight. We also need to go back to grass roots level where young talent is nurtured so they can go on to become the next Sugar Ray Leonard’s or Floyd Mayweather. I’d also love to see a national commission. If you had asked me a few years ago I would have said boxing can govern itself without a national commission but it can’t anymore because so many of the people who knew how to do it are gone, and they have not been replaced”.