By Derek Bonnett. When I first heard that Cornelius "K-9" Bundrage signed to fight Ishe Smith, I had one question: why?
Bundrage was a thirty-nine year old IBF junior middleweight champion, prone to long periods of inactivity between bouts, and still without a major payday to his name despite fighting in the same division as such marquee names Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto, and Saul Alvarez. So, why? Why on earth would Bundrage put his title on the line against the number fourteen ranked Smith, a fighter with numerous questionable defeats on his resume? What fighter comes to mind that actually had an impressive outing against the low-volume, defense-minded Smith?
For Bundrage, his February 23 title defense against Smith at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, Michigan was all risk with very little reward.
Both fighters weighed in at 152 3/4 pounds, well under the divisional limit of 154. Both men appeared physically prepared to do battle for twelve rounds and, as most followers of the sport expected, it went the distance. However, the only battle taking place was at the judge’s tables as they tried to manufacture an actual score for the lack of conclusive action which passed each round.
A round by round account of tonight’s action would be virtually impossible. Simply put, Bundrage was the more aggressive and effective puncher over the first three rounds. The champion was deducted one point in the second for hitting Smith after he had already been pushed to the canvas. The champion didn’t lose a round over the first three frames (2-0-1 on my card), but if you had told me you scored the fight the same way in favor of Smith, I would have believed you.
Smith, 34, began throwing more punches by the fourth round and started to see some of the openings created by K-9’s wide swinging blows, particularly when they missed their mark and put him off balance. The jab and right hand were Smith’s primary weapons of choice. Over the next three rounds, the challenger took his turn to not lose a round to even things up 57-57 on my unofficial scorecard (2-2-2 in rounds).
After the midway point, I could not score a round in favor of the champion as he mauled ineffectively and was often pinned up against the ropes for Smith to capitalize on his immobility with a three or four punch combination. That would be the extent of the action as neither man ever appeared in serious control of each round. However, Smith appeared to be the man landing that one conclusive punch which made the difference between another even round. Round nine produced the best action of the bout as both men actually fought with some semblance of the drive one would expect from two boxers in a world championship bout. K-9 seemed very close to turning the tide and breaking Smith’s rhythm, but the challenger finished the round stronger pinning the champion down for a clean combination. The champion emerged from the scuffle with a cut over his left eye, but the commentary team led by Al Bernstein seemed to believe the laceration was produced by a head-butt. Both men seemed to tire over the final three rounds, but the champion certainly missed more than he landed and found himself getting tagged more cleanly along the ropes.
SecondsOut’s scorecard favored the challenger 117-111. The official judges awarded him the title by two scores of 116-111 and one dissenting margin of 113-114. The best action of the night came upon the delivering of the verdict. A highly emotional Ishe Smith became overwhelmed with joy and his post-fight interview was nearly incomprehensible verbally, but his feelings were made clear by the physically reaction of hearing the news he had finally become a world champion.
Smith, the new IBF junior middleweight champion, raised his record to 25-5 (11). Bundrage dropped to 32-5 (19). The former champion was humble in defeat and vowed to fight on with extreme certainty.
Also on the card, middleweight J’Leon Love remained unbeaten in his professional campaign at 15-0 (8). He defeated Derrick Findley, 20-9 (13), in a tough ten round battle. The scores of 100-90 and 99-91 twice do nothing to illustrate the true give and take nature of this badly. Love cut his teeth against a very tough and experienced veteran and acknowledged as much to Jim Gray following the contest.