There's no Stopping Ishe Smith
By Gabriel Montoya, from (Oct 27, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
Many people know Ishe “Sugar Shay” Smith, 21-5 (9), from his days on season one of “The Contender.” At least that is how you might have been introduced to him. Though he didn’t win that tournament, Smith did enter the mainstream of boxing a little quicker than the rest of his fellow castmates fighting at 147 to 160 pounds, taking on contenders and former champs, working in the gyms of Las Vegas and across the country, giving and getting work from the best and the brightest this sport has to offer. Most recently, Smith took on Fernando Guerrero, a middleweight contender advised by Al Haymon. Smith lost a decision many felt he won. Since then, Smith has gone on to premiere a video game talk show about boxing called “Fighter vs. Writer” (a virtual boxing league Smith is now middleweight champ of) and has spent his time this year training and waiting for a shot at a big fight. On November 5, he won’t have a big fight but a tune-up fight. A rare stay-busy affair for a man with the skills to win big, who has yet to have the chips fall into place for him. I spoke with Smith about his upcoming fight among other subjects on Monday afternoon following a training session.

“I was born and raised in Las Vegas,” the 32-year-old Smith told me. “Las Vegas has never had its own champion, homegrown, raised, born here. It’s housed many champions like Floyd Mayweather. A lot of champions have come here and made Vegas their residency but they’ve never had their own champion, born and raised to be their own champion. Augie Sanchez was born and raised here; he fight fought for a championship, didn’t happen. Charles Shufford fought for a championship, didn’t happen. I haven’t got my shot yet. [Top Rank] has some guy that they just signed so I better hurry up because those guys are really good fighters. It’s important to me to be the first so I am trying to hurry up and get my shot.”

I wasn’t in the mood to get all, “So. How was camp?” with Smith but instead asked something I figured I wouldn’t get a rote answer to.

“What’s your earliest memory of boxing?” I asked.

“My earliest memory would be kind of getting picked on and bullied when I was in the first or second grade.” said Smith “I remember doing my whole boxing stance for my mom’s friend in the bedroom. That would be my fondest memory that I have because I was young. Started maybe even when I was seven or eight and he was teaching me how to walk and how to do it right. He taught me everything I knew before I actually got in there and sparred and everything. It was something I picked up kind of fast. I was small for my age. When I was 11, 12, I was only 80 pounds. My son is like eight years old and he’s 90 pounds, plays football. I was a little bit small for my age but I remember taking those steps. That’s when it all got started.”

Smith got his start in a real gym at the now defunct Golden Gloves Boxing Gym in Las Vegas. It was here that Smith took what he learned at home and began to hone it. More importantly, it’s where he learned what a professional looks like in a training session. It’s easy to watch a fight on TV and want to be a champion. It’s quite another to peek in at the gym, see the sacrifice and the pain and the struggles that live there and still want it.

“Golden Gloves Gym here in Las Vegas. Unfortunately they ended up tearing it down. Mike Tyson frequented it a lot,” said Smith. “That’s when it all started. You couldn’t come to Vegas and not visit Golden Gloves Gym. That’s where everybody was at. I seen so many pros come in and out of that gym growing up. It was amazing. That’s where my career started and flourished. That’s the gym I represented in the 1996 Olympic trials. I remember seeing Tyson and just so many people come through that gym.”

Smith is a defensive fighter. To see him enter into an all-out brawl would be out of character. He is a guy who picks his spots, loves to counter punch, and is comfortable winning by making you miss and pay. When I asked him, Smith said this was not about his nature but rather what he learned all those years ago watching the great ones do it.

“I picked that up as I got older,” he explained. “Watching Jeff Mayweather, Azumah Nelson, a lot of those guys come through the gym. I picked it up. The greatest thing you can do as a young boy is watch. And I used to watch those guys spar all the time. Gerald McClellan. Felix Trinidad used to come through the gym. I used to just sit back and watch all those guys. I would go home and mimic what they were doing. I kind of picked it up then. Couple times, I had a few fights where I could have let my hands go more. But then a lot of times, I was taking fights on short notice. Four weeks, five weeks, and to be honest, I just didn’t have the conditioning that will enable me to really let my hands go as much as I want to.”

Smith now trains under the tutelage of Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, using a couple different gyms. Though he has worked with a wide variety from Joe Goossen to Roger Mayweather, ironically, it was Smith’s cutman, Jacob “Stitch” Duran who told him something that changed everything for the veteran fighter. It was this epiphany that triggered the hiring of a new trainer who would be permanent.

“When you fight guys like [Daniel] Jacobs, you’ve got to be in tip-top shape,” said Smith. “And I was able to do that with Fernando Guerrero. In my view, I thought I was doing enough. I never had anyone tell me I wasn’t doing enough. I think it was maybe it was the [Joel] Julio fight, I felt I was doing enough and then finally my cut man Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran, who has been with me for many years, told me, ‘You’re not doing enough.’ I said, ‘I’m beating this guy with a jab.’ He said, ‘You’re not throwing enough punches. You’re losing.’ And I think that kind of woke me up and maybe I felt like I wasn’t doing what I thought I was doing. That was in ’08. In ’09, I fought Jacobs, which was a really good fight. And this year, I had one of the best fights against Guerrero. But ever since that little session with him telling me in the corner I was losing and not throwing enough punches, I had changed trainers many times. So I thought, ‘I got to get stable.’ So I hired Eddie and ever since the [Pawel] Wolak fight, we’ve been having pretty good performances.”

In the Guerrero fight, Smith did exactly what Duran asked him to in the Julio fight; he let his hands go. He dictated the action, dropped Guerrero late, and finished strong. Still, at the end of the fight, the decision went to Guerrero. I asked Smith if, anymore, judges didn’t score defense like they did in days past. These days, it seems like body punching and defense just don’t count on a card. Smith seemed to agree.

“Yeah I think so. What was it; Willie Pep won a round without throwing a punch back in the day?” asked Smith. “I think [judges] have gotten away from the sport of boxing. And we have a lot of incompetent judges. I love the sport of MMA. I love tuning in for big fights. I love watching it. I tuned into Brock Lesnar’s fight. I think Cain [Velasquez] did a great job by dethroning Lesnar. But it seems like a lot of these judges cannot separate the two. It seems like they only score head shots. Some of these refs are more involved in fights than they should be. And there are no repercussions for bad decisions. If somebody renders a bad decision, there’s no repercussion for them. In any other sport, there’s repercussions. If you make a bad call or you are not consistent with the way you call games, they’ll have meetings and call you in. Last year the SEC suspended a crew for bad calls. But you won’t see that in boxing. And that, unfortunately, is a problem. And that is why people love the MMA because the guy who is supposed to win usually wins. You rarely see someone talk about an MMA fight and say, ‘You know what? [Quinton] ‘Rampage’ [Jackson] got robbed. You don’t see it. But in boxing, even if you don’t see it on TV, you hear about a guy who went to a card and somebody got robbed. That’s what is hurting the sport. Nothing else but incompetent, stupid judges. And that sucks. You want the sport to be cleaned up. You want it to better, fair. You want it to be fair. That’s all you want as an athlete. You don’t want an advantage. You just want it to be fair.”

I asked Smith how he felt about his new opponent, Alex Quiroz, 14-8-1 (12), if he knew anything at all about him.

“Nothing. I know that he has fought some big names,” said Smith. “David Estrada, Ronald Hearns. He fought [Anthony] Dirrell, which lets me know he fluctuates in weight a lot. I know he lost his last few. But I don’t pay attention to that because when guys fight me, they seem to get up and want to put on their best performance. I have my mind on a big fight. It would be easy for me to take focus off this fight. But I am totally focused on him and taking care of business November 5 so I can keep that train going from the Guerrero fight. I know he will be up for the fight. I haven’t had a lot of fights like this where people say ‘Oh, he isn’t fighting anyone.’ Maybe two, three fights. I’m one of the few guys who will fight anyone. I have a lot of respect for those guys but you have to take me from ‘The Contender,’ Alfonso Gomez, and Peter Manfredo as guys who will fight anyone. I think a lot of these other guys tend to not want to risk their record. And that is very unfortunate when you have guys who don’t want to fight people.”

Speaking of fighters who will fight anyone and who Smith would love to fight, last week I interviewed James Kirkland, along with my co-host David Duenez on our radio On the show, which is podcast and on iTunes, Kirkland told a story about Smith leaving his training camp early. The way Kirkland told the story, Smith tried to slink out of camp after taking a beating in sparring. Smith had his own version of events and said Kirkland’s old trainer wanted Smith to leave because he was out of shape and Kirkland’s confidence was waning because even in that condition, Smith was unhittable. Hearing the show, Smith was very upset and came on as a guest to rebut the claim. I asked him if the potential fight was now personal for him.

“Yeah,” he said without hesitation. “I mean, I had a lot of respect for him upon leaving camp. And that is gone. I never have wanted to fight someone as bad as I want to fight him. I think you throw all the defense and everything out the window. I just think we go right in the middle of the ring and we fight. The problem is will he be able to take what I can dish out at 154? He has fought only one person. He fought Julio. That’s it. I’ve fought so many people. I’ve fought some former champions, contenders, I’ll fight anyone. It’s very personal to lie like that. To go on record and lie like that, it’s unbelievable. And to actually believe the lies that’s he’s telling. Like I said, I make no mistake about it. I wasn’t in shape. So if you want to tally up who threw the most punches, that’s great but to say he knocked me down, I took a cab and left camp. I was sent home because I was out of shape and he couldn’t do nothing with me. That’s what Ann Wolfe told me and was really upset with him. It’s unfortunate that he would come on record and lie like that. It’s a fight I want really bad and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be done. I really want that fight really, really bad.”

Smith is a family man who raises his three kids and is an active and involved parent. He doesn’t smoke. Doesn’t drink. Doesn’t party in general. With a newfound focus, a new conditioning discipline, and being young 32 years old, he figures he can fight at least five to eight more years.

“Your body is like a car,” Smith said. “The better you take care of it, the more mileage you get out it.”

But mileage like the Guerrero loss can take more out of you than you want. It can take a toll on you that no one but you can see.

“It hurt,” Smith said of the loss. “More than anything. As an athlete, it hurt. I’m not a huge Laker fan but I love Kobe Bryant as an individual and his competitiveness. And I think whenever he has that ball and he takes that last shot and he misses, which is few, it hurts. You can get over it because you gotta move on but it hurts. He’s an individual and I’m an individual. And when you give it all you got and you lay it on the line, it stings. A part of you dies. You reach the climax. I was in camp for ten weeks for that fight. And going into it, I was at my climax and I felt like I did enough and I did it all. To have it taken from you, it hurts because you know you’re at your climax and all of sudden, there’s no celebration, no nothing and boom! You drop. So you go through a little part of depression, and hurt and sad. And your kids are looking at you and saying you won. And that’s the part that sucks about it. And I don’t think these judges or fans realize how much dedication you put into it. I’ll accept when I lose. We’re talking about giving it all you got and it’s taken from you. That stings the most.”

While the loss hurt, Smith said that the thing that raised him up, even if the judges’ cards didn’t, was the fans. That alone, Smith says, keeps him going to the gym and coming back to the ring for more. For Smith, he’s in as long as you are.

“But the fans and my spirituality really kept me upbeat,” Smith explained of his time after the loss to Guerrero. “There was so many fans that told me, ‘Man, you won that fight.’ ‘Man you got robbed’ on Facebook and Twitter and that really helped me realize that as long as they realize, and as long as they want to see me fight and as long as I keep giving the fans good performances, that’s really all I care about. At the end of the day, it’s fans. Arturo Gatti wasn’t the best fighter in his weight class. But he gave the fans what they wanted so people always wanted to see him, no matter what. How many fans gave him a chance against Mayweather? But people still wanted to see him. I have a lot skill, a lot of heart, a lot of determination; I’ve never been down, so no matter what the judges say or people say, as long as I keep giving the fans and boxing scribes great fights, then they’re going to want to see me. I’ll just keep moving on and keep giving the fans great fights.”

You can email Gabriel at, follow him on Twitter at and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-it-in- Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

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