Sportsmanship in Black: James "Bonecrusher" Smith

Who in the world is James “Bonecrusher” Smith?  There, I asked the question for you so you don’t have to anymore.  In the interest of full disclosure, “Bonecrusher” Smith was the answer to a trivia question for me until this week.  Who were the three fighters Mike Tyson beat in order to become the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion in the 1980s?  Trevor Berbick was first, followed by Smith, and ending with Tony Tucker.  I watched an episode of the TV show Everybody Hates Chris last weekend and the title character made mention of James “Bonecrusher” Smith.  Chris is a huge fan of Smith’s because he was strong and smart.  He claimed Smith was the first heavyweight champion ever to hold a college degree.  Well that made me sit up and take notice.  I did some research and found the nickname “Bonecrusher” doesn’t do James Smith enough justice.

James Smith was born April 3, 1953 in Magnolia, N.C. to a family of sharecroppers.  Smith played basketball and football in high school and went on to attend James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, N.C.  He would earn an associate’s degree in Business Administration and transfer to Shaw University in nearby Raleigh, N.C. – where he completed his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1975.  Smith joined the Army shortly after graduation and began his amateur boxing career while in military service.  His first professional fight aired on ESPN in 1981 and the inexperienced Smith suffered a knockout loss in four rounds.  He would recover from the setback and win several fights in a row; eventually earning a fight against British prospect, Frank Bruno.  Smith defeated Bruno and got a shot against heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes. 

Holmes was 45-0 at the time and had won 18 straight world championship fights.  “Bonecrusher” gave the champ all he wanted, but the savvy veteran found a way to stop the young upstart by TKO in the 12th round.  Smith’s determination did not wane.  He went on to score a first-round knockout of former champion, Mike Weaver.  This victory catapulted him into the title picture once again.  Smith signed an exclusive contract with promoter Don King to fight the winner of the 1985 match between Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks.  King thought Holmes would defeat Spinks, but Holmes lost the fight in 15 rounds.  Holmes’ loss became Smith’s loss.  Smith was under contract with King for a championship fight.  The problem was that King now had no champion for Smith to fight.

The two men toiled in court proceedings for the next year as Smith tried to get a release from the contract.  King finally offered Smith a championship match against WBA World Heavyweight Champion, Tim Witherspoon in 1986 – with just one week’s notice.  Smith took the fight and knocked out Witherspoon in the first round and became the WBA World Heavyweight Champion.  Smith would lose his title to Mike Tyson in 1987 and fight several more years before retiring in 1998.  He will be inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame later this year.  His legacy, however, extends far beyond the ring.  In 2002, Smith started Champion For Kids – a non-profit organization geared toward mentoring young people through boxing and helps provide scholarships to young people in the Carolinas. 

As a side note, I called his organization to get permission to use the picture you see above.  You wouldn’t believe who answered the phone.  That’s right.  I talked to the champ himself.  He’s holding a charity golf tournament Labor Day weekend in the Myrtle Beach, SC area.  Go to for more information.  James “Bonecrusher” Smith knocked out many fighters with his right hand.  Now he uses the same hand to help young people up.  Until next time…

Be a Good Sport!



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