It was supposed to be a Showtime World Championship Boxing event featuring IBF welterweight champion Devon Alexander vs. Kell Brook. Instead, the undercard bout between IBF light middleweight beltholder Cornelius Bundrage and Ishe Smith was subsequently elevated to main event status when Alexander injured his right bicep in training three weeks ago. This was not the focus of last night's broadcast from the Masonic Temple in Detroit, however, with newly signed big fish Floyd Mayweather Jr. taking center stage at every turn.
The broadcast opened with an interview by Showtime's Brian Kenny who announced Mayweather's upcoming fight against interim WBC welterweight champion Robert Guerrero on May 4, indicating that it represents the first of "what could be as many as six fights in three years" on the premium cable station. The pay-per-view king proceeded to express his desire to be more active and continue to show that he is the best in boxing by testing himself against young, hungry fighters.
Attention momentarily turned to the two fighters on last night's card who are promoted by Mayweather Promotions, Las Vegas-based Ishe Smith and undefeated prospect J'Leon Love. The conversation was primarily about Mayweather's unfettered support of Smith rather than the specific qualities that make the 34-year old a world class caliber fighter worthy of a world title shot, and the promoter's match-making philosophy behind the development of Love.
This portion of the broadcast concluded with Mayweather's evaluation of the top fighters at 147 and 154 pounds – Guerrero, Devon Alexander, Canelo Alvarez, Austin Trout and Timothy Bradley. A conversation with Mayweather would not be complete without discussing Manny Pacquiao, where it was once again inferred by the undefeated star that the Filipino is unwilling to undergo random blood and urine testing, and that such a fight is unrelated to defining his legacy as one of the best fighters to ever live.
A cake shaped as a $1000 bill with his photo in the center of it was then presented to Money Mayweather who celebrates his 36th birthday today.
Mayweather then assumed the role of cornerman for Love (15-0, 8 KO's) in the TV card's opening contest. The 25-year old middleweight remained undefeated, taking a more competitive decision over Derrick Findley (20-9, 13 KO's) than the scores would indicate (100-90, 99-91, 99-91).
Smith would then take to the ring to challenge K9 Bundrage for his first world title shot in a 13-year pro career. It was not the most aesthetically pleasing affair with neither man seizing the moment. The 39-year old Bundrage, who had difficulty attracting a big name opponent, did not fight with the intensity of a defending champion in front of his hometown fans. Smith was tentative and one-dimensional in his attack, primarily sticking only to a straight right hand set up by his left jab.
Smith slumped to a knee in Round 2. Veteran referee Sam Williams stopped the action and motioned that a point be deducted without making it clear as to whom this applied or why. The replay showed that Bundrage hit Smith to the body while he was down, but it also showed that a right hook to the body landed soon before he fell. Yet, it was not ruled a knockdown and was a point that was all but disregarded by the Showtime broadcast team. Unofficial judge and ringside commentator Joe Cortez was asked to opine on the handling of the matter by Williams but there was no inquiry on why or how Smith fell in the first place. It turned out to be an irrelevant point given the final scoring of the fight but the entire situation was curious all the same.
While Smith certainly got the better of any action when it occurred, taking over the second half of the fight and hurting Bundrage with a three-punch combination in Round 9 and again in Round 11, he was sloppy with his follow-up and vulnerable to right-hand counters as his opponent was up against the ropes. Smith was also unable to maximize the several opportunities he had to time Bundrage's wild looping shots and take advantage of his extremely low left hand and awkward balance.
While the CompuBox statistics showed very similar figures for both men (Bundrage landed 148 of 612 total punches and Smith 174 of 554), Bundrage spent too much time with herky jerky lateral movement and single shots that prevented him from getting into position to establish an effective assault.
Smith (25-5, 11 KO's) emerged victorious with a split decision by scores of 116-111, 116-111, 113-114. The newly crowned champion began crying as the scores were announced and remained emotional throughout the post-fight interview.
"13 years, man. 13 years, man. That's all I can say," Smith said through tears after the fight. "It means everything. Five years ago I was about to kill myself and I thought about my children growing up without a dad and I didn’t do it. I don’t know what to say. I didn’t think I’d be here. I’m so happy for the opportunity."
Whether it was because Smith was too emotional to express himself further or it was another opportunity to highlight Showtime's new star, interviewer Jim Gray turned his attention to Mayweather to ask him about his promoted fighter.
"I'm proud of Ishe. When everybody turned their back on Ishe, I had his back and I'm still behind him," Mayweather said.
It's all about Floyd. All roads lead to and through him.
Bundrage falls to 32-5, 19 KO's and now licks his wounds as he plans to continue fighting.
"I just have to take it to the next level, just like I took it to the next level to become a world champion. Now I know it's just other levels you've gotta' go to to retain the world championship belt," the former champion said after the fight.
Given the difficulty he had landing a big fight as a champion, Bundrage may need to resort to consuming the hair of the dog that bit him to remain relevant in a talented light middleweight division.
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