Happy Birthday James “Bonecrusher” Smith – The Former Heavyweight Champ Hits 70 by James Slater

By James Slater - 04/03/2023 - Comments

Plenty of fight fans have a soft spot for James Smith, better known, of course, as “Bonecrusher.” Smith, one of the most heavy-handed big men of recent times, was moved fast as he boxed at a late age (he fought the accomplished James Broad in his pro debut, this at age 27; college graduate Smith being stopped in the fourth). In time, Smith – possessor of one of the most colorful nicknames in the sport as well as one of the heftiest right hands in modern heavyweight history – would tangle with this lot:

(in order) Frank Bruno, Larry Holmes (twice), Tony Tubbs, Jose Ribalta, Tim Witherspoon (twice), Marvis Frazier, Mike Weaver (twice), Jesse Ferguson, David Bey, Mike Tyson, Adilson Rodrigues, and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock.

Indeed, for a time, a long time, there wasn’t a time when Bonecrusher was not in with a big or easily recognizable name. Smith didn’t always win the big one, yet when was able to land his vaunted right hand, Smith crushed bones as well as unbeaten records (see the Bruno fight).

A while back, this writer was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Bonecrusher and ask him about his big fights.

On his biggest win:

“My biggest win was when I won the WBA title by knocking out Terrible Tim Witherspoon in a single round!” Smith said. “That win meant so much to me. Witherspoon was a tough guy. He’d actually beaten me on points in an earlier fight. Nobody expected me to take him out, never mind as fast as I did in the rematch. I was just in a different state of mind then, compared to in the first fight.”

On the fighter he learned most from in sparring:

“Michael Spinks. He and I sparred at the great Joe Frazier’s gym in Philly. I was just coming up at the time, whereas Spinks was so experienced. He had won the Olympics, and he was the light heavyweight champion. We sparred at least a hundred rounds, and we mixed it up. It was all out. He was so slick, and he knew how to block punches. I learned a whole lot from working with Michael, no doubt about it.”

On his regrets from the Tyson fight.

“Oh, I’d do that fight differently if I could. I just couldn’t adjust to the guy’s style – he crouched low, and he was hard to hit cleanly. I couldn’t get him! Me, I knew that, anybody I hit, they were in bad trouble. But Tyson, I couldn’t hit him. That was a real frustrating night for me in Las Vegas. The thing about Tyson is, he was a real student of the game, and he studied styles. He was ready for me that night.”

On his world title shot at Larry Holmes:

“It was a very good fight, a close fight. He stopped me on cuts. But people really took me seriously as a fighter after that one. Holmes had been world champ for years, whereas I was just three years as a pro. There was a tremendous difference in experience in that fight.”

On the hardest puncher he ever faced:

“Tyson! But Frank Bruno hit real hard. And Mike Weaver. I actually fought a lot of big punchers during my career. Yeah, Tyson’s main thing was his speed. Bruno, he had a hard straight right hand.”

Bonecrusher fought the best during the 1980s, this when the heavyweight division was blessed with so many excellent fighters. And when he was operating at his best, Smith ironed out some good men.

Happy birthday to the Bonecrusher!