After a short-lived seven-month retirement, former junior middleweight world titleholder Ishe “Sugar Shay” Smith (29-11, 12 KOs), will switch sports, and make his bare-knuckle boxing debut against Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) journeyman Estevan “El Terrible” Payan on September 21st at the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge in New Town, North Dakota.
“When I retired from boxing in February, I did not have the desire to do anything boxing related. I did not even go to boxing fights because I did not want to have the itch to return to boxing,” said Smith. “However, after I watched Paulie Malignaggi fight in bare-knuckle boxing, and Manny Pacquiao beat Keith Thurman at the age of 40, about the same age as me, I felt that I had a little bit left in the tank, and decided to give this sport a try after [UFC Hall of Famer] Ken Shamrock [of Valor Bare Knuckle] reached out to me.”
This fight card “VBK: 1” is promoted by Shamrock’s Valor Bare Knuckle, Inc. His inaugural promotional debut will have a co-feature in the main event with Smith vs. Payan at 160-pounds, and a four-man, one night heavyweight tournament. The co-main event and the undercard bouts will be televised in the United States on iNDEMAND, DIRECTV, Dish Network, Vubiquity, and in Canada on Bell TV, Shaw Communications, Rogers, and SaskTel, and on the FITE.TV digital platform.
“Bare-knuckle boxing gives me an opportunity to rewrite my boxing career like Pacquiao did after his losses to Floyd Mayweather and Jeff Horn,” said Smith. “It is new, exciting, and different, which is why I cannot wait for the new chapter of my career to begin.”
Payan (17-13, 7 KOs, and 1 No Contest), is a former United States Army veteran, who has competed in just about every combat related organization (UFC, Strikeforce, World Series of Fighting, Bellator, Titan FC, and Shark Fights) over the last twelve years. He won his first bare-knuckle fight on June 2, 2018 with a first-round knockout over Omar Avelar.
“I do not know too much about Payan, other than that he had a short boxing career, and fought mostly in MMA,” said Smith. “I am the much more experienced boxer in this bout which will give me the advantage, but once you take off the gloves, anything can happen.”
Smith retired from boxing in February of this year after Erickson Lubin became the first fighter to stop Smith inside the distance (third-round). Lubin scored four knockdowns (three in the second-round, one in the third) after which Smith’s trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad had referee Jack Reiss halt the one-sided bout. This was Smith’s third consecutive loss after defeats to future world titleholders, Julian Williams and Tony Harrison, although both of those defeats were extremely close, especially to Harrison, in which many people believed that Smith deserved the victory.
“I decided to switch to bare-knuckle boxing because I was not mentally ready to come back to boxing after three consecutive losses, and be someone’s opponent,” said Smith. “I am a B-side opponent now since I am forty-one-years-old, and have eleven losses. I have been a B-side opponent before, and it has not gone well for me to fight in other boxer’s backyards, only to lose close decisions.”
He became the first fighter from his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada to win a world title when he defeated Cornelius Bundrage on February 23, 2013, via a twelve-round majority decision to claim the IBF junior middleweight title. In honor of his accomplishment, Las Vegas gave Smith his own day (February 23, 2013), and each year thereafter.
“When I won the world title, it was the greatest accomplishment in my life besides having my children,” said Smith. “It was so surreal to have a dream of winning a world title, and going through all the ups and downs, and then to finally accomplish it. It is something straight out of a movie. I had always dreamed about becoming a world champion ever since I put on boxing gloves, and for it to finally happen was so special.”
He lost the title in his next fight to Carlos Molina via a twelve-round split decision. Smith had another opportunity at a junior middleweight world title a year later, however, he lost a twelve-round unanimous decision to WBA champion Erislandy Lara. Despite winning a world title, and coming close to another, Smith was not happy with how the last couple years of his boxing career went.
“The way my boxing career ended, it left a real bad taste in my mouth. It was a like a perfect marriage with the wife cheating the last couple of years,” said Smith. “I had too many layoffs towards the end. I had three fights in three years. At my age, I need to be more active in order to be a better boxer, but for a variety of reasons, fights never materialized.”
Smith signed with Valor Bare Knuckle on a fight-to-fight basis, but is still interested in coming back to boxing at some point in the near future.
“I definitely want to box again, and get off of twenty-nine victories, but if I do not get another boxing bout than I will continue to fight in bare-knuckle boxing, or maybe try UFC or MMA,” said Smith.
For more information on Smith, and the latest updates on his upcoming bout, friend him on Facebook, and add him on Twitter @IsheSugarShay.
“I want to thank all of my fans for riding with me throughout my nineteen-year career. It has been a hell of a ride. Hopefully they can keep riding with me for a bit longer. It will not be for too long though,” said Smith. “I am excited to try something new, something refreshing, something different, and I cannot wait to start the new phase of my boxing career.”