China “The Dragon” Smith took another step back towards the top on Friday night (June 13) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, when he beat Mike Sheppard by unanimous decision for the vacant World Boxing Federation (WBF) North American Heavyweight title.
This was Smiths second fight back after a six and a half year lay-off, but still only 35 years of age and with considerable power in both hands, the Sarasota native is an exciting addition to the heavyweight picture. Against Sheppard he had to work hard for all ten rounds.
Smith seemed to be in control through most of the bout, winning the first four rounds clearly and often had his opponent on the defensive. But Sheppard also had good spells, and was the aggressor in rounds five, six and seven, where he managed to pin Smith against the ropes and land some heavy shots.
But Smith finished the fight strongest and connected many times with his hard right hook. Sheppard took the shots well and gamely tried to counter, but it was not to be his night. After ten rounds of boxing, all three judges had Smith winning the fight by scores of 97-93, 98-92 and 98-92.
“I had to dig deep, but I knew it was for my hometown,” said Smith, who is massively popular in his community and known for his big efforts in mentoring kids.
“We never underestimate and opponent, and Mike Sheppard came in with a great opportunity like myself. I had to dig deep and just go out and make it happen. By the grace of God, my team, we made it happen.”
In what was his twentieth fight in Tampa, southpaw Smith improved his record to 35-4 (27) since turning professional in 1997. Sheppard, from Palestine, West Virgina, and also a pro since 1997 drops to 21-17-1 (9).
The show was promoted by Jie Chen´s Panda 5 Star Promotions.