Feature | Apr 03 2019

Meet the Bonecrusher, James Smith

On his 66th birthday former WBA heavyweight champion James 'Bonecrusher' Smith reflects with Rolando Vitale on his rollercoaster career
Mike Tyson
Bonecrusher Smith

DECEMBER 12, 1986 is not a date carved out in the collective consciousness of boxing fans, but for James Odell Smith better known as “Bonecrusher,” it heralds his finest hour inside the ring. The old adage that one man’s loss is another man’s gain aptly describes what happened next to the former farm boy, college graduate, soldier, prison guard and car salesman.

Smith had been readying himself for just another run-of-the-mill encounter with Mitch Green when news filtered through that Tony Tubbs had injured his shoulder in training on the eve of a title match with WBA champion Tim Witherspoon, Smith agreed to substitute the luckless Tubbs. Powerfully built at 6ft 4 inch, 228lbs and equipped with a strong right hand and a solid chin, Smith signalled his intentions from the opening bell staggering old adversary Witherspoon with his first punch, an overhand right. A dazed and confused Witherspoon was unable to hold back the determined challenger who relentlessly pursued him across the ring, unleashing a thrilling sequence of piledriver lefts and rights, sending the normally resilient champion to the canvas for the first time in his professional career. Not even a flash knockdown by a Witherspoon right hand could stem the tide as Smith continued his onslaught. The champion visited the canvas twice more invoking the WBA regulation of the three knockdown rule. After 132 seconds the unfancied Smith was crowned the new champion.

Grizzled veteran commentator Reg Gutteridge summed it up best: “That’s got to be one of the most sensational turnabouts. The man [Smith] literally came from nowhere and stopped the champion. In fact, he murdered him.”