James Smith has spent years mentoring children and assisting families, but he knows his legacy is boxing — and he wants to ensure that he and others are given a tangible place to be recognized for their accomplishments in the ring.
Best known as “Bonecrusher,” Smith is a native of Magnolia and a graduate of Shaw University in Raleigh, where he played basketball and football. He won the World Boxing Association’s heavyweight title in 1986 with a first-round knockout of Tim Witherspoon on just seven days’ notice from follically famous promoter Don King. He was also the first man to take Mike Tyson the 12-round distance.
Spearheaded by Smith, a Boxing Legends Hall of Fame Weekend was held last month in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that featured a slate of events highlighted by the induction of the 2016 Boxing Legends. That included Smith; World Boxing Organization heavyweight champ and Olympic gold medalist “Merciless” Ray Mercer; International Boxing Federation bantamweight champ Kelvin Seabrooks; World Boxing Association welterweight champ Billy Backus; current female heavyweight champion Carlette “The Truth” Ewell; and others.
Witherspoon had handily beat Smith the year before their 1986 championship bout, so when King called Smith offering the title shot with just a week to spare, Bonecrusher had to take a minute to think about it. But that’s all it took.
“I said ‘Don, I know the odds are not in my favor and I know I probably shouldn’t take this fight, but I have a good feeling about this fight,’” said Smith. “I took the fight on seven days’ notice and I knocked Terrible Tim Witherspoon down three times in the first round to become heavyweight champion of the world. Because I made a decision to go to college at Shaw University in Raleigh, I became the first college graduate in the history of boxing to become champion.”
Smith does not shy away from blazing new trails. In fact, he feeds on it.
“Now I feel so good knowing I will be the first champion to create a hall of fame museum in Myrtle Beach, where everyone will come and take vacations,” said Smith, a resident of Myrtle Beach himself for the past seven years. “It has grown and it is growing.”
Smith was inducted into the Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007. He is hoping to pay it forward to his fellow boxers and those in the boxing world, and has already done so with the inaugural event last month. While he has identified a few permanent spaces for the Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach, it will depend on fundraising efforts as to when and where that will be housed.
“This is my legacy. I put 18 years in and I don’t want to just throw that away. I looked and researched, and it had never been done,” Smith said of establishing a boxing hall of fame in Myrtle Beach. “That was the same thing with being the first college graduate. I researched it and it had never been done. It intrigued me.”
Along with his many accolades in the ring, Smith established the N.C. Boxing Commissioner and served as its first chairman. He is also the founder of and chairman of the board of Champions for Kids Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides mentorship for children around the world. He also started the “Do Right” challenge in 2011, urging adults in communities to help children stay out of trouble, live healthier and be leaders for their families.
The James “Bonecrusher” Smith Do Right Golf Challenge is coming to the Timberlake Golf Course in Clinton in November. The tournament, which has a shotgun start set for 10 a.m. Nov. 5, will serve as a fundraising event for the proposed Hall of Fame Museum in Myrtle Beach. Smith uses the visit to Clinton to talk to children in local schools, and plans to do that again this year.
Next March will mark the 30th anniversary of Smith taking Tyson the full 12 rounds in March 1987, when Tyson was the World Boxing Council champion and Smith held the WBA belt. Smith said he plans to invite Tyson, Witherspoon and the other world champions he faced off against during his career to the next Boxing Legends Hall of Fame Weekend — tentatively set for March — to mark the occasion.
“If just one of them comes,” said Smith, “that will be a great step.”
Those interested in reserving spots in the Do Right Golf Challenge can call Smith at 910-658-3408.
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