James Bone Crusher Smith!
Smith was born in Magnolia, North Carolina. After graduating from high school in, he attended James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, North Carolina, earning an associate’s degree in Business Administration in 1973. Two years later, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
He lost his first fight against James “Broad-Axe” Broad, a world class amateur and qualifier for the 1980 Olympics who was 2–0 as a pro. The fight was broadcast on ESPN, and Smith had come in at short notice and was not in great shape, looking out of depth against the skilled Broad. Smith was dropped in 4 rounds with body shots, and counted out.
The following year Smith upset future cruiserweight world champion and southpaw Ricky Parkey, then 2–0 as a pro, by winning a 6-round points decision. After scoring two knockouts, Smith followed up the Parkey win with another upset, an 8-round points decision over Chris McDonald, who was 8–0–1 as a pro and had been a top amateur. He went on to score nine straight knockouts, before traveling to the UK in 1984 to fight a world title eliminator against the hard hitting undefeated British prospect Frank Bruno, who was 21–0 (21 KO). Once again Bonecrusher would throw a spanner in the works. Having been outboxed by Bruno for the first nine rounds, he unleashed a salvo of power punches to KO Bruno in the tenth and final round.
In November 1984 he fought Larry Holmes for the IBF heavyweight championship. Holmes had a record of 45–0 and had won eighteen straight world title fights. After rocking Holmes, Smith was stopped on advice of the doctor in the 12th round, due to a bad cut. He again was behind on points.
Smith came back in 1985, fighting on Don King undercards. He lost a 10-round decision to 19–0 amateur star and future world champ Tony Tubbs in an eliminator, won a 10-round decision over 18–1 Cuban contender José Ribalta, but then he dropped a wide 12-round decision to ex-world champ Tim Witherspoon in a bid for Witherspoon’s NABF belt.
1986 started no better as he dropped Marvis Frazier, also breaking Frazier’s jaw, but still lost the 10-round decision. At this time Bonecrusher began consulting a psychiatrist. In his next fight he demolished ex-world champ Mike Weaver in one round. He followed it up with two 10-round decisions over Jesse Ferguson (14–2) and David Bey (15–2), arguably his most important decision wins.
In December 1986, while preparing for a fight with Mitch “Blood” Green, Don King informed him at short notice that Tony Tubbs had dropped out of his upcoming challenge to WBA champ Tim Witherspoon, and now Smith would be getting a rematch with his former conqueror, his second world title fight. Smith came out fast. He dropped the usually durable Witherspoon three times in the opening round, scoring a first-round knockout and winning the WBA title in an upset.
With his surprising victory over Witherspoon, Smith took his place in the heavyweight unification series, an ongoing competition being conducted by HBO and King to try to crown an undisputed world heavyweight champion for the first time since the retirement of Muhammad Ali. The victory garnered Smith another high-profile fight, where he was to defend his belt against newly crowned WBC champion Mike Tyson in a unification contest. Taking place on March 7, 1987, the bout saw Tyson beat Smith to the punch in nearly every round while Smith resorted to holding to keep himself in the fight. The lopsided decision saw Smith lose eleven rounds on two scorecards and all twelve on another, and the professional consequences were worse as Tyson’s management refused to allow Smith to fight on any Tyson undercards afterwards.