Photos and story by Gary Purfield
How many fighters today have records of 15-0 or 20-0? How many of them are truly that good and how many of them are products of careful matchmaking and soft opposition? On the flipside of the coin is the question, how many fighters out there are far better than their record but did not have the advantage of management and promoters that moved them along in pre-determined fights?
Super Middleweight Dhafir “No Fear” Smith 24-22-7 (4 KO) could travel the short distance from his daily training regimen at Shuler’s Gym in West Philly to University of Penn, where the brilliant young Ivy League minds would be hard pressed to understand how a fighter can be far better than his record indicates. Anyone who has seen Smith fight and spar at Shuler’s quickly realizes he is much better than his record and to simply judge him on wins and losses is to really miss the story of a true throwback fighter.
Smith got into boxing in what is a common story for those in the prize fighting business. Growing up in a tough neighborhood and having to defend themselves brings plenty of young men to boxing gyms.
“My grandmom wanted me to learn how to fight. I lived in a rough neighborhood and was getting bullied. I went to James Shuler Gym and wanted to learn how to defend myself. But then, I started liking the sport and wanted to pursue it for longevity.”
Turning pro at eighteen after about forty-five amateur fights, reportedly going 35-10 but knowing he had a style suited better for the pro ranks, Smith began his journey.
Smith began a process shared by many fighters without top management and the breaks that promising amateurs get when they turn pro. He took fights on short notice. He was willing to travel anywhere to fight bigger names in their hometowns where they would have all the advantages. It made him a tough fighter that had to learn in the ring and he became a skilled technician, but it did little to give him the glossy record required in today’s boxing landscape.
“Started 8-0, had a manager getting me fights, building me up, moving me along, but we just couldn’t get along so we parted ways. I did it the hard way, had to fight guys in their hometown. I beat some, lost some, really won some.
“All my draws was wins to me. I beat everybody in their hometown. You get a draw in somebody’s hometown you know what that means.”
Trainer Percy “Buster” Custus commented on Dhafir’s fights early in his career,
“They put him in a lot of bad fights for a kid his size, his age. So he took a lot of fights without thinking about it.”
Talking with Smith, you feel he would not have had it any other way. The Philly fighter has three daughters and a boy on the way. He works as a supervisor at the airport while taking care of his kids and managing to get in the training demands of being a professional fighter. He emulates the fighters of a different era that fought often, fought the best, and were not caught up with lopsided records. They simply wanted to show they could beat the best on any given day.
“To be the man you got to beat the man. I beat some of them, I lost some of them. Like I said, I got to be ready. Sometimes I’m not ready; I take fights on short notice. My record shouldn’t be what it is but I’m not upset with it cause I’ve had big time fighters sign the contract and then say I don’t want fight this guy, he’s too tough. I know I can fight, I know what I can do. I just got to be ready, focused, and do my thing the night of the fight, just get the win.
“I feel as though I’m a throwback fighter from back in the day era. Fighting every week or every other week or every month. I like to stay busy, I don’t like to be off and be rusty. I’m a throwback fighter and I’d like to fight every day if I could. I feel you don’t fight the records, you fight the fighter. I see a lot of guys get knocked out by a guy with a record like me or worse beating an undefeated guy.”
So Smith moved forward taking fights against whoever, whenever, and wherever he could get them. Along the way he had some good wins against fighters who were supposed to beat him and took some losses due to being in tough fights, fighting on the road, and often fighting on short notice. Smith believes that his record can fool people into thinking he is an easy out for an up-and-comer, but they find out they made a mistake come fight night.
“I just feel as though I’m a good fighter but everyone looks at my record and they think they can run over me, but then really see who I am and the people I beat, they don’t fight me and take that chance. So I get last minute notice, week notice. That’s how I got some of those losses but that was my fault, my mistake. You got to live and learn.”
For a fighter like Smith it is all about getting a break and taking advantage of an opportunity. In late 2010 Smith got that opportunity with a call to fight former world champion and Olympian Jeff Lacy. Lacy had fallen on tough times but was still considered a top 168-pounder. Lacy’s management looking for a good comeback fight called on Dhafir to fight Lacy in his hometown of Saint Petersburg, Fl. Lacy was supposed to walk over Smith putting on a show for his hometown fans and then get his career back on track. Even people in Shuler’s Gym were telling Dhafir he would get knocked out. Dhafir had other ideas and came prepared to ruin the party.
Smith dominated the former champ and took a unanimous decision win by wide scores of 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112. It was the high point for a fighter that had made a career of taking on the toughest challenges. Smith talked about this being the highlight of his career so far,
”I feel as though it is. Nobody was giving me a chance, nobody in my gym was giving me a chance. Everybody thought I was going to get knocked out and I went in his hometown, his backyard, beat him unanimous decision twelve rounds.”
The win gave Dhafir a special accommodation. The Briscoe Awards, run by Philly Boxing History with voting from Philadelphia’s boxing journalists, awarded Dhafir with a special Briscoe award for upset of the year to mark his achievement. On the night of the awards Dhafir was clearly proud of the accomplishment and being recognized for being the underdog that overcame the odds.
“That was the greatest thing for me, a great award, a great achievement for getting a Benny Briscoe award because he was a world class fighter, a world class champion coming out of Philly. I’d like to thank John Disanto [editor Phillyboxinghistory.com] for giving me that opportunity to get a Briscoe Award. I feel as though it ain’t gonna be my last, I guarantee you that.”
Smith feels he is far from done with upsets and Briscoe’s. He plans on making a habit of taking out the best fighters and piling up a collection of Briscoe statues for upsets.
“I want some more upset of year awards, that’s what I really want. I really don’t want fighter of the year, I want upset of the year because everybody, whoever I get in there with, has a better record or whatever, or better talent or whatever. They think I’m going to get blown out and then when I beat them, they got nothing to say. They can’t say nothing.”
And Smith’s talents have not gone unnoticed. His most recent assignment was not a sanctioned fight but a call from one of the brightest stars in boxing, Andre Ward. With a title defense and the Super Six final looming against England’s Carl Froch, Ward’s team was looking for a sparring partner that had the talent and abilities to prepare Ward for the tough British fighter. Smith got the call.
“They called Percy Custus [Dhafir’s trainer and manager at Shuler’s Gym] about me doing the training camp with Andre Ward. They called because I had the style to get him ready for Carl Froch. I got him ready, I was the chief sparring partner and we got the job done.”
Ward went on to dominate Froch. With that experience comes a growing process for Smith. He got the opportunity to work with one of the pound-for-pound best on a daily basis. He was able to test his skills in this arena, find out that he could hang with the best, and become a much better fighter in the process.
“Andre Ward is a world class fighter and a world class champion and I think he’s going to be a champion for a long time.
“When I came home I was ready to spar with any and everybody. I feel as though if I can get in there with Andre Ward and give him all the work he can handle, I can spar with anybody in Philly or anybody all over the world. I know we got talent in Philly but Andre Ward is a different level fighter. He stays busy all three minutes of the round and you got to bring out everything you know to spar with him because he’s a tough fighter and you know he’s a world class fighter, a champ.
“I felt great, everybody saw a difference in me when I was sparring. They was like damn, you got better when you was out there. My jab got better. I just like to put on a show as much as I can and I like to perform in Philly as much as I can and please the fans.”
Now, at twenty-nine years of age with fifty-three fights under his belt and a wealth of knowledge of boxing in and out of the ring, Smith wants to capitalize on the lessons he has learned and the talent he has gained. He believes with the right opportunities and hard work he can still accomplish the ultimate goal of any fighter, to win a world title.
He needs to move forward–as he will do in his fight this Saturday at First District Plaza in Philadelphia. Smith will take on the inexperienced Quinton Rankin 4-1 (3 KO) who is a late replacement for the much more experienced Marcos Primera who dropped out recently. For once, Smith is the one in the role of being the man who is home and supposed to win.
“I got to beat guys I’m not supposed to beat like Jeff Lacy. I’ve beaten a lot of guys on my resume, big name fighters. Jeff Lacy, Larry Marks, Jonathan Reid, Brandon Mitchem, goes on and on. I got a lot of big names on my record I wasn’t supposed to beat but I beat them.
“Like our show we’re doing January 28, get some more wins, build my record up, and get a shot at a title somewhere. You know I don’t care, I’m a road warrior. Next fight January 28 is a tune-up fight, next fight should be end of March fighting Rayco Saunders for the State Title. We got some good things happening with James Shuler Boxing.”
Smith has a particular goal in mind and a path to follow. He would not be the first fighter from Philadelphia to walk the path of a tough road but endure to earn a world title and he believes someone will make the mistake of giving him a chance based on his record.
“I feel as though I’m the next Freddie Pembleton of this era. He had a lot of losses but he still became a world champion. A lot of people say I can be the next Freddie Pembleton. I just got to keep training and wait for the right opportunity.
“All I got to do is get some more wins and somebody will give me a shot just looking at my god damn record thinking it’s an easy win tune-up.”
Custus, who will tell you straight-as-an-arrow his opinion, believes as well that Dhafir has what it takes as long as he trains hard and steps up when the time comes.
“The sky is the limit with his abilities. He’s just got to really step up to the plate when it’s time to do it.”
Smith has made a mark for himself in Philadelphia boxing. He has proven himself as a tough road warrior who could have fought in any era of this sport. With precious years remaining in a demanding sport he looks to make the most of his time and put his name onto the list of those who have earned a title the hard way.
“I just want everybody to come watch the fight January 28 over on Market St. Come watch me perform and move to the next level and I just want to make Philly proud like I did beating Jeff Lacy and everybody in Philly Boxing History. Some people said I could do it, some people said I couldn’t. I went out there and made history in Philly beating Jeff Lacy, a former two-time world champion and Olympian. A guy like me beat Jeff Lacy. I want to keep on doing that I want to keep on getting upset of the year awards. I don’t want fighter of the year, I want upset of the year Benny Briscoe award. That’s what I want.”
- Dhafir does have a plan for after boxing. He knows his knowledge in and out of the ring will make him a great trainer and already has several fighters lining up to get in his corner.
- At this time no TV or internet coverage is available for the show with Smith this Saturday but tickets remain by calling Shuler Gym Promotions 215-416-1282. First District Plaza is located at 3801 Market St., Philadelphia.
- The Boxing Tribune will be live ringside to provide detailed coverage of all fights on the card Saturday.
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