by Tim Harrison
Ishe Smith (25-5, 11 KOs) finally got over the proverbial hump, and won his first world title when he took a split decision over Cornelius “K-9” Bundrage (32-5, 19 KOs) in front of Bundrage’s hometown crowd. The Masonic Theater in Detroit, Michigan was pro-Bundrage, but Smith was undeterred in ripping the IBF junior middleweight title from K-9’s clutches. In the televised co-feature, J’Leon Love (15-0, 9 KOs) showed he has a lot of room to improve, as he struggled with a rough and rugged, but widely-scored decision win over Derrick Findley (20-9, 13 KOs).
Ishe Smith’s trademark cautious approach may have finally paid dividends, as his defense-first approach didn’t leave many openings for Bundrage to use his wild, mugging style to score. Bundrage established the pace of the fight in the first round. Neither man did much to impress, but Bundrage punctuated the round with a nice 1-2, which was countered by an Ishe Smith right hand. Bundrage lost a point in the second round when Smith slipped to the canvas during a clinch and he hit him while he was down. Smith looked overly cautious early, content to toss his jab and only occasionally throw power punches. Bundrage was also liberal with his jab, and when he chose to engage he found a way to get in the roughhouse tactics inside.
By the start of the fourth round, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad resorted to telling Smith that Bundrage was tired as a way to motivate him into opening up on offense. A tactical round was punctuated by Smith, who landed a right hand counter that stopped Bundrage in his tracks midway through the round. Smith closed out the round in control and with momentum on his side. That didn’t last long, however, as
Bundrage looked in control to start the fifth. Smith was on the defensive early on, and he ate a big, sloppy overhand right from Bundrage. He took the punch well and opened up on offense again, attacking with a straight right behind his jab. Bundrage spent the latter half of the round on his bicycle, content to run out the clock and keep the ten-point-round on that one big shot landed.
Bundrage came out more aggressive to start the sixth round. He didn’t land anything spectacular, but another counter right from Smith had Bundrage back pedaling and looking to fire off counter shots of his own in the last minute. A good straight right hand behind three range-finding jabs was the highlight of the round for Smith.
Round seven opened with Smith on the attack and Bundrage doing his best Lance Armstrong impersonation. Smith gave chase and went back to the jab-jab-right in this round and found some success. Another big right hand in close momentarily stunned Bundrage. Smith, however, did not capitalize. He closed out the round with a nice counter right at the bell as Bundrage attacked to try to steal the round.
Bundrage had a good eighth round, possibly his best of the night. He landed a clubbing overhand right several times while Smith toiled away on the ropes. Smith got in a good counter right near the end of the round, but Bundrage did the better work throughout. The tight back-and-forth action continued in the ninth round, as both men landed some flush right hands, with Smith mixing in some good rights to the body of the champ. With 30 seconds to go in the round, Smith landed a good left hand that stunned Bundrage against the ropes. He let loose a not-so-characteristically wild handful of punches, many of which landed. Smith was spent in the closing seconds of the round, but he smartly held on when Bundrage stormed back. A clash of heads opened a small cut outside the left eye of Bundrage, but it wouldn’t be a factor in the fight. By the tenth round Bundrage was fatigued and more off balance than usual, opening up counter opportunities for Smith. With just under a minute to go, Smith let loose again, landing a straight right and left hook as Bundrage backed his way to the ropes.
Smith carried control of the fight into the eleventh round. But his dominance, however slight, was short lived. Bundrage landed his wild, clubbing overhand right several times in the round as Smith went back into defensive mode. Smith would take control again momentarily as a couple good right hands hurt Bundrage and pushed him back to the ropes. Smith cut loose again, landing several wide hooks and shooting his load before the round ended.
Bundrage came out swinging for the fences to start the twelfth. Smith stayed with the counter right and was able to land on an off balance Bundrage. When Bundrage would land with a left hook, Smith was there to counter with the right. Bundrage punctuated the round with a thudding right hand to swing the pendulum in his favor. Judges at ringside scored the fight 116-111 for Smith, 114-113 for Bundrage, and 115-111 for Smith. The Boxing Tribune scored the fight 115-112 in favor of Ishe Smith.
Smith, who only a year ago was basically out of boxing, broke down when the scores were read and was unable to hold in his emotions during his post-fight interview with Jim Gray. With Floyd Mayweather and “The Money Team” behind him, Smith gave a shout out to the late Diego Corrales and Vernon Forrest. After a long career of falling short in big moments, Smith wins his first world title and becomes the first Las Vegas-born fighter to win a world title.
On the undercard, Derrick Findley used just about every roughhouse tactic in the book to make things uncomfortable for highly-regarded prospect J’Leon Love, but in the end he looked good in losing. Findley crowded Love and kept him along the ropes and in corners. Love looked comfortable to establish his jab, and Findley looked to take that option away with a close-quarters attack. When Love decided to throw combinations on the heels of double-jabs, he was effective and kept Findley away.
The fight was made up of a lot of back-and-forth swings of momentum. Findley was at his best when he was in close, wrestling Love to the ropes and ripping him with borderline illegal punches. When Love was in command he was at a good distance, firing diverse combinations and stepping away. Findley’s best punch of the fight was a left hook that put Love on the defensive for a 30-second stretch of the fifth round. Love closed the round in better fashion, but the round was still closer than he would have liked.
Judges at ringside rather curiously scored the fight 100-90 and 99-91 (twice) for J’Leon Love. The Boxing Tribune scored the fight 96-94 in favor of J’Leon Love, who stays undefeated and gets past the stiffest test of his career. The puzzling scores can be summed up perfectly in the words of Paulie Malignaggi, who upon hearing the scores stated, “The right guy won the fight, but the judges must have missed a lot of rounds.”