My late Dad would have referred to him as a "working fighter."
My late Dad would have referred to him as a “working fighter”.
I remember that’s what he used to call all those old-time fighters, with lots of bouts and crazy records, from back in his era when he watched boxing as a younger man. Dad followed boxing in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, when it wasn’t uncommon for boxers to have 100+ fights. As a kid growing up, I used to get a kick out of chatting with my dad about these guys who would fight anyone and anywhere. Simply put, it was what they did for a living; "It’s what they do, they’re working fighters."
I remember my dad once saying, “Some guys drive a truck, some guys sell siding for your house and some guys box for a living." He said it like it was just the way it was - no big deal. But, what was more interesting was instead of “opponent” level fighters getting ridiculed for having (in fairness, often deceptively) lopsided records, my dad had a lot of respect for these guys who were good to go anytime and against anyone.
In referencing a potential prospect, who was fighting a guy with a lot of ring experience, he’d say, ‘Oh, this guy is in for a test tonight, this guy has been in with everyone’ (referring to the fighter in the “opponent’s” role). There was a respect for the role of the opponent and people understood that they played a tough role, under tough conditions, and you had to have more than a little ring savvy to survive.
Make no mistake, my dad always understood who the favored guys were, but he used to see the oft-used opponent as a smart, experienced litmus test for the rising contender on the way up. As a fan, he found it interesting to see how the prospect fared against the experienced gatekeeper. In short, in judging fighters, my dad looked at ring experience, and opposition, as far more telling than records; he wasn’t wrong.
Nobody understands that role like retired, mid-west veteran Verdell Smith who would box from 1988-2006, stepping through the ropes 112 (officially, in reality many more) times. He would face 23 undefeated fighters on a resume that boasted names like Joey Gamache, Phillip Holiday, Simon Brown, Hector Camacho, Yori Boy Campas, Cesar Bazan, Oba Carr, Julio Caesar Chavez, Cory Spinks, Jesse James Leija, Leonard Dorin, Jorge Paez, Angel Manfredy, Julio Diaz, Jose Luis Castillo, Carlos Baldomir and Dmitriy Salida, to name a few. Between those big-time bouts, throw in the busy fights on the Midwest club circuit, and you have one busy boxer.
Maxboxing had a chance to catch up with the friendly, well-spoken Smith, from his home in Oklahoma, to get his thoughts on his days in the ring with some of the best in the game.
Bill Tibbs: Hey Verdell, thanks for taking a minute to chat.
Verdell Smith: Hi Bill, no problem.
BT: Did you have an amateur career?
VS: Not to speak of really, but I did have some amateur bouts. I did fight in Oklahoma as an amateur and had some success, but I didn’t have that much of an amateur career really.
BT: When you first turned pro, what were your goals? Did you ever think you’d end up fighting all over the world against some of the (great) fighters that you faced?
VS: You know at that time I really hadn’t thought about turning pro and was actually planning on going to Oklahoma State University to study engineering. I wanted to be an electrical engineer and I had planned to go to university for that. But, I had a child to support and so I decided to go pro and make some money.
BT: Sean Gibbons, one of boxing’s best in my opinion, managed you. How did you start working with him?
VS: I was fighting for another guy in Oklahoma when I first turned pro. Later on, Sean was doing shows in Oklahoma and I fought on his shows and that is how I met Mr. Gibbons.
BT: The role of the opponent is a tough one. Against the bigger names, you are always going into another fighter’s hometown; cards are stacked against you. Did that ever get to you, mentally? Did you find that frustrating? Or, did it just serve to motivate you?
VS: I’m glad you asked that. Yes, it can be frustrating. But, you know, it’s like rolling the dice. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. Make no mistake though, we weren’t there to just be the opponent, we were there to get a win if we could. If we could steal a win, we were gonna get it. But, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s boxing you know.
BT: As the opponent you certainly have to be able to box and be slick in there because as the B-side in a fight you are certainly the guy the hometown hero is using to look to impress.
VS: Absolutely, every fighter you face is looking to make some noise and looking to make a name for themselves. You maybe expect some things but then get another. When I fought Hector Camacho, rest his soul, I thought we’d come out and box, jab, you know, start off like that. But he came out and cracked me with a left hook that I was not expecting. As a result, he is probably one of the hardest punchers I can say I faced. He’s not a big puncher but when you get hit with the punch you aren’t expecting, it can be a very hard shot.
BT: I remember talking to some fighters who had fought you and they all commented on what a slick boxer you were – you knew how to slip and move in there.
VS: I knew my style and I knew what I was good at. I didn’t have power, that wasn’t my game, and I knew that, but I could box and outpoint guys.
BT: Maybe you just answered this (referring to Camacho) but who was hardest puncher you ever faced?
VS: I fought Simon Brown and he hit very hard. He hit me a couple in the head and I thought, ‘Man, I don’t like that’, (laughs), he was a hard puncher. After our bout, he knocked out Terry Norris in his very next fight (to capture the WBC world super welterweight title).
BT: Best over-all boxer you ever faced?
VS: I would say as far as being able to turn on a dime, a really slick boxer, I’d say Cory Spinks. He was a very good boxer; slick, moved well, hard to hit cleanly.
BT: What have you been doing since you left boxing? How is life after boxing?
VS: You could say it’s going semi-well I’d say. I’ve got 5 kids and they are well and taken care of. I work at A T and T and you know, scratching out a living (laughs).
BT: Looking back after all the years and all the fights, would you do anything different?
VS: You know what Bill, looking back, I’d have to say I wouldn’t do one thing differently. People can say, ‘well, I could have been great if this or that’, or whatever, but that wasn’t me, that wasn’t going to be me.
BT: Lotta great memories?
VS: Bill, listen, for a guy from a small town, look at what I did. I went all over the world, boxing took me everywhere, to places I never would have gotten to otherwise. I made great friends, met a lot of famous people, none of that would have happened if I had been a factory worker. Boxing, literally, took me all over the world. I mean, c’mon, who can say they gave the great Julio Caesar Chavez a nosebleed? (Laughs). Who can say they got punched in the face by Julio Caesar Chavez? I can. (Laughs).
BT: Verdell it was great to chat. You went a lot of rounds with a lot of great fighters. Thank you again.
VS: Hey Bill, thanks, it was great talking to you.