Bill Tibbs looks back at a memorable fight from 1980 - the boxer vs.the slugger
Although their names won’t jump out to you as world champions, Sammy Nesmith and Ronnie Harris were very talented fighters and their bout was a great matchup when it was made, 39-years ago, back in 1980.
The crowd, at the classic Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana, was in for an interesting clash from 2 polar opposite, but equally effective, ring technicians.
One, a former world title challenger and Olympic gold medalist. The other, a crowd pleasing, local attraction who had concussive, fight-ending power in both hands.
Ronnie Harris, a southpaw boxer was one of the purest, classic boxers there was with a style that saw him seldom lose few, if any, minutes of a round (let alone entire rounds). He went virtually untouched in the 1968 Olympics, in Mexico City, winning a gold medal as the only U.S. fighter to place in dominating every opponent he faced. Never accused as being the most exciting fighter to watch, he was however as pure and talented a boxer as one could hope to see. He would enter the ring against Nesmith, in his 33rd bout, at 32-1 (20 KO’s) with his only loss being a disputed, SD loss to WBA/WBC world middleweight champion Hugo Corro in his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Sammy Nesmith was a physically strong fighter and had the eraser like no other; Sammy could lay you out with either hand. He was as pure, and powerful, a puncher as you would ever see in the ring. Many fighters, legendary for their solid chins, claimed that Nesmith was indeed the hardest puncher they had ever faced.
Nesmith would enter the ring against Harris, in his 38th bout, at 34-4. Nesmith came fast out of the gate and as a result sometimes tired later in fights. And, as evidenced by his 4 stoppage losses, he did have a chin that was susceptible at times.
However, of his 34 wins, 31 were by stoppage. If you could survive the early carnage and get to Sammy’s chin, you had a shot. But, if he could get to your chin, and it wasn’t made of concrete, you were in trouble. When Nesmith met up with Harris it was the classic boxer vs. puncher matchup if there ever was one.
The fight started to unfold as might be expected with Harris boxing from the outside and Nesmith looking to get into punching range. Round after round, Harris frustrated Nesmith by nullifying his punching power by boxing him from the awkward but effective southpaw stance. As the rounds progressed Nesmith started to show some of the cracks in his amour that were not uncommon in fights in which he got frustrated.
Although he wasn’t getting beat up physically, he was struggling mentally as the frustration mounted for the power-punching native of Kingtree, South Carolina. The crowd was also sensing Nesmith wasn’t able to deal with Harris’ awkward style and sensed he was looking for a way out of the fight - a no, no among real fighters; the fans were as frustrated as Nesmith.
Harris seemed to be cruising towards another, clear-cut decision victory over Nesmith as he boxed round after round, piling up the points. However, late in the fight he was clipped by a thunderous shot from Nesmith that landed right on the chin. Harris was out cold and Sammy’s eraser had snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Nesmith would fight for 4 more years going 4-3, with all 3 losses by stoppage before retiring in 1984 at 38-7, 34 (KO’s). Harris would fight 4 more times after the Nesmith loss, winning all 4 bouts before retiring in 1982 at 35-2, (14 KO’s).
Canton, Ohio native Harris, who opened up his own boxing gym in New York in the early 80’s, is now 71-years old.
Punchers are always popular with fans as they know the fight can, and often does, change with one punch. Nesmith, a friendly and popular southern gentlemen out of the ring, had a large following in the Indiana area.
Indiana-residing Nesmith worked for the Coca-Cola Company as a truck driver in Indianapolis before being transferred to New Jersey. Sadly, he died in New York City of a heart attack while at work in 2014 at the age of 62.