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Former boxing champ fights against violence

SALISBURY — In the ring, James “Bonecrusher” Smith was a force to be reckoned with.
The one-time World Boxing Association heavyweight champion overcame a late start in the sport, and a good share of naysayers, to succeed.
As Smith puts it, simply, “I whooped a lot of people.”
Now, at age 60, he’s promoting himself and one last fight.
On June 14, 2014, in Myrtle Beach, Smith plans to go back into the boxing arena for three rounds versus celebrity boxer Todd “The Punisher” Poulton.
It’s a fight with a purpose, Smith said — not fame or fortune, or another heavyweight champion belt.
It’s about helping kids make the right decisions, Smith said.
In a Thursday night appearance at Sidekick Karate on West Innes Street, Smith spoke to a gathering of students and parents about the importance of self-esteem, and not giving in to a spirit of violence.
Though he showed a video of clips from a string of bouts in the 1980s that brought him the heavyweight title — a title he lost to Mike Tyson in 1987, though he continued to box for years afterward — Smith said the point is to make good decisions.
“When you get mad, you carry those whoopings with you all your life,” Smith said.
Eventually, Smith said, the time comes to make a decision: Give up, turn to hatred … or turn the other cheek.
Smith, who retired from boxing in 1999, became an ordained minister in 1996 and began working to encourage young people to stay away from drugs and gangs.
Today, he’s promoting “Fights for Families,” the amateur boxing show in Myrtle Beach that will feature Smith’s three-round bout with Poulton.
Its purpose is to raise funds for the nonprofit Champion For Kids, Inc., founded by Smith in 2004 to help young people make healthy lifestyles decisions.
The exhibition, Smith said, is something that “God laid on (his) spirit.”
Sidekick Karate instructor and owner Ricky Smith — no relation to the boxer — said he met “Bonecrusher” at a speaking engagement in China Grove, and wanted him to share his message with his martial arts students.
Part of it was “Bonecrusher” Smith’s own story. The first college graduate to win a world heavyweight boxing title, he did so after overcoming a late entry to the sport.
And, Ricky Smith said, the message of Champion for Kids is the same as the message they teach through martial arts.
Karate, Ricky Smith said, is not about dominating others, but about healthy living and having the strength to defend others and oneself.
“We’re kickboxers, he’s a boxer,” his brother, Randy Smith, said. “We’ve got a common cause.”
Today, “Bonecrusher” Smith said, there is too much violence on television, and in day-to-day life.
The key, he said, is for young people to have positive role models and be encouraged to make the right decisions.
“This is a fight for families,” said boxer Smith, who shared his own life’s story with the students at Sidekick Karate.
“You know, you have a passion for karate, which is similar to boxing,” he said. “God blesses all of us with special gifts and talents.”
“Bonecrusher” Smith said that, because he lived a healthy life, especially avoiding alcohol and drugs, “Today, at 60, I can still call on my body to do what I need.”
Including, he said, stepping back into a boxing ring at an age when most men have long since retired.
By making the right lifestyle decisions, Smith said, men and women can avoid being bullied, and stand up to those who would bully them.
Throughout the Fight for Families effort, Smith said, he’s met victims of domestic violence and abuse whose faith and determination helped them overcome those situations.
“Kids may think that, for whatever reason, they don’t have a place in society,” “Bonecrusher” Smith said.
“But we need to remind everybody, we were born on Earth for a special reason. We are all ministers, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of our story,” Smith said.
Tilda Corriher and her son, Joseph Linker, are both students at Sidekick Karate.
They started taking lessons together recently. Linker, 16, said he found Smith’s talk inspiring.
Corriher said she was glad to see the retired boxer sharing such a positive message.
“It’s about just trying to work hard, to show discipline, setting a good example,” Corriher said.
As for the June 14 bout, “Bonecrusher” Smith said he hopes to get it on Internet pay-per-view.
Asked who was going to come out the winner, Smith grinned.
“It’s going to be a knockout!” said “Bonecrusher” – leaving no doubt, in the way he said it, that he expects to win at least one more match in the boxing ring.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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