Ishe Smith captured the IBF Junior Middleweight World Championship and became the first Las Vegas native to win a major world title when he scored a split decision victory over Cornelius "K9" Bundrage in the main event of a special edition of SHOWTIME BOXING at the Masonic Temple Theatre in Detroit, Mich.
The fight was scored 116-111 Smith, 114-113 Bundrage and 116-111 Smith, who became the 48th ShoBox: The New Generation alum to win a world title.
In a fight that started slow and was tough to score in the early rounds, Smith (25-5, 11 KO's) was the more active fighter and took over in the second half of the bout. With Bundrage backing up and mostly on the defensive, Smith moved forward and found success with his right hand.
The 34-year-old Smith, a protégé and close friend of Floyd Mayweather, whose Mayweather Promotions promotes Smith, seemed to be the hungrier fighter and fought with a sense of urgency, knowing that he had to capitalize on his first championship opportunity in his 13th year as a pro.
"Thirteen years, man. That's all I can say," said an emotional Smith fighting back tears of joy immediately after the bout. "It means everything. Five years ago I was about to kill myself and I thought about my children growing up without a dad and I didn't do it. I don't know what to say. I didn't think I'd be here. I'm so happy for the opportunity.
"I got hurt in camp and Floyd asked me if I wanted to pull out, but I knew I couldn't give up. This was my chance to become a world champion."
The 39-year-old Bundrage (32-5, 19 KO's) was disappointed in his performance in front of his hometown fans.
"Ishe fought a good fight, he won fair and square," Bundrage said. "He was the better fighter tonight. Of course I'll fight again. I just need to take it to the next level like when I won the world title. I didn't listen to my trainer tonight or follow my game plan."
In an interview with SHOWTIME reporter Jim Gray, Mayweather explained his loyalty to his fellow Las Vegas resident.
"Ishe is my guy. I love him," Mayweather said. "When everybody turned their back on Ishe, I stuck with him. Everyone turned their back on him and I don't believe in turning my back on anyone. SHOWTIME gave him a chance and I have to thank K9 for giving him a chance, too."
In Saturday's co-main event, undefeated middleweight prospect J'Leon Love kept his undefeated record intact with a hard-fought unanimous decision victory (100-90, 99-91 twice) over the tough Derrick Findley.
After three fairly even rounds, Love (15-0, 8 KO's), of Las Vegas, Nev., by way of Detroit, stepped on the gas in the fourth and staggered Findley with a series of punishing combinations that opened up a cut under Findley's right eye. While it seemed as if Findley (20-9, 13 KOs), of Gary, Ind., barely survived the round, the bulking boxer bounced back and looked to gain momentum in a few of the latter rounds.
In the 10th, Love, who was pushed past the eighth round for the first time in his career, kept the pressure on and closed strong with a steady dose of right hands and shots to the body.
"It was a tough learning experience," Love said. "Derrick Findley is a tough fighter, but we asked for Derrick Findley. We asked for a tough fighter. I'd rather have a tough fighter on my resume than some slouch.
"He was very, very aggressive. He gave me some close rounds. but keeping your composure and sticking to the game plan is what I learned."
The 25-year-old Love had his promoter Mayweather also working as his trainer between rounds in the absence of his usual trainer Roger Mayweather for what proved to be the toughest fight of his career.
"He knows the experience and he knows what I'm going through so there's nobody better than that," Love said.
Findley, 28, complained that he got caught with a thumb in his eye early in the bout and that affected his vision.
"I couldn't' see after that," Findley said. "He can't punch. If he could, I wouldn't' have gone forward like I did, but no excuses, he's the better man tonight."
Said Mayweather: "It was rough fight. We chose Findley because he's a rough fighter, but when J'Leon faces a tough fight later on down the road, he'll be ready for that."
The fights will replay SHOWTIME on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 9 a.m. ET/PT, on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SHOWTIME EXTREME and will be available at SHOWTIME On Demand from Sunday, Feb. 24 through Saturday, March 23.
Brian Kenny served as host of SHOWTIME BOXING with Mauro Ranallo calling the action, Al Bernstein and Paulie Malignaggi serving as expert analysts with Jim Gray reporting. The telecast was produced by Raymond Smaltz III, with Bob Dunphy directing.