Billy Smith - 1978-2013

A tribute to Billy Smith (1978-2013)

It was only two weeks ago that Billy Smith messaged me asking whether or not he'd get, in his own words, a 'tidy write-up' from me when he reached 200 professional fights.

Having covered the Midlands scene since 2004, I've seen him in engage in combat more times than I can remember off the top of my head and having spoken to him at ringside, on the phone and online over the past nine years, I naturally said I would.

In truth, I was looking forward to it; i'd been thinking about it for a while. But I didn't expect that i'd be here writing a tribute to him due to his death at just 35.

Although he put on a cheery and easy-going front - both in person & online - the reality was the Llanelli-based Worcestershire Ironman never got over the death of twin brother Ernie, who sadly took his own life in 2010 [at just 31] - and chose, tragically, to follow the same path.

He'll be sadly missed.

Trained and managed by Black Country fight figure Errol Johnson, there were plenty of highs for the self-styled 'Gypsy Boy' who, along with his brother, boxed in Kidderminster as an amateur and, like his twin, chose the journeyman option - which is often littered with lows [bad decisions, etc].

He turned professional in 2001 and suffered setbacks against high-calibre opposition like future Commonwealth boss Willie Limond [twice], Marcus Portman, Choi Tseveenpurev and future British champion Lee Meager.

After the 13th defeat on the spin, against another durable regular, Jason Nesbitt, Smith vanished from the scene for four years - before re-appearing with a customary points loss in March 2005.

Seven months later, however - and in his 26th paid outing that including one No Contest [when there was a bomb scare at the venue he was boxing at in Coventry] - that duck was finally broken with a six-round win against a fellow winless scrapper, John Davidson, in Wigan. He was on his way.

"I always knew I could get as many wins as i fancied and the reason I had such a bad start was because I didn't take it seriously and rarely did any training," he said to me in an interview for BBN years ago. "I just turned up on the night.

"The BBBofC [British Boxing Board of Control] were keeping checks on me and I am sure if I had kept on loosing then I could have been in real danger of losing my licence," he continued. "That would have devastated me."

More on-the-road, last-minute defeats followed before he ended the unbeaten ledger of former top-class junior amateur Michael Graydon - and then went on a run that saw him win five of six, including the scalp of then-unbeaten [in seven] Jonny 'Rocco' Hussey at Dudley Town Hall.

At the time of that career-best victory, I wrote that I thought Rocco deserved a share that night - and Billy came up to me at ringside a month later - after defeating another unbeaten welterweight, Brierley Hill's Martin Gordon - and gave me playful tap around the head [just like Ernie, who also engaged in 161 paid outings, had done a year before in similar circumstances].

His footwork had improved, he rolled under punches beautifully at times and the hard gym work was rewarded further when he picked up the vacant Midlands Area light-welterweight title in a ten-round classic with Baz Carey [who had beaten him twice before] in Carey's Coventry backyard.

Both had their moments in an evenly-matched battle that still stands out as one of the finest I've sen, but Billy showed a little something extra that night and had his hand raised, with the referee marking it 98-94 in his favour. But his new-found success would come at a [temporary] cost.

"Maybe winning wasn't the best thing to do,” he told me in the aftermath of a host of wins in 2006 and 2007.

"In fact, it [coming to win and getting the result] is costing me money and I am struggling to get fights nowadays as people know I will turn up and beat them."

He later regained the same title he never lost in the ring against Wolverhampton banger Carl Allen in September 2007 - and revealed to me that Allen had hit him harder than nearly any man he'd faced.

There were a smattering of wins after that, but he decided to play the role of the fall guy - turning up, giving prospects a good argument, before going down on points. He was rarely stopped [only eight men managed to; the last being Curtis Woodhouse in 2011] and always respected.

Smith's professional ledger concludes at an unflattering and misleading-looking 13-145-2. Always in good shape and bouncing on his toes, Smith  boxed for the final time less than three weeks ago and, typically, extended Robbie Barrett in Doncaster. He was living in Wales at the time of his untimely passing and leaves behind a wife and young son, who he adored.

Hope you find the peace that you were looking for, Billy.

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