(Ishe Smith, emotional after his win, stands next to promoter Floyd Mayweather; photo credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
If every dog has his day, Saturday night wasn’t it for Cornelius "K9" Bundrage.
Bundrage lost his IBF junior middleweight title on Showtime to Ishe Smith in the former’s hometown of Detroit. It was a tentative and at times sloppy affair with many close rounds, as Smith won by split decision.
After a nondescript opening round, referee Sam Williams further muddied matters after he deducted a point from Bundrage for hitting his opponent while Smith was down. Williams sent both men to neutral corners after the foul. The deduction also negated what might have been a knockdown of the Las Vegas native.
A known counter-puncher, Smith (25-5, 11 KOs) stalked the awkward Bundrage in attempt to time and place his punches. The 34-year-old’s straight right hand started scoring well for him in the 4th frame.
Bundrage (32-5, 19 KOs) had some moments in the 8th, using his jab as a rangefinder and moving laterally to disrupt Smith’s growing momentum. In the last 10 seconds of the 9th, Smith wailed on his 39-year-old opponent, opting for haymakers instead of punches down the pipe. An inadvertent headbutt caused small gash above Bundrage’s left eye at the end of the flurry.
The championship rounds saw each fighter giving his respective best despite choppy rhythm. Particularly noteworthy was the final minute of the 11th, when Smith began shoe-shining the former champion on the ropes. Bundrage reversed the positions and stunned Smith with a straight right hand.
Two judges scored the bout the same for Smith at 116-111. The other judge gave the nod to Bundrage 114-113. TQBR saw it for Smith 116-111.
The new champion, who landed 44 percent of his power shots, shed tears in his postfight interview, honoring the late Diego Corrales and Vernon Forrest as well as the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. He entered the ring with a T-shirt adorned with the names of the victims, and vowed to donate dollar-for-dollar proceeds from shirts sold.
The Motor City crowd was primed for the main event after Detroit native J’Leon Love defeated Derrick Findlay by unanimous decision in a middleweight bout. It was the first bout for the 25-year-old in his hometown.
Love (15-0, 8 KOs), who is trained by Floyd Mayweather, Jr., trained with a southpaw in preparation to face Bronco McKart, but his camp chose Findley after that fight fell through. Four inches taller than his opponent, Love played the role of matador to Findley’s charging bull.
Findley (20-9, 13 KOs) nearly doubled the activity of Love throughout the first half of the fight amid referee warnings for rabbit punching, but Love braved through the assault to impress the judges. With a slight edge in power shots (40-37) and total punches (33-30), Love won on all scorecards, 100-90 and 99-91 twice. TQBR saw the bout closer at 97-93 for Love.
“It was a tough learning experience,” Love told Jim Gray. “We asked for Derrick Findley because he was a tough fighter. When you get to that level, you got to be prepared.”
Mayweather echoed his fighter’s comments in an interview with Brian Kenny, who presented a birthday cake designed as a $1,000 bill for “Money,” who will be 36 on Sunday.