The Real Story – Heavyweight Title Fight: James “Bonecrusher” Smith VS Tim Witherspoon
There was controversy before and after this fight. I know. I was covering this fight as a sports writer for the Middletown (NY) Record, and I was the VP of the Boxing Writers Association at the time.
The fight was originally supposed to be Witherspoon, the champion, against light-hitting Tony Tubbs at Madison Square Garden. Don King was Witherspoon’s promoter. Then King signed Bonecrusher Smith to a promotional contract and just a few weeks before the fight, he withdrew Tubbsand inserted the hard hitting Smith.
Witherspoon refused to fight Smith, and King ran to Jose Torres, then the Chairman of the NY State AC. For whatever reason, Torres told Witherspoon if he didn’t fight Smith, he’d strip him of his title. Witherspoon, who had beaten Smith before and irate his own promoter had turned against him, went into the fight with nothing. It was like he didn’t even try.
A few days after the fight, Torres announced to the press that Witherspoon had failed his post-fight drug test. Jackie Graham, an assistant to Torres, and the brother of 1950-60s welterweight Billy Graham, then told the press that Torres has misunderstood him when he told Torres the test had come back “negative.” Torres, more than a little embarrassed, immediately fired Graham.
The very popular Graham told his story to several boxing writers, who all, including myself, then wrote articles laying out what really happened. Torres, now even more embarrassed, hired Graham back, saying he never really fired him in the fight place.
Bert Sugar, my good friend and close to Torres (they wrote a book together “Sting like a Bee – The Muhammad Ali Story), explained to me what really happened.
Bert told me, “English is Jose’s second language. He misunderstood ‘negative drug test’ to mean Witherspoon had failed the test.”
You can’t make up stuff like this.
As for why Torres forced Witherspoon to fight Smith, you can draw your own conclusions.
It was really a big deal in NY City at the time. From that point on, I always questioned Jose Torres’s motives.
I even wrote a column with an open letter to Gov. Cuomo in the Middletown Record, showing him several instances where Torres bent and even broke the rules. I pleaded with Cuomo to replace Torres with someone else. But Cuomo never answered me back.
To give you an example, Torres used to cheer on and give during-the-rounds instructions to several Hispanic fighters, including Mark Medal and Roberto Duran, from his seat in the first row at ringside. Because of this, one Florida promoter once told me he’d never again bring another fighter to NY.
Then I got complaints from fighters, managers and trainers that Torres was applying the screws to them.One famous trainer told me that Torres wanted to steal his fighter, who was managed by a famous manger. Torres told this trainer that he had several people, some of them famous writers, who he said he could put the fighter’s contract under their names. But he would really be their manager. The fighter, an undefeated slow white heavyweight with limited talent (he was about 8-0 at the time) retired rather than bend to Torres’s demand.
I can tell you the name of the manager, because he is RIP. It was Mike Jones, who co-managed Gerry Cooney with Denis Rappaport, and who manged other fighers like Billy Costello, Tony Santana and Wilford Scypion by himself. I can’t mention the trainer’s name because he’s still around and I promised I’d keep him out of it.. He was concerned Torres could hurt him in some way.
There were also rumors that Torres had hidden ownership in several Hispanic fighters, some of whom were managed by a famous NY City Hispanic restaurant owner. I could never confirm those rumors. But Torres was a regular in this restaurant. I doubt he ever paid a tab.
Yet, when you read about Torres today, after his death, he’s given some sort of reverence he absolutely does not deserve, especially from the Hispanic community. The boxing writers who were around in the mid-to-late 80s know the truth.