Magnolia to Madison Square Garden


By James Smith

Duplin County, North Carolina

 I was born and raised in Magnolia, a small town of about one thousand residents.  My parents were sharecroppers.  I was one of six living children.  Like many rural areas in North Carolina, Magnolia was the home many famous people such as Michael Jordan, ML Carr, Richard Petty, Lawrence Taylor, and others. 


At the age of ten GOD laid on my heart to start running and I would understand the reason WHY later.  I stepped out on Faith and started running.  I was like the movie character, Forrest Gump.  I ran everywhere looking for “Bubba”.

Stay in School

 It’s ironic that I have national mentoring program called Champion For Kids, where I mentor middle school students to stay in school. When I was that age I did not want to go to school. In those days corporal punishment, spanking or beating your children was popular for parents to do. After a couple beatings from parents I realized two things: 1. I was going to school  and, 2. Whenever I became an adult, I was going to beat somebody. 


Mentoring and Guidance

Even though I was one of biggest kids in high school, my parents encouraged me to play basketball instead of football.  I’m sure that if I had a pro football player as a mentor I could have played in the NFL.  Mentoring and guidance are very important.


I graduated from James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, NC in 1973 with an associate degree in Business Administration.  I graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh, NC in  1975 with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration.  I joined the Army that same year and in the Army started my amateur boxing career.  I then spent some time training at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia, PA.

Opportunities and Setbacks

After moving  back home to North Carolina  I worked with the Department of Corrections for two years guarding inmates.  In 1981 I had my first professional fight on ESPN TV suffering a knock-out loss.  Most people would throw in the towel during a situation like that.  I dug in, worked harder.

My first big break was in May of 1984 when I knocked out Frank Bruno in London live on NBC TV.  Then, with only fourteen fights under my belt, I fought Larry Holmes for the World Boxing Heavyweight Title in Las Vegas.   Loss and setback #1.  I then hired six time World Boxing Champion Emile Griffith as my mentor

My second big break was a first round knock-out win over Mike Weaver on CBS TV in 1985.  Again, I stepped out on Faith.  I flew to Las Vegas uninvited to see the Larry Holmes vs Michael Spinks fight being promoted by Don King.  I signed an exclusive contract to fight the winner, who Don thought would be his fighter, Larry Holmes.  Second setback, Michael Spinks won the fight.

Now Don King doesn’t have a champion but I have an exclusive contract with him.  I sue him and he sues me for breach of contract.


Becoming a Champion

My third big break was on or about December 5, 1986.  Don King called and offered me a World Title Fight.  I asked him when was the fight and he said next week, giving me a one week notice.  I had a flashback, a Kodak moment.  God had laid on my heart to start running twenty-three years earlier.  I remained faithful and obedient because the Bible says that obedience is greater than sacrifice.  Also, the steps of a good man is ordered by Him.

On December 12, 1986 on HBO TV at Madison Square Garden, I knocked down Tim Witherspoon three times in the first round to become the WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World.   I became the first college graduate to win a World Boxing Heavyweight Title.

Whether you are a World Boxing Champion, Businessman, Student or Whatever, life is full of losses and setbacks.  Our success depends on what we do NEXT.

Champion For Kids


As a champion, James helped establish the N.C. Boxing Commission and served as its first chairman.  James was inducted into the Carolina's Boxing Hall of Fame in April 2007.  He currently lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

In 2007 James "Bonecrusher" Smith founded Champion For Kids, a nonprofit organization, to mentor kids around the world through the sport of boxing.