Carter & Smith – The Final Battle (diary entry)

carter v smith 3Jimmy Carter versus Wallace Bud Smith Undisputed World Lightweight Championship 19.10.1955

Jimmy Carter’s third reign as world lightweight champion was his shortest. This time, despite coming off two wins and a draw against the future world welterweight champion, Tony DeMarco, he lost his first title defence. His opponent was an old foe, Wallace “Bud” Smith, he had roundly defeated in a unanimous decision back in 1950. Smith had been ranked a severe underdog and Carter’s manager, Willie Ketchum, had argued it had been a close bout and that whenever such an event occurred the decision was always given to his man’s underdog opponent. However, the report on the fight said otherwise:

“Wallace (Bud) Smith, 134 [lbs], gave Jimmy Carter, 134 1/2 [lbs], the worst beating of his career Wednesday night at Boston Garden but had no easy time in gaining a split decision in 15 blood-spattered rounds. It marked the 3rd time Carter has lost the lightweight crown. Carter had the better of the early rounds as he made Smith miss while scoring, though Smith tagged him enough to open a cut over his left eye. In the middle rounds Smith absorbed all the punishment Carter could dish out and kept up the left attack. In the late stages Smith slowed Carter down with telling blows, though the game champion never let up. At one stage in the 12th round Carter took on a macabre appearance standing almost helpless in the ring – his white trunks turned pink from a blend of blood and sweat.”  – The Associated Press.

Born Wallace Smith in Cincinnati, Ohio, he went on to becomes the A.A.U. Featherweight Champion and Chicago’s 1948 lightweight Golden Gloves intercity tournament. He represented the USA at 1948 Olympic Games. He ended his amateur career with a record of 52-4, turning professional in 1948. His seventh consecutive win earned him the Ohio State Lightweight Championship. Smith’s tenth match saw him lose for the first time on a majority decision to Paulie Brooks. He won his next three bouts, including a rematch against Brooks where he scored a fourth round knockout. Jimmy Carter met him for the first time in 1950 and handed Smith his second defeat, this time by unanimous decision. He beat Jay Watkins, drew against Jesse Underwood and then lost for the third time in his career, this time it was a points defeat by Danny Womber. Bud didn’t fight again for almost three months before starting 1951 with a technical second round knockout over Frankie Betts. However, he didn’t win a single one of his next six fights that year, only drawing twice. He took ’52 off boxing before returning in ’53 with a split decision victory over the enigmatic featherweight, Teddy “Redtop” Davis, followed by three further wins before losing twice to three divisional national champion, George Barnes. After stopping Len Dittmar he drew against Johnny Saxton not long before Saxton won the World Welterweight title.

Bud Smith next lost a split decision to Orlando Zulueta, an old rival he had previously drawn with, and then immediately avenged the loss with a unanimous decision victory. By the time he faced Carter for the second time their respective years on 29th June 1955, his record was 29–13–6, having beaten the top ranked fighters in the lightweight division, including the highly rated Zulueta for the second time. After defying the 4-1 odds and winning the world title from Carter, extra time had to be allowed on top of the automatic 90 day rematch clause due to the damage incurred. Smith took three stitches and Carter had nine over his right eye and six over his left. Many consider this to be the worst injuries Carter suffered in his entire career and a shocking upset, but the fight had still been very close and Smith had won by split decision.

Both boxers came into their next bout weighing 135 lbs. Smith was an inch and a half taller than Carter at 5’6 1/2″ but had a slightly shorter reach at 68″ to Carter’s 68 1/2″.  Overall, Smith was slightly stockier in his limbs and chest. Smith was known to be an especially aggressive slugger with a deadly left hook and Carter’s main game plan was to force him onto the back-foot.

Round 1 – Carter took the early initiative with his strategy, taking the fight to Smith. He circled in and rolled but would not give up ground or work from the outside. The result was the two regularly clinched. Smith maintained his usual aggressive style but Carter just edged it in this round.

Round 2 – Carter continued to press the fight and early on pushed Bud into the ropes. However, Smith did not stay there long and maintained his aggression. The fight stayed in the middle of the ring and Carter started angling off. The round finished with Carter landing some heavy shots but Smith was taking them and returning his own. A somewhat even round.

Round 3 – The champion came in with more aggression at the beginning of the round, but Carter stuck to his plan and would not back-peddle or box from the outside. Instead he lunged in with some hard shots. Smith seemed to be favouring a lead hand uppercut that I saw him use a few times in the previous rounds. Clinching ensued as neither man gave up the centre and worked hard with their free hands. Smith reopened Carter’s cut over his right eyebrow and took the round.

Round 4 – Smith showed very good defences as he came forward, including a high guard and rolling. Carter was clearly having trouble getting in his jabs and missed with his hooks. This round saw far more action from Smith and another round in his favour.

Round 5 – Carter opened up with some dexterous lead hand work – double-jabs turning into upward diagonal hooks. As he circled round to Smith’s right he scythed in with some powerful left hooks to the head. Smith held his ground, coming back first with a few ponderous jabs before sending in some digging shovel hooks and uppercuts. A couple of rights started sending Carter back but the challenger circled back in and after a few exchanges landed a few chopping overhand rights, ending the round in a strong looking position.

Round 6 – Bud Smith came in with an air of confidence at the beginning. Carter was now back to circling from the outside in his familiar fashion rather than trying to pressure Smith. Back in a more familiar position, Smith pursued him. Carter’s right eye began showing signs of swelling. Smith’s guard began to lower and Carter didn’t need to be asked twice to land his jabs on the champion’s nose. Smith missed with his hooks and Carter looked more in command albeit with the noticeable injury.

Round 7 – Smith was on the front foot again and Carter was back to circling. This was down to Carter’s corner advising their fighter to stay out of the pocket due to the facial damage. However, this gave Smith even more confidence and he pursued Carter throughout the round. After the 15 second mark the fight went to the centre of the ring and both men took some punishment. Smith took the worst of it but looked strong at the bell.

Round 8 – Smelling blood from the previous round, Carter went back into the trenches and started pressing the fight again. Smith came back hard and Carter’s eye was probably down to one quarter vision at this stage. The fight barely left the middle of the ring as in-fighting and mid-range fighting became the order of the day. Carter landed a right hand to Smith’s forehead after the one minute mark and worked to press his advantage. These were impeded by him slipping a lot on the canvas.

Round 9 – Between rounds, Carter was told to now engage more and to land hard punches. Smith looked place more shots working a left to the body. Smith’s right hand was thrown sparingly. Carter began pummeling at Smith’s body, seeking to sap his youthful opponent’s boundless energy. The round ended with Carter’s right eye now almost completely swollen shut.

Round 10 – Carter came out and circled, peppering Smith with jabs. Smith came back with a couple of his own. Smith poured on a few tentative combinations that Carter slipped and deflected with a shoulder roll. After more circling, Carter advanced with a combination and pushed Smith back towards the ropes. The champion held his ground just short of the ropes and then fended the challenger off who then circled out. Smith then sought to land his overhand right a couple of times between brief exchanges and clinches. They didn’t land, most of the damage to either man seemed to be occurring in the clinches with a regular exchange of lead hand uppercuts. Carter worked his jab and then regularly went to the body before angling off. He seemed to be getting into a rhythm at this point. Smith kept it up with his shovel and angled hooks when his lead uppercut wasn’t landing. Both men leant on each other shoulders and worked single over or under-hooks as well as collar ties. Smith went back to trying to land bombs off both hands, but they appeared to be easily slipped by Carter who moved out of range before intercepting and muffling one of the champion’s advances. Using a well placed collar tie, Carter threw in some heavy uppercuts to the body.

Round 11 – Smith matched Carter’s circling at the outset and threw several lead hooks to the head. The challenger eventually began to respond with light single jabs. Carter, looking very composed, began using a lot of lateral work as Smith tried to land some heavy combinations. Smith kept missing as the challenger went to stick and move, and took a heavy left hook to the head. Smith’s punches sailed over Carter’s rolls and he was tied up briefly. Carter took the initiative using his footwork to back-peddle and circle, clearly frustrating the champion. Finally a left hook found its mark and Smith almost went down. He recovered quickly but Carter dove back in and they clinched with the challenger driving uppercuts into the champion’s face.  After some deft evasive footwork and upper body slipping, Carter re-engaged with Smith. The two clashed a couple of times, struggling to land any meaningful blows at this point. Carter clearly won this round, having stung Smith with some telling punches.

Round 12 – Both fighter came out eager to deliver. Carter looked like he had early control as they clashed in the middle of the ring and he pivoted off, steering his opponent into more punishment. However, Smith was throwing and landing plenty of his own punches in the clinch. Work quickly then broke to long and mid-range with both men freely exchanging. Carter still looked like he was steering the fight even if Smith’s workrate wasn’t in question. Smith moved back in with his shovel and angled lead hooks, but most of his other punches seemed to be missing. Carter missed a far few long range jabs too for that matter. The fighter did well to stay out of the clinch as they look to land some power shots. Just before the last 15 second mark it looked like the challenger a lot of punches as he ploughed forward. With the ranges finally deteriorated back to the clinch, Carter drove the champion into the ropes. They were separated and, just prior to the bell, Carter looked the most energetic as fired off several hooks.

Round 13 – After some frantic circling that saw Smith escape to the outside for the first time and Carter eventually use a blatant collar tie, the two resumed trying to snipe each other from long range. Around the halfway point, Carter found his mark and landed a thunderous left hook to Smith’s temple. It shook the champion who lurched back. Carter pursued him a barrage of punches into the ropes. Smith clinched and was able to wrestle his way out of trouble for the moment. However, he was clearly shaky and clinched to the body for a second. They were separated and Carter began chasing the champion around the ring, landing more telling punches. Smith tried to get back into the game with some weak hooks, but Carter knew he was hurt and went to the body before clipping Smith on the chin. Smith went to the clinch to hold on. With 15 seconds to go, Carter went to work with his right and the champion did his best to hold on. This was Carter’s best round as he almost took Smith down three times using his left hook as well as a barrage over other punches. Smith did well to stay up and stay the pace until the bell rang.

Round 14 – Somehow the champion, Bud Smith looked lively again at the beginning of the round. This didn’t stop Carter from barrelling in with his shoulder. They went to a more even exchange at mid and long range at a pace that wouldn’t have looked strange in the middle rounds. Although I still feel Carter was ahead in this round, Smith’s comeback was quite remarkable.

Round 15 – Carter, possibly sensing the fight was close, piled on the pressure with some scything lefts to the body and rights to the head. Smith doggedly stuck to his remarkable pace and worked his sharp left hook. At the 15 second point, both men poured on the pressure to land enough damaging blows on each other. I felt Carter was ahead but two of the judges would think otherwise.

There was controversy over the decision. The match was decided by three judges this time and the referee, Tony Warndorf, wasn’t allowed to score. Judge Joe Blink scored the match 144-140 to Carter whereas Willie Purcell and Joe Nietschze scored it 139-143 and 135-143 respectively in favour of Smith. The bout should have been scored a split decision in favour of Smith. However, Blink’s score was announced 140-140 making it a majority decision. The judge had apparently had difficulty in adding up his scorecard on the night and Sports Illustrated dubbed it the “long, long count”. Later Commissioner Paul Cain of the Cincinnati Boxing Commission told the press that Blink’s card had been retabulated to 143-139 in favour of Smith. Blink stood by his original calculation and said, “I don’t care how they add it. I voted for Carter, 144-140. It’s still split as far as I’m concerned.”

After failing to win back the title for a third time, Carter lost his next fight to Cisco Andrade in February the next year on a split decision. He won his next two fights that year and then lost to old rival Art Aragon on a unanimous decision. He then defeated another old rival, Lauro Salas, before losing on a TKO to rising star, Larry Boardman who was ranked number 2 in the world that year. After wins against Mickey Northrup and Buddy McDonald, the South African heavy hitter Willie Toweel handed him a points defeat at the end of 1957. With two losses against Joey Lopes – his only two fights in ’58 – Carter had become a journeyman in his division and would never challenge for a title again. He fought nine more times in his career against professionals who never rose to prominence. He lost five of these, the last three being his final fights. Jimmy Carter retired from boxing in 1960 with a career record of 85-31-9 from a total of 125 fights. He was the first man in boxing history to win the world lightweight championship three times. He fought the best of his era, including several future hall of fame fighters. After his first loss to Smith, journalist Budd Schulberg reported he overheard an old boxer say in an Eighth Avenue bar, “Jimmy doesn’t ever lose his title, he just loans it to the other fella for a little while.”

Jimmy Carter appears to have faded into obscurity when he retired. He lived to the age of 70 and died of a heart attack on 21st September 1994.

Wallace “Bud” Smith would not fight again until the following year.