Sammy Nesmith was one of the best boxers. I mean world class level awesome. If you were to take a Nesmith powershot and stay upright, you’d better wear some strong whiskers.
While the name Sammy Nesmith may not stand out among today’s boxing fans, those who followed the midwest middleweight era of the 1970s and early 80s will know him. remember him. Some very good boxers, with very good chins, have described Sammy as the hardest puncher they have ever seen.
Sammy amassed an impressive record of 38-7 over 11 years in the ring, with 34 of those wins before the final bell. Born in South Carolina but fighting out of Indianapolis, Indiana, Nesmith would build a resume that included Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, “Sugar” Ray Seales, the rugged Tony Chiaverini, gold medal Olympian and world title challenger, Ronnie Harris, and world title challenger Gary Guiden, among others.
Nesmith was a huge ticket seller in his hometown. He was just as likeable and kind out of the ring as a devastating puncher in it. As a result, he really connected with fans. Nesmith clearly came across as almost too nice a man to be a boxer. His out-of-the-ring, easy-going, Southern charm contrasted with his vicious, fighting punch.
However, this softer side of Nesmith would also hinder him in the ring. His punching power was what saved him from his all-too-frequent, almost debilitating pre-fight jitters. If a fighter could withstand Nesmith’s power, and it would come early and often, he had a chance to get Nesmith out of there, as he could be mentally vulnerable in the ring. This probably explains that all his losses are of the interrupt variant. However, if you were going to Nesmith, you’d have to walk through a hail storm of bombs to do it, and with Nesmith it only took one shot.
In an interview with Chiaverini, who faced Bennie Briscoe, Ray Leonard and Wilfred Benitez, among many others, I asked him who was the hardest puncher he ever encountered. Chiaverini’s quick response was “Sammy Nesmith, no doubt”.
Example, Nesmith versus decorated Olympian and amateur star, Ronnie Harris. After taking gold at the 1968 Olympics, Harris embarked on a professional career that, like his amateur career, rarely saw the awkward, frustrating southpaw lose a round, much less a fight. With wins on the bench over “Sugar” Ray Seales and future World Champion Alan Minter, Harris faced Nesmith in the spring of 1980 in Sammy’s hometown of Indianapolis. Harris, with a less-than-fan-friendly, but all-too-effective, left-hander, and movement style, had beat Nesmith every second of every round. However, seeing that Harris wasn’t a huge puncher, Sammy was able to keep his focus and not get intimidated into the fight. Then, on the 10th lap, Nesmith landed the bomb that turned off the lights on Harris. KO win for Nesmith. Harris’ only other loss of his career would be split decision, losing the world title to middleweight champion Hugo Corro 4 fights earlier in Corro’s hometown of Argentina. That was the story of Slammin’ Sammy in a nutshell – if he caught you, you probably went out.
Could Sammy have won a world title? He certainly had world-class punching power. However, the reality is that he may not have been able to keep his cool under the pressure of a world title fight with a tough and tenacious Hugo Corro or Vito Antuofermo, both champions in Nesmith’s prime, coming at him.
A National Golden Gloves champion as an amateur and a NABF champion as a professional, Nesmith worked for Coca-Cola as a retired truck driver. Sadly, Sammy, one of boxing’s truly great boxers, died of a heart attack in 2014 at the age of 62 while working in New York City.