Max Boxing – News – The Buck stops here: Buck “Tombstone” Smith

Oklahoma’s Midwest legend Buck “Tombstone” Smith turned pro in 1987 and would fight for 22-years before retiring for good in 2009. During that time, he built up an incredible 183-20-2 (121 KO’s) record as one of the busiest fighters on the circuit. He faced a long list of world-rated contenders and champions including Julio Caesar Chavez, Buddy McGirt, Antonio Margarito, Mark Breland, Shannon Taylor and Harold Brazier, among others.

In an interview a few years ago, long-time Smith manager Sean Gibbons told me, “Under different circumstances, Buck could have been a world champion. That guy had a left hook, that if he caught you, it was night, night baby. He could crack with that left. He had world class power in that hand and if it connected, oh Daddy, it was lights out. But in all seriousness Billy, this is a guy who was basically training himself, in his garage, or where he could, and he’s going rounds with some of boxing’s best. This guy could fight. It always bothered me, in fact it is one thing that I look back on and feel bad about, that he never got to fight for a world title; he earned it. And like I said, I don’t care who he is fighting, if he lands that left on the sweet spot it’s night, night daddy. But, he had more to his game than just a good left hook, he had good feet, moved well, could box and he was tough. Buck was a really, really good guy and I have nothing but fond memories of him in the ring and my time working with him. Viva Tombstone”.

People unfamiliar with the talent of the boxer-puncher Smith might lean towards writing him off as little more than a novelty act mining boxing’s lower leagues to build up a glossy record. And make no mistake, Smith did stay as busy as he possibly could, against any, and all, opposition. His attitude was better to be under the lights in a real fight, than be in the gym sparring. However, don’t let the crazy numbers fool you, this guy had the talent to box with anyone. All that time on task allowed him to build his skills into that of a very accomplished fighter who was always one punch away from taking anyone out, from a 4-round, preliminary opponent to a decorated world champion.

While Smith never did fight for a world title he did face off against some outstanding fighters and earned the respect of every opponent he faced. His career would see him fighting in Culiacan, Mexico against Mexican legend Julio Caesar Chavez, in London at the famous Royal Albert Hall picking up a huge, upset knockout over British star Kirkland Laing, in Australia against former world title challenger Shannon Taylor, and in South Africa against local star Gary Murray, among other locales. Add that to the multitude of places he fought all over the United States and you have one busy boxer.

Smith’s story, and resume, is a unique one, even for his era, and completely foreign to the new regime of fighters out there today. He was old school. Stay as busy as you can, fight as often as you can, and use the stay-busy fights to always stay sharp waiting for the big bouts.

MaxBoxing had a chance to catch up with one of boxing’s truly unique characters, with a unique story. As nice and friendly out of the ring as he was talented in it – chatting with the champ – Buck Smith.

Bill Tibbs: Hi Buck, thanks for taking a few minutes to chat.

Buck Smith: Hey Bill, no problem, happy to do it. thanks.

BT: Tell me about your amateur career. And, what led you into the pro game?

BS: I never really had an amateur career. Maybe a couple fights as a kid, a few while in the service, but not really what you would call an amateur career. You know, did some slap boxing in the neighborhood as a kid but no amateur career to speak of.

BT: Did you always wanted to be a pro fighter? Was that something you wanted to do or did it just kind of happen?

BS: Growing up I actually thought about it. Well four careers really. I thought about being a policeman, a fire fighter, a football player, or a boxer. My buddy and I looked into the police force, but they were paying like 20-30 000 dollars a year and we were like, ‘To get shot at? No thanks’. (Laughs). I was a pretty good high school football player. My Dad said to me, ‘You have 3 choices. The military, the post office, (because he retired from the post office), or jail’ (laughs). I was in the military reserves for 8 years.

BT: You had an incredibly busy schedule. Was that always the plan? Fighting anyone, anywhere, as often as you can?

BS: The guys I was around, and boxing with, Marty (Jakubowski), Dwayne (Swift) and Harold (Brazier) kept busy fighting a lot. So, that’s just kind of what I was used to. My manager Sean Gibbons, along with Pete Susens, both great, great guys. They knew how to handle things, they kept me busy, and they knew how to move us. All their stable of fighters, they knew how to best work with the fighters, they knew what worked best for each fighter and how to keep them busy and put them in the right fights.

BT: I talk to Marty regularly, he’s doing well, at the Knuckleheads Gym in Chicago.

BS: What a great fighter he was. A very talented boxer.

BT: Fighting the 4 and 6 rounders, on small club shows, fighting as often as you did, do you find they helped you improve? Or was it more just keeping busy?

BS: You know Bill, I was able to work on a lot of things in those fights that helped me as I went along. Plus, I had complete trust in Sean and Pete. If they told me this is where we are going, I was like, ‘Ok, let’s go’. I didn’t ask them; they knew how to best handle my career. But, I learned a lot in those fights. I learned how to slip punches, learned how to box, how to punch off certain moves; those fights were great for that. To be honest, I really didn’t think I felt like I was boxing to my potential until I went 10 rounds with Buddy McGirt and I had a 100 some odd fights by then (laughs). Buddy thanked me after the fight, congratulated me on giving him a good fight and I thanked him for teaching me how to box.

BT: Of course, you had the classic night where you fought twice in one night in two different states.

BS: I was the first bout of the night on a show in Wichita, Kansas and I stopped the guy in the 2nd round. We jumped in the car, I was still in my hand wraps and trunks and drove to Oklahoma City where I went 6 rounds and picked up my second win of the night. I was tired after that night, mostly from the driving and rushing, you know. But it was a fun night.

BT: Do you regret never getting a shot at the title? Sean (Mgr. Gibbons) has told me many times that in the right spot you could have absolutely won a world title.

BS: Well, sure I would have liked to win a title, get all the belts, you know. But I was still going to compete. I still loved to box and you know I got the right fights to get there. Sean and Pete put me in the right fights but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Sean and Pete did what they could to move me into a title shot but you know maybe if I had beaten Kevin Pompey I could have gotten the shot. But, I broke my hands in that fight. Both hands were so badly swollen after the fight I could hardly get my gloves off. I would have liked a title shot but at the same time I didn’t get too caught up in it, I was still competing in the best fights out there. I was in some great fights with some great fighters. As my career moved along, I didn’t dwell on it too much.

BT: Who would you say was the toughest fighter you fought?

BS: I don’t know if I can say that one guy was the toughest, that is hard to say. Every fighter I faced was tough in their own way. Any fighter that will get in the ring with you is tough. But, I will say that one of the best, most talented fighters I faced was Harold Brazier. He was an excellent, excellent boxer. That guy was always ready to fight, in great shape. One night we fought 15 rounds and I was trying to pace myself and he’s getting stronger and stronger as the fight goes (laughs). When Harold fought, he was always ready to go and fight hard, no slacking anytime.

BT: Looking back, what was one of the most exciting venues you fought in?

BS: Well, I’d have to say that the first time I fought at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. That was very exciting to me, I couldn’t believe I was even there. You know I’m fighting on the Leonard-Hearns undercard. I’m a small-town guy from Oklahoma and there I was in Vegas at the big show.

BT: Did you have a day job during your boxing career?

BS: No, I didn’t. I was so busy traveling and fighting. I did odd jobs back at home between fights. I’d work here and there, painting, construction, roofing, and I worked for a while in a graveyard. The guys started calling me “Tombstone”, and that is how I got my nickname.

BT: Speaking of names, is Buck your real name?

BS: Yes, it is. I was named after my father.

BT: That’s a great Oklahoma name.

BS: (Laughs). Yeah, I guess it is.

BT: What have you been doing since you retired?

BS: I opened a gym and ran that for about 15 years, doing promotions as well. Finally shut it down as I got tired of babysitting (laughs). I used to think ‘Man, this isn’t like the old days with Sean and I’. Then, I went to work or an electrical company, I’ve been there for about 3 years. I needed that insurance. But, I still help out at the gyms around town a bit, take a look at some of the amateurs and try to help them out. I have been married for 26 years and I have 2 daughters and 3 grandchildren.

BT: Any regrets?

BS: No, not really. Maybe that I didn’t let my hands heal up between fights, let them heal up properly. But, we were always moving, always working, so that just wasn’t the deal then. But, I do wish I’d let my hands heal up properly when they were injured. Otherwise, none at all. I had the perfect life as a boxer. I stayed in shape, always had to run and stay ready. That was one thing the O’Grady’s (long-time Oklahoma promoters) insisted on, be ready. Run, run, run. Stay in shape. I had a great time with Sean, we went all over the place, all over the world. Pete, he was great. Sean and Pete are both great guys and I’m glad they were handling my career.

BT: How do you want to be remembered?

BS: Well, I’d like to be remembered as a guy who made it close to the big show, never got the big prize but I did a few things that should be remembered. I accomplished some things in the sport and gave the fans some good fights and always tried to entertain the fans. Sean and Pete – wonderful guys, real great memories from them from all the years we worked together. You know training at Pete’s gym, living at his house, living with Sean, all those miles we traveled (laughs). Sean and I had a lot of great times together, a lotta great times. I wouldn’t change a thing – great memories. I hope the fans remember me as a guy who had a good left hook, a good boxer and a guy who could fight 4 or 6 rounds one week and fight a 12 round fight the next. I’d fight anyone, anywhere, anytime.

BT: Buck, I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed our conversation. You are the last of the breed of guy who can have a career like you did, in North America anyway. You were a unique character in the sport, and a very good fighter. I really enjoyed watching you fight and thank you again for the interview.

BS: Hey Bill, anytime. Thank you as well.

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