KENANSVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA – You never know where life will lead you.
That was the case for James Smith, who graduated from James Sprunt Community College in 1973 with an associate degree in business administration. He had no idea that in a few years after finishing college, that he would become known all over the world as the “Bonecrusher.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree at Shaw University, James joined the Army and soon he found himself competing in boxing matches, winning the Army base heavyweight championship.
“I used to rush in on an opponent and break his jaw or a rib, sometimes a nose,” said James. “Someone shouted the name “Bonecrusher” across the room. Soon the name stuck and I kept it.”
Fast-forward to 1981. James found himself in his first professional fight that was broadcast all around the world. James lost that fight, but it taught him a valuable lesson. He made a decision that day that he was in it to win, and win he would.
“When you get knocked down, you just have to get back up,” said James.
James decided he would fight anyone that would fight him. He won the next 14 fights in a row, with 12 of those being knockouts.
Then with only a seven day notice, James found himself fighting for the WBA World Heavyweight Title against Tim Witherspoon, the same man that he lost to in his first fight.
“When I won the title, I won it on a seven day notice,” said James. “Don King called me…He said Bone, I want to give you that World Title Fight… The fight is going to be in Madison Square Gardens in New York, it is going to be on HBO. You’ve got a chance to redeem yourself in front of the world.”
James says that he was told that he could “take it or leave it,” and after a few minutes of thinking he said “I have a dream Don, I’m not Martin Luther King, but I have a dream.”
James accepted the challenge and fought Witherspoon, and after knocking him out at 2:12 in the first round, he became the WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World, and the Duplin County native found himself in the spotlight like never before.
But, in addition to winning the world title and becoming an overnight celebrity, James also made history in another special way.
“I was the first boxing champ that had a college degree,” said James.
James decided to come to James Sprunt because it was close to home, convenient, and he could save money.
“I followed my fiancé and soon-to-be wife,” he said. “We were not quite ready for a 4-year college at that particular time. Community college gives a great opportunity to get transitioned from high school to college.”
He adds with laughter “… and we liked the prices.”
James also credits his parents with giving him the motivation to go to school and to complete his education.
“It helped to have two loving parents. They taught us right from wrong. They corrected us when we made mistakes. They were our mentors. All six of my parent’s children graduated college. It is incredible to have parents who made sure that their children finished school.”
Today you’ll find James working with his non-profit organization, Champion for Kids.
“It’s a national mentoring program,” James said.
Children from across the country get an opportunity to be mentored not only by James, but also by other Boxing Legends.
“I thought let’s get some of the other champions together to be a champion for the kids.”
You’ll also find James working out the final details of his RV Mobile Museum which will feature memorabilia from those inducted into the Boxing Legends Hall of Fame.
“Getting this RV mobile museum, we are going to be able to come back here [to James Sprunt], there and everywhere, and just let the fans hangout,” said James. “At the end of the year, we will do a big party in Myrtle Beach…so we go see the fans during the year, and at the end of the year, they come see us.”
It’s that rolling piece of history that will help to preserve the past of boxing for future generations to come.
As for advice that James would give others, he says “The hardest part is sometimes just getting started. If there’s something you want to do, do it. If you want to go back to school, make the decision to do it…I tell people to pray, ask God to give you direction.”
“Being concerned and being nervous about anything new, that’s ok, but don’t let fear stop you. The definition of fear is false evidence appearing real. A lot of times people are afraid of something that is not even a real thing to be afraid of.”
He adds, “There is a champion inside of everyone waiting to be revealed… All things are possible for those who believe.”
– Cheryl Hemric / James Sprunt Community College
For media related questions, please contact Cheryl Hemric, director of marketing and public information at (910) 275-6170.
James Sprunt Community College is one of the premier institutions in the North Carolina Community College System. Our college serves more than 5,000 students annually from our Kenansville and WestPark campuses and three specialized centers. Learn more at http://www.jamessprunt.edu.