"They have the blood of Najai Turpin on their hands!"
:In the first part of our exclusive interview with Ishe Smith, the sugar man shared with us his feelings towards the powers that be within “The Contender series”. Smith was not done just yet blasting the reality television show. In the conclusion of our in depth interview with Smith he shares his thoughts on Jesse Brinkley, Sergio Mora and the tragedy that was Najai Turpin. Smith was keeping so much weight bottled up that if he kept it all in he would probably be campaigning as a Heavyweight.
As was reported last week the Contender series will resume. ESPN will be the flagship station for the boxing/drama series. The sports network has plans to air an October 15th fight card with the original fighters from its maiden season. Originally scheduled to be a part of this evening was Ishe Smith. Smith was to clash against fellow Nevada pugilist Jesse Brinkley. Smith has since turned this fight down and as you know already wants all ties with The Contender to be severed immediately and eternally.
“They want me to agree to fight Brinkley at 164 pounds. That is about 10 pounds over my weight. It’s ridiculous. I tried to say ok lets compromise and ask for more money and they said no, there is no more for you”, said Smith.
“On top of this they want me to fight Jesse Brinkley for 50 thousand dollars and then they want to pay him 75 thousand dollars. How can I make 25 thousand dollars less than him? I’m not hating on his purse, more power to him if that’s what they feel he’s worth. But It’s an outright insult that I am being paid significantly less than he is,” said Smith.
“This guy lost to a welterweight his last time out. He was hurt in his bout by a guy who really is a welterweight. Everyone saw how he was whooped by Alfonso (Gomez) in the finale show,” said Smith.
Smith claims that in an attempt to keep him “happy” the powers that dictate told him that their offer of 50 thousand dollars was final. If he did not want to take the fight against Brinkley because of the weight difference than he had the option of bringing in an outside opponent, but it would be off television.
“Some people say hey bring in a bum and fight him for 50 thousand dollars, what’s the problem with that type of money? But it’s more than money there is principal at stake here. What does a 5 round fight against an “opponent” do for me in my career? It does absolutely nothing,” stated Smith.
“Don’t get it twisted; Jesse Brinkley could not beat me on my worst day, but a fight with him at 164 when I’m a junior middleweight that does not make sense. Who is Brinkley for me to go up to meet him? If I go up and beat him it does nothing for me because he is no one special,” said Smith.
“I could run 5 miles in the morning, come home and make love to my wife all afternoon long and then go to the arena of their choice and knockout Jesse Brinkley. Me and him are not on the same level,” said Smith
“Do you think Gary Shaw or any other promoter with sense would have told me to fight Jeff Lacy at 164 pounds if millions were not involved?,” said Smith.
“They want to throw crumbs at me and make it seem like they are doing me a favor. They are basically saying here you little Negro take what I am giving you and keep your mouth shut,” said Smith.
“On my website I am going to have a picture of me picking cotton with a Mark Burnett, T-Shirt on,” said Smith.
The last time Smith saw action was on May 24, 2005 as part of the un-televised portion of The Contender finale show. On this afternoon Smith out classed a rugged and at times dirty fighting Anthony Bonsante for a 5 round unanimous decision. Smith attests that his fight against Bonsante was an easy one and more of a showcase fight for him than anything else. It was also the first time he and new trainer Joe Goosen paired together in a fight. The real difficult times in regards to the show’s finale according to Smith were the day’s leading up to it.
“This was so unprofessional I paid for my whole boxing team to come to the fight. I paid for the rooms, meals, and the airline tickets. Since I am training with Joe (Goosen) out in Los Angeles, I had to pay for his flight out to Las Vegas. I also had to pay for my assistant coaches’ way to the fight also. I paid for their rooms and meals. This is not how boxing works”, said Smith.
“I paid all of these expenses for the finale out of my own pocket. Any tickets that I wanted I had to pay for. It was really shocking and surprising how cheap they were,” said Smith.
Smith earned 75 thousand dollars on the night of the Contender finale. A purse that Smith feels was not sufficient after all of these expenses were accounted for.
Before Smith’s decisive victory over Bonsante he tasted defeat for the first time as a professional at the hands of Sergio Mora. Mora would be the man who would go on to capture The Contender championship and win the 1 million dollar prize. Mora defeated Smith in a close decision.
Viewers at home however were subjected to a Hollywood style bout, rather than a boxing match that we have all come to know and love since the marriage between television and the sweet science came about. What a concept that would have been? For NBC to actually air a boxing match in its natural speed and in its entirety.
Smith feels that Mora was given the benefit of the doubt in a bout that was much more competitive than what was actually televised.
“The show let viewers see what they wanted to see. They showed a fight that was edited and chopped up to make their man look better than what he is, plain and simple. They did not even have the decency to discuss that the fight was judged a split decision,” said Smith.
“I am not taking anything away from Sergio I think he is a good fighter and a really, really nice guy but he did not beat me. I dare them (The Contender) to show the entire fight, not clips instead of that edited garbage that they put out there for the people,” said Smith.
“Tommy Gallagher told me that night Sergio could not have come out for another round if he had to,” said Smith.
“Sergio is the guy that they want to build things around. They want him to be the face of their company. Personally I feel the jury is still out on Sergio. Can he go 10 rounds? Can he go 12 rounds? People know that I can,” said Smith.
“I feel that other than me the best fighter out of everyone on the show was Alfonso Gomez. Alfonso is really a welterweight and he fought a couple of guys there were a lot bigger than him and I think Alfonso made a good showing for himself. But the jury is still out on him also can he go 10 and 12 rounds in the real world,” said Smith.
“Who really other than Peter (Manfredo) wants to see a rematch between him and Sergio? It was such a one sided fight that night. It was not even competitive for the most part,” said Smith.
“I am not an arrogant individual. Anyone who knows me can tell you that is not me. But I feel that as a professional boxer, that no one in my weight class is better than me. At the same time I don’t feel that I am better than anyone else. I am a Christian man and that’s how I feel. I am confident in the talents that have been bestowed upon me. That is why I work so very hard to harness and try to maximize my abilities,” said Smith.
“If I am not confident in myself then I might as well find another occupation,” stated Smith.
One issue that has left Smith very perturbed is the death of former friend and fellow Contender cast member Najai Turpin. Turpin at the age of 23 committed suicide on February 14, 2005.
“They have the blood of Najai Turpin on their hands,” said Smith. They drove this man to killing himself I firmly in my heart believe that they played a big role on the excess stress on this mans life,” said Smith.
Smith feels that his harsh words have merit to them and anyone close to the situation as he was can attest to it. According to Smith all of the men who were chosen to participate on the Contender were psychologically evaluated. Smith says that the producers of the show were fully aware that Turpin had issues with depression. In fact Smith feels that the producers felt that Turpin’s mental state could be used to enhance the show’s entertainment value.
“Najai and I were together everyday while we were both on the show; we became very close throughout our time in the show. They knew that Najai was an individual that could have a problem dealing with something like this. Najai was a friend of mine and the loss of his life hurt me very dearly. The producers knew that Najai had attempted suicide at least once before when his mother passed away. They thought him being a little unstable would be good for television,” said Smith.
“As a matter of fact, in October I ran into him in the airport ironically when we were both on our way to the second set of tapings; there he let me know that he did not feel comfortable around the producers. He told me that he did feel that they had the best interest of him or anyone else involved. Najai told me that he felt they just wanted to exploit everyone on the show and just make a television show or soap opera. They didn’t care about boxing”, said Smith.
“These people portrayed his fight with Mora very one sided and unfairly. If you ask every one of the other fighters’ opinions of who they felt won that fight a lot of people feel that Najai could have gotten that decision. I know I felt that he won,” said Smith.
Smith claims that the close loss to Mora along with the personal problems that Turpin was facing at home really drove him to his untimely death.
“After he lost he was not allowed to fight. He could not do anything else. They left Najai to just sit and wait until they were ready to let him fight again. They did to him the very same things that they are putting me through. Najai felt he let his family down, and that he let his little daughter Anyae down. Not being able to get back into the ring again I feel drove him to the point of no return,” said Smith.
“Najai just did not have the resources around him to cope with so much at one time. He did not have the strong family structure that so many of us on the show fortunately had back home. In my heart I feel they (Contender) played a big part in Najai’s death. They drove a man into depression and he killed himself. They have the blood of Najai Turpin on their hands,” stated Smith.
Smith revealed to Boxingtalk that in a phone conversation with a producer he was told by this person, that despite this being a tragic loss that this might be a “good thing” for the show in terms of ratings. It was a comment that needless to say disturbed Smith greatly.
“In the final show there was not even a moment of silence for this man,” said Smith.
“I simply want to be let go by these people. I come from the 1996 amateur boxing class that produced world champions like Fernando Vargas, Zab Judah and Floyd Mayweather. I was destined for greatness and now it’s my time to make my mark. I am 27 years old I don’t have time to jerk around. They spoke wrong about me in their little meetings, that I am a bad sport, that I have no humility, that I am this, that I am that, if so then let me go. Your show does not need me, you go your way and I will go my way,” said Smith.
“Jeff Wald (producer) I know that you spoke to Greg Leon and said that I am an asshole. I know you spoke badly about my family. Yes I do know the things that you said about me behind my back. I dare you to say it to my face the next time you run into me in person,” said Smith.
As far as Smith future is concerned the immediate battles that are taking place are being disputed with legal papers and documents and not with 10 ounce leather gloves. Smith claims that as of today he still has not spoken to any of the shows producers. Smith says that he only has spoken with representatives.
“I’ve gotten threats to not do any more interviews in the media. Hey at this point I don’t care. I have nothing to lose you want to sue me, go ahead. If I am lying or fabricating anything then challenge me because I know I am right. Threats mean nothing to me,” said Smith.
“I am proud that the commission has taken action on my issue. I live in Nevada a right to work state. God has a plan for me,” said Smith.
“I’ve been to hell and back in my life. If you come to my house you see smoke jack, me and my wife have been to hell and back,” said Smith.
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