Jimmy Smith didn’t think his work was done. He was about to unleash another flurry of punches when the referee, waving his arms, stepped between him and his opponent.
The fight was over less than three minutes after it started. Smith threw his arms into the air and celebrated like no one else Saturday night.
Professional boxing returned to the Portland Expo for the first time in 20 years Saturday night. It was a night of successes. A crowd of nearly 3,000 filled the old arena. They cheered lustily when Al Valenti, a good friend of promoter Bob Russo, welcomed them and proclaimed boxing is back!
The night was a showcase of the talent Russo has nurtured at his Portland Boxing Club. It was a chance to watch PBC amateurs Justin Kennie and Jason Quirk who, alas, lost, and the polished Russell Lamour, who most certainly did not. Lamour staggered mixed martial arts veteran Deivison Ribiero, who used his experience to survive.
The icing was the introduction of Ryan Kielczweski of Quincy, Mass., the potential super featherweight contender, to Maine fans. The Polish Prince is a superior boxer who occasionally flashed his punching power. He was the main event but when the house lights came on nearly an hour before midnight, half the crowd had left, voting their preference for punchers.
Smith soaked in the approving roar from the big crowd, although comparatively few probably know his story. His father died when he was 12 and Smith turned to Russo. Help me become a fighter, Smith asked. My father loved boxing.
The young Smith was about 8 years old when he perched on his father’s shoulders at the Cumberland County Civic Center in June 1992, watching Joey Gamache beat Chil-Sung Chun for the world lightweight title.
Smith played football at Biddeford High. He was the undersized lineman with the big dose of grit. The Tigers made it to the Western Class A playoffs.
He enlisted in the Marines in November 2003 and did two tours of duty in Iraq. He was promoted to sergeant for his second tour, commanding 30 Marines at an outpost.
Smith was back in the U.S. in 2009 and still a Marine when he resumed boxing.
He won the New England Golden Gloves title in Lowell, Mass., beating the favorite. When it was announced he was back from Iraq, the response from the crowd nearly lifted him off his feet.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Smith. “I won’t forget it, either.”
He left the Marines in December 2011. He turned pro months later.
His first fight in Rhode Island ended in the first round: no contest due to an accidental head butt. He lost his second fight to Nick DeLomba of Rhode Island in May of last year.
There was a lot of blood. The fight went the full six rounds and Smith’s right eye was virtually swollen shut. The fight doctor checked it in the dressing room later and called an ambulance.
“I didn’t want to go to the emergency room. I was OK,” Smith said. “He thought I might have a brain injury. He was panicking. I had to calm him down. But I still had to get into the ambulance.”
Smith’s wife, Mindy, was there. They’ve been together for nearly 11 years.
Their daughter, Kadynne, now 10, was also there. She was a baby when Smith did his first tour in Iraq.
At Friday’s weigh-in, Smith told me his daughter would not be at the Portland Expo for only the third fight of his pro career. “She pleaded with me but I told her she couldn’t go.”
He didn’t plan on getting bloodied again but there are few assurances in boxing. She and her little brother, Domenick, 6, would have a baby sitter.
This time Smith had a story to tell them.
“I’ve been pretty grumpy the past few weeks,” said Smith. “I was the hungry-to-win father. The have-to-make-weight father.”
He and his wife bought a house in Biddeford recently. He works at a distribution center in Wells, adjusting to the fact he is no longer responsible for the leadership and safety of 30 fellow Marines. Now he’s a newer hire, the guy who must work on holidays and draw the tasks others may not want.
“That’s OK,” said Smith. He learned a long time ago you have to earn your way.
Monday was the first day of practice for the Biddeford High wrestling team and Smith is its new assistant coach. He didn’t know if any wrestlers were in the big crowd.
A small group did approach former Marine Sgt. Smith at practice. Thank you, they said. Thank you for your service to our country.
Cheers on Saturday, appreciation on Monday. Smith will remember both.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: