TAMPA — At long last, he has a chance to be a world champion.
On Friday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Sarasota’s China “The Dragon” Smith, at 35 years of age, captured the World Boxing Federation North American heavyweight belt, going the full 10 rounds to defeat Mike Sheppard by unanimous decision at the Thunder at the Forum.
The win sets up Smith (35-4, 27 KOs) for a shot at a world title.
“It’s very exciting,” said Smith, who exited boxing in 2007, only to make a comeback in 2013. He had one professional bout since 2006 prior to Friday.
“We’ve never underestimated the opponent,” Smith said. “Mike Sheppard came in with a great opportunity like myself. I had to dig deep. I knew it was for my hometown.”
The judges scored the fight 97-93, 98-92 and 98-92. Smith clearly won the first four rounds, connecting on heavy body blows and hooks to the head, but allowed Sheppard (21-17, 9 KOs) to become the aggressor through the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. In the final three rounds, however, Smith continuously landed a series of right hooks to the head, ultimately winning the fight.
“He was open for it and that’s one of my best shots,” Smith said. “My corner was telling me to just land a place, double up and triple up on the hooks and to start panning around and take the fight to him.”
It was a successful night for boxers from Florida.
Chevelle Hallback, 42, of Plant City, performed for the first time in her hometown as the co-main event.
Hallback didn’t disappoint, and held true to her nickname “Fists of Steel.” Hallback KO’d Dominga Olivo with a right cross 1 minute, 50 seconds into the second round, scoring her 12th career knockout.
“I really wanted to give the crowd a show,” said Hallback (29-8-2), who hadn’t fought in two years prior to Friday. “I said, ‘You know what, I can’t play with this girl.’ I have to do what I have to do and I had to take her out. I wanted to do it big.”
St. Petersburg’s Noemi Bosques won her four-round bantamweight fight against Elizabeth Anderson by majority decision.
In the first bout of the event, Jose Resendez, a featherweight from Mexico fighting out of Sarasota, improved to 3-0 with a first-round KO of Kherani Kessoon. In his pro debut, Orlando native and lightweight Justin Pauldo won by unanimous decision in a four-round bout against Coleman Johnson, and Miami middleweight Angel Martinez (6-5-3) won by unanimous decision over Devon Moncrieffe.