- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Most fighters would be angry about losing out on a world title opportunity, but former junior middleweight titlist Ishe Smith has an entirely refreshing attitude about what happened to him.
Smith was scheduled to challenge 154-pound titleholder Erislandy Lara on May 2 (Fox Sports 1) at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. But when Mexican star and former unified titleholder Canelo Alvarez decided he wanted to fight Lara on July 12 in the main event of a Showtime PPV card, Lara pulled out of the fight with Smith and went for the much bigger fight against Alvarez.
Smith said he would have done the same thing and doesn’t hold it again him.
"It sucks that I’m not fighting for the title but I can’t fault the man for going to get more money," Smith told ESPN.com on Tuesday from Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s gym in Las Vegas. "It’s a bigger fight for Lara. This is for our families, making the most money possible. I cannot honestly say with a straight face that if the shoe was on the other foot I wouldn’t do the same thing. He will be in a tough fight for six figures against me, or he can take a tough fight for seven figures against Canelo. It's about math. I can’t blame him for that."
Lara's withdrawal left the 35-year-old Smith (25-6, 11 KOs), the first native of Las Vegas to win a world title, to instead fight in a much lower profile 10-rounder against less-than-impressive late replacement Ryan Davis (24-13-3, 9 KOs), pending Davis' approval as the opponent by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
“I’m still happy to be fighting and I’m still the main event," Smith said. "I’m excited about it. I’m not gonna badmouth the guy and say Lara’s scared of me. I’m not gonna say that. That’s stupid. I understand the business. He’s gonna make a lot of money fighting Canelo. I can’t blame him at all.”
Smith won a world title in February 2013 by decision in Cornelius "K9" Bundrage’s hometown of Detroit but lost the belt in his first defense via split decision to Carlos Molina in September on the Mayweather-Alvarez undercard.
Smith said he could have come back in a soft fight, but really wanted to fight for a title and was very appreciative of his Mayweather Promotions team of Mayweather and Leonard Ellerbe for getting him the Lara fight, even if it didn’t ultimately work out.
"Floyd and Leonard asked me if I wanted a tuneup type fight but I said I wanted the best and I said I wanted Lara, and they made it happen," Smith said. "So it hurts a little bit what happened. But it took me 13 years to fight for my first world title. If I have to wait a couple of more fights I’m not gonna complain. I have a good team behind me with my best interest at heart. They kept me on the card and I’m still making decent money. I heard there was a chance Lara might pull out to fight Canelo, so I knew it was a matter of time. But I didn’t stop my training or my diet."
Smith said he is confident that that Mayweather and Ellerbe will do their part to get him another title opportunity.
"The great thing about Floyd and Leonard is if I take care of business on my end, they will take care of things on their end," Smith said.
While some fighters would suffer an emotional letdown going from a world title fight to one against a journeyman opponent, Smith said that is not going to happen to him.
"I can’t have a trap fight. I know I have to put on a great performance," he said. "I know that my window of opportunity is closing. I’m 35. I’ll be 36 in July. I understand I have to deliver. It’s not like I’m a young guy and I need to be built up. I can’t afford a lackluster performance. I have to put on a spectacular performance no matter who it is to get back to winning my second world title. That’s what motivates me."