I WAS recently scanning through an old copy of The Ring magazine from April 1974, and my mind was jogged by something that I had forgotten about. The light-heavyweight ratings that month listed the following: Champion – Bob Foster, 1. John Conteh, 2. Len Hutchins, 3. Tom Bogs, 4. Victor Galindez, 5. Maxie Smith.
I suspect that five of those names still mean something, even to modern fans, but who is that at number 5? It is hard to believe that a fighter from the North-East, then a very unfashionable area with only a handful of pros, a man who was managed by Tommy Miller, whose stable contained a long list of journeymen, and a boxer who never got a sniff at the British title could be so highly rated amongst the world élite. BN was not quite so kind, for at no time in any of their ranking lists did Maxie appear in the world top 10. Boxing World, at the time a weekly rival to BN, rated Maxie at number 24 at the back end of 1973. So, what was it that Nat Loubet saw in Maxie to rank him so highly?
Maxie was a serviceman in one of the country’s élite units. While serving as a Royal Marine he won the both the Royal Navy and the Combined Services championships in 1967 and 1968. He was also ABA champion in 1967 and had to pull out of the 1968 final with a hand injury, leaving Ray Brittle as the champion that year.
With such an excellent amateur pedigree he was much sought after as a pro, and when he signed for manager Arthur Boggis in August 1968, he became the first active servicemen to be allowed to box professionally for many years. He fought 10 times for Boggis between 1968 and 1970, winning seven and losing three.
After getting off to a good start he was derailed with losses to Roy John, Dervan Airey and Bunny Johnson. The latter defeat was particularly disappointing as he was knocked out in three rounds at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on the undercard of the Henry Cooper-Jack Bodell contest for the British heavyweight title.
Maxie packed it in for a while and when he came back, in 1973 with a new manager, Tommy Miller, he was rejuvenated. He won nine contests in a row, and it was these bouts that propelled him to his world rating. Commencing with two good stoppage victories, beating Harry Scott in five and Ade Ajasco in six, he then outpointed Sid Falconer, Graham Sines and Bunny Sterling, all over eight rounds. By now BN ranked him fifth in Britain. He then stopped Falconer in four before meeting the American Eddie Duncan in a 10-rounder at Belle Vue, Manchester in October 1973. This was the fight that persuaded The Ring of his quality.
Duncan was no stranger to the UK. In September 1972 he became the first man to beat John Conteh and he also drew here with Johnny Frankham before outpointing Rossendale banger, Phil Matthews. Maxie handled Duncan with relative ease, surviving an early onslaught to gradually outwork his man. BN reported that “the referee obviously considered that Smith’s persistency outweighed the spectacular but less frequent hitting of the Philadelphian”.
Maxie followed up this victory with points victories over Roy John and Bob Tuckett and at the end of 1973 BN ranked him number three in Britain, behind Conteh and Chris Finnegan. Incidentally, when The Ring magazine placed Maxie at five, Finnegan was behind him at number eight. In 1974 Maxie was stopped by a cut eye against the German, Karl-Heinz Klein, and then stopped in three by Avenemar Peralta in Austria. His final fight came in 1975 when he was again stopped in the third by Steve Aczel for the Commonwealth title. He never got a British title shot and today, aged nearly 80, Maxie still trains daily in his own gym in Stockton. He was a world-ranked fighter in his day.