Mysterious Billy Smith He was born in Little River, Nova Scotia. Or, he was born in Eastport, Maine. Or, in St.

John, New Brunswick or St. Louis, Missouri. For a long time most boxing historians said that Mysterious Billy Smith, the man recognized as the first welterweight champion of the world, was born in Eastport, Maine. A small minority opted for St. John, New Brunswick. Smith's St. Louis origins came from the boxer himself. During an interview, he gave the Missouri city as his birthplace. Mysterious Billy Smith deserves the nickname "mysterious" not just because of the question of his birthplace but also for the mystique that has grown around him over the years. Part of that mystique has to do with the fact his name wasn't even Billy or William or any of the other Christian names that Billy serves as a diminutive. Smith's first name was Amos. Another source for the Smith mystique involves the now out of print and unmemorable 1996 book, Mysterious Billy Smith: The Dirtiest Fighter of All Time. The issue here is, of course, the title. Yet, an analysis of Smith's ring decorum or lack thereof reveals nothing out of the ordinary for the period when Mysterious Billy fought. For the most part the book bases its supposition that Mysterious Billy was "the dirtiest fighter of all time" on coverage of Smith in magazines like Police Gazette. And while the magazine does portray him as a dirty fighter, it also describes him in terms that made him into something akin to a youthful Galahad. There are a number of other misconceptions regarding Amos Smith that have been perpetuated by writers who failed to validate a few minor items such as dates. For example, Smith has been credited with fighting such renowned figures as heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey as well as Jersey Joe Walcott. While Mysterious Billy did spar with a Jack Dempsey and fight a Joe Walcott, the most famous pugilists bearing those names fought well after Amos Smith ended his ring career. To begin with, Amos Smith was born in Digby County, Nova Scotia. Birth records clearly state that Robert and Adelia (Dakin) Smith became parents of Amos Smith in Little River on May 15, 1871. There is a caveat on this date, however. Amos Smith's birth year appears as 1872 in the Lepreau, New Brunswick census records of 1881. (The census gives the elder Smith's occupation as that of fisherman.) Mysterious Billy's Eastport, Maine connection has a variety of explanations. These include the fact that two of his five siblings were born in the region. The Smith family also lived in the Eastport area on at least two occasions. In addition, Billy worked the docks there as a teenager. He also worked the docks in St. John, New Brunswick and he had his first fight in St. John in 1891. Intriguingly, the St. John fight happened after Mysterious Billy had begun to establish a reputation in boxing circles.

In the winter of 1890, a young man, looking like a tougher version of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause- at least that is how he would be described today- walked into a boxing gym in New Orleans. For a while he stood watching as a perfectly proportioned fighter shadow boxed in the ring. Finally he said to the man standing next to him, "That's Jack Dempsey isn't it." The above and a bit of what follows is this writer's interpretation of a Police Gazette story about Smith that came out some time around the turn of the twentieth century.

The fighter was the 'first' Jack Dempsey, the middleweight champion of the world. This was the Dempsey known as the "Non-Pareil or Nonpareil." "Non-Pareil" was a deliberate misspelling of nonpareil, which means without equal. Some said that if Dempsey had been heavier he could have beaten the legendary heavyweight John L. Sullivan. It should be noted that when Dempsey and Smith fought the title of world middleweight or welterweight was just coming into vogue. For example, while Dempsey was the first world middleweight champion, he was not the first American middleweight champion. The 1880's and '90's was the period when the American champion came to be called world champion. Dates for the changeover in various divisions fluctuate. Dempsey was scheduled for a title defense in ten days and had no sparring partner for the simple reason that no middleweight would get in the ring with him. Hearing this boldly stated fact, the young visitor to New Orleans went to Dempsey's manager and volunteered to spar with the famous fighter the next day. Dempsey's manager, never believing the youth was serious, said, "Sure, just show up." And, show up he did. The next day, the youngster, disdaining the offer of protective head gear- he said, meaning Dempsey, "Give it to the dandy over there-" got into the ring. That day, onlookers were treated to a no-holds barred, toe-to-toe sparring match in which neither fighter backed up an inch. When it was over, Dempsey told the youth he would be the next welterweight champion of America. In future years Dempsey and Smith would meet in two four round exhibitions, in San Francisco and in Portland, Oregon. Part of the Mysterious Billy Smith mystique would seem to be the fighter's deliberate creation. In addition to being reticent about his origins, Smith never said exactly how old he was or where he learned his fighting skills. One thing that is known about him is that he was a natural born fighter, the kind of fighter, who, as a kid, is said to have a chip on his shoulder. One of the most often cited stories about Smith is that, as a youth, he went around picking fights with 200 pound dock workers. If true, this would have happened on the waterfront at St. John or Eastport. (There is also evidence he worked the docks at Halifax.) Because of his sometimes brawling style of fighting, he is occasionally referred to as a street fighter. If that was how he started out fighting, it was an education acquired working the docks of the Bay of Fundy. However, somewhere along the line Smith picked up some real scientific boxing skills, skills that, along with his street fighter instincts would earn him the title of world champion. Mysterious Billy Smith had some seventy-eight professional fights. He won thirtyone and lost fifteen. The rest were draws. Of the fifteen draws, eleven were on fouls. The last figure is what led to Smith being dubbed a "dirty" fighter. It should be noted that on at least one occasion Smith's foul was accidental. One of his punches went wild and he lost his balance. In recovering, he hit his opponent with an inadvertent elbow. Another fight was called a draw when Smith broke a bone in his forearm. Regardless, the Police Gazette said "Nobody will dispute Mysterious Billy Smith's right to the distinction of being the most foul, dirty and tricky fighter that the American ring of today can boast of." Smith's greatest rival was Tommy Ryan. The two had already fought three times for a total of thirty-two rounds when they had their most controversial fight on May 27, 1895 at the Seaside Athletic Club on Coney Island. At the time Ryan held the welterweight crown.

For the first ten rounds, the bout between Smith and Ryan stayed within the established rules of boxing. Then it began to deteriorate into a street brawl. In the eleventh round Smith fouled repeatedly, hitting Ryan on every break. At this point, the spectators began booing and hissing every time Mysterious Billy threw a punch. Then, fifteen seconds before the bell, Smith knocked Ryan down. Assuming he had won, Smith returned to his corner. However, the referee did not declare the fight over. The next rounds saw Smith pummeling Ryan unmercifully. At one point, he actually reached down and flipped Ryan onto the ropes, where he pounded him on the back of the head. The fight ended in the eighteenth round. One account has Ryan making a comeback and sending Smith to the ropes with a flurry of punches. Another has Smith recovering and dropping Ryan with a last devastating punch. Bill Schutte, the author of Mysterious Billy Smith: The Dirtiest Fighter of All Time, agrees with the latter account. All accounts, however, have the police entering the ring and stopping the fight one minute and twenty seconds into the round, which made it a draw. Ring Record Book lists the fight as 'no contest," a sad final statement on one of the most violently contested matches of all time. Amos Smith died in Portland, Oregon on October 15, 1937. As to how he became Mysterious Billy Smith, that story too has its hint of mystery. In one of the future world welterweight champion's first fights, the announcer asked Smith for his name. He simply said Bill Smith. The announcer then introduced him as Mysterious Billy Smith. At least that is one version of the tale.