Sammy Nesmith was one of boxing’s great punchers. I mean world class level great. If you were going to take a Nesmith power shot, and stay upright, you’d better be sporting some strong whiskers.
While the name Sammy Nesmith will not jump out at present day boxing fans, those who followed the middleweight era in the Midwest in the 1970’s, and early 1980’s, will know of him, And, I can guarantee that every boxer he ever faced will remember him. Some very good boxers, with very good chins, have described Sammy as the hardest puncher they ever faced.
Sammy amassed an impressive record of 38-7 over 11 years in the ring, with 34 of those wins coming before the final bell. Nesmith, born in South Carolina, but fighting out of Indianapolis, Indiana, would build a resume that included Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, “Sugar” Ray Seales, rugged Tony Chiaverini, Gold Medal Olympian, and world title challenger, Ronnie Harris, and world title challenger Gary Guiden, among others.
Nesmith was a huge ticket seller in his hometown. He was as likeable and friendly out of the ring as he was a devastating puncher in it. As a result, he really connected with fans. Plain and simply, Nesmith came across as almost too nice a guy to be a boxer. His out of the ring, easy-going, southern charm contrasted with his vicious, fight ending punching power.
However, this softer side of Nesmith would also hinder him in the ring. His punching power was what saved him from his all-too-often, almost debilitating pre-fight jitters. If a fighter could stand up to Nesmith’s power, and that would come early and often, he had a chance to get Nesmith out of there as he could be mentally fragile in the ring. This probably accounts for all his losses being of the stoppage variety. However, if you were going to get to Nesmith, you were going to walk through a hailstorm of bombs to do it, and with Nesmith it only took one shot.
In an interview with Chiaverini, who faced Bennie Briscoe, Ray Leonard and Wilfred Benitez, among many others, I asked him who was the hardest puncher he ever faced. Chiaverini’s quick response was, “Sammy Nesmith, without question”.
Case in point, Nesmith vs. decorated Olympian, and amateur star, Ronnie Harris. After capturing gold in the 1968 Olympics, Harris would embark on a pro career that, much like his amateur career, seldom saw the awkward, frustrating southpaw lose a round, let alone a fight. With wins in the bank over “Sugar” Ray Seales and future world champion Alan Minter, Harris faced Nesmith in Sammy’s hometown of Indianapolis in the spring of 1980. Harris, with a less than fan-friendly, but all too effective, southpaw, stick and move style, had won every second of every round against Nesmith. However, seeing that Harris was not a huge puncher allowed Sammy to maintain his focus and not get intimidated in the fight. Then, in the 10th round, Nesmith landed the bomb that turned out the lights on Harris. KO win for Nesmith. Harris’ only other loss in his career would be the split decision, world title loss to middleweight champion Hugo Corro 4 fights previous in Corro’s hometown of Argentina. That in a nutshell was the story of Slammin ‘Sammy – if he caught you, you were probably going out.
Could Sammy have won a world title? He certainly had world class punching power. However, the reality is that he might not have been able to stay composed under the pressure of a world title fight with a tough and tenacious Hugo Corro or Vito Antuofermo, both champions in Nesmith’s prime, coming at him.
Nesmith, a National Golden Gloves champion as an amateur, and a NABF champion as a pro, worked for Coca-Cola as a truck driver in retirement. Sadly, Sammy, one of boxing’s truly big bangers, passed away from a heart attack in 2014, at age 62, while working in New York City.