- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Midway through the second round of last night’s Sharmba Mitchell-Chris Smith preliminary, a roar that had nothing to do with the fighters went up from the crowd at MCI Center.

Muhammad Ali was in the house.

Big boxing events attract an assortment of so-called celebrities, somewhat recognizable names, the vaguely familiar and others who occupy the spaces in between. But there is only one Ali, aka the Most Famous Person in the World, and the crowd reacted accordingly as he made his way ringside.

Of course, the former heavyweight champ was more than just the biggest presence. He was an interested and concerned father, on hand to lend support and watch his daughter, Laila Ali, who has continued to blaze a destructive path through women’s boxing.

Ali came into her fight against Erin Toughill, which was being billed as the “co-main event” to Kevin McBride-Mike Tyson, as the heavy favorite, and nobody on the premises was disappointed. Ali laid a fearsome “whupping,” as her father might have said, on Toughill and won by TKO. The fight was stopped one second from the end of the third round.

“I tore her up,” said Ali, now 21-0. Only three of her victories have gone the distance. Toughill was an experienced kickboxer but is now 6-2-1 in gloves-only combat.

Ali defended her WIBA super middleweight title and captured the first WBC-sanctioned version of the crown.

Meanwhile, Mitchell won the NABA welterweight title via technical decision after suffering a cut left eye from a head butt by Smith.

In the fifth round, Smith missed with a right hand, lunged at Mitchell and unintentionally caught him with the butt under the left eye. Mitchell, who is from Takoma Park and had the strong support of the crowd, backed off, wincing in pain from the cut. He later said it felt as if his eye had “exploded.” Referee Kenny Chevalier stopped the fight 16 seconds into the round.

The bout went to a decision, according to the rules. Mitchell, ahead on all three cards, won unanimously.

Mitchell (56-4), who immediately promised Smith a rematch, seemed to have mixed feelings.

“I haven’t won anything yet,” he said immediately afterward.

Said Smith (19-2-1): “This is a championship fight, and [the cut was] underneath the eye. I don’t want to lose my title with a cut. … How do you stop a fight for a cut below the eye?”

Mitchell’s nickname might be “Little Big Man,” but this was the heaviest he has been for a fight. He had been a junior welterweight (140 pounds) during the last 10 years of his 17-year professional career but stepped into the ring as a welterweight (147 pounds) for the first time to face Smith.

This was Mitchell’s first fight since he was stopped in the third round by then-junior welterweight champ Kostya Tszyu in November, then considered retiring. It was a bitter loss for Mitchell, who lost to Tszyu in 2001 after he fought evenly for seven rounds but had to quit because of a knee injury.

Mitchell held the World Boxing Association junior welterweight title for three years before losing to Tszyu. Before that, Mitchell briefly held the North American Boxing Federation lightweight title.

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