On March 2, 1989, Arbutus resident Jake “The Snake” Smith made his professional boxing debut and defeated Warren Knotts by technical knockout with 37 seconds left into the first round.
During his pro career, which lasted until March 2002, Smith went 11-6 with two draws, and he was the talk of Arbutus, especially at Bushwackers hair salon on Sulphur Spring Road.
Murray Smith Sr., who died in July 2013, was the owner of Bushwackers and he didn’t hesitate bragging about his son’s professional career.
Jake, now 55, has since gone on to become one of the best boxing promoters in the state of Maryland, while also owning and operating Baltimore Boxing & Fitness.
In early November, after 29 years in Fells Point, he moved his operation to a new facility on North Hammonds Ferry Road in Linthicum, a short drive from Arbutus.
Originally, he planned to move his training gym to a farm in Reisterstown, but that option fell through and Smith had doubts about continuing to train adult and child fighters. “I was really considering throwing the towel in,” he said. “Everything was catching up, the pandemic, and I went to the barn and the barn didn’t work out.”
Enter Tony Saunders, who graduated from Glen Burnie High in 1992 and went on to play Major League Baseball, where he won a World Series as a pitcher with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
Saunders broke his left arm throwing a pitch in May 1999, broke it again 15 months later and was forced to retire at age 26.
The ex-pitcher owned the facility in Linthicum and offered to rent it to Smith.
“This is his building and he said, ‘I’ll give you good rent and warehouse space and a decent location if you really want it,’ ” said Smith, who has trained Saunders and his son, so they knew his dedication in keeping the dreams of young fighters alive.
“He was like, ‘Your passion is here. You’ve got so much passion for boxing. You’ve done so much for boxing, you’ve got to stay in it,’ ” Smith recalled. “Tony is the one that turned my light on. He got me back into it and so did my fighters I’ve been dealing with for years. You can’t just stop.”
But you can slow down, and the coronavirus pandemic has definitely done that.
Currently, for $99 a month, juniors (ages 8-17) can train at the facility three times a week: Saturdays (10-11 a.m), Tuesdays (6-7 p.m.) and Thursdays (6-7 p.m.).
Adults are welcome on Saturdays (11 a.m-noon), Tuesdays (7-8 p.m.) and Thursdays (7-8 p.m.).
Smith, married to Mindi Smith for 22 years with two kids, also offers private lessons.
“I don’t have many customers at all; this pandemic is hurting business,” said Smith, who is only allowed a maximum of 10 customers.
He currently has a pair of active boxers that help him out.
Joey Veazey, 22, has had 101 amateur fights and is 1-0 as a professional, and Mark Orndorf, 40, is 14-2 as an amateur and 1-0 as a pro.
Veteran trainer Robert Crawford, 67, of Laurel, also helps develop younger boxers.
“He’s been around this game a long time, he trained me,” Smith said.
At a recent Saturday morning workout, Fernando Diaz-Fernandez, whose family recently moved from Jessup to Westminster, watched his two sons, Maximo, 14, and Fernando, 12, train under Crawford.
“This is new to my kids,” said the dad. “They both seem to like it. It’s a good gym, good trainers.”
Plevon Pryor’s son, Carlito, 12, likes the new facility, which isn’t far from his home near Mount Saint Joseph High School.
“He loves it, he can’t wait to go,” Plevon Pryor said. “We’ve mainly been doing it on the weekends to bring him slow into it, but he wants to go every day.”
One of Pryor’s older sons, Jorden Pryor, won three straight Maryland state wrestling championships from 2017 through 2019 competing for Dunbar High.
Carlito prefers to stay off the wrestling mat.
“His brothers, all of them were big-time wrestling superstars in Baltimore City and I tried him with wrestling and he didn’t really grasp it, he didn’t really care for it too much, but he always loved boxing,” Pryor said. “He played football and, of course, he wrestled, but I think his sport is boxing; he really loves it.”
Boxing is the only sport available for Jaxston Burford, 8, of Glen Burnie.
He has played soccer and baseball in the past, but the pandemic nixed those activities.
That doesn’t stop him from going to all three sessions currently available at Baltimore Boxing & Fitness, and his mom, Amy, has no problem with that.
“Whatever they want to try, I let all the kids try. If they want to try a different sport, go for it, you never know,” said Burford, who sees a change in Jaxston after a workout. “He’s the Hulk and he’s also exhausted.”
Unfortunately, his excitement, along with that of other young boxers, is limited to workouts only.
“Every tournament this year has been canceled,” said Smith, who is president of the South Atlantic Boxing Association for amateurs. Meanwhile, his promotion of boxing events has been halted, and that’s where Smith thrived.
“I’ve done more shows than anybody, and nobody is ever going to catch me,” said Smith, estimating he has promoted more than 300 professional and amateur shows.
Baltimore Boxing & Fitness is the home of the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame, of which he is a member, and Smith has a plethora of historic boxing photos and memorabilia that eventually will cover the walls.
“All these posters I have are going to look really cool,” said Smith, noting he also will have mirrors to go along with his heavy bags and speed bags.
He knows the kids will be eager to come back to the sport when the pandemic restrictions are lifted.
“It’s great for the kids,” Smith said. “They really get hooked on boxing, and some of these kids love it so much that’s all they want to do is box.”
In the meantime, he is settling into his new location.
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“I’m back here where I grew up. It just seems like something drew me back here,” Smith said. “It’s a good location and I’m dealing with good people around me, and we’ll see how it works.”