Mention the name Aaron Smith to boxing promoter Don Elbaum and his face takes on the pained look of a man who has just swallowed a lemon.
"Why did you ruin my day?" Elbaum screamed.
A reporter was seeking some background on Smith (10-10), the Gaithersburg junior middleweight who meets world-ranked Vincent Pettway (35-4) of Baltimore tonight in the 10-round main event at the Pikesville Armory.
"Two years ago," said Elbaum, "this guy Smith cost me a title shot for a kid I managed named Donny Poole."
At the time, Elbaum recalled, Smith was an obscure preliminary fighter with a 3-2 record while Poole had been promised a championship match with International Boxing Federation 154-pound king Gianfranco Rosi.
"I had [then-welterweight champion] Simon Brown defending his title against Al Long at the D.C. Armory," Elbaum said. "Poole wanted the exposure of fighting on a championship card. I warned him he had too much at stake to risk losing a six-round bout to a kid nobody knows. But Poole was adamant."
Smith won a well-deserved decision over Poole. Poole quickly dropped from title contention.
Tonight, a more seasoned Smith has a chance to repeat his spoiler's role against Pettway, who is waiting to challenge the winner of the Rosi-Gilbert Dele title bout in Paris on Oct. 16.
With a touch of compassion, Smith's trainer-manager, Bill Green, warned Pettway's manager, Mack Lewis, that history could repeat itself.
"I've got a lot of respect for 'Mr. Mack,' " said Green, a veteran Rockville fight man. "When he offered Smith a chance to fight Pettway, I said, 'Mr. Mack,' don't take Smith lightly. He's a lot better fighter than his record shows.' "
An elusive boxer, Smith, 24, has gone the distance against world-ranked middleweight Percy Harris of Baltimore and two of Washington's top young prospects, Dan Sherry and Michael Ward.
"The Sherry fight was real close," said Green. "Smith wasn't sure he could fight eight fast-paced rounds and tried to conserve his energy. In the final round, he wasn't even breathing hard. But his cautiousness probably cost him the fight."
In recent bouts, Smith has turned more aggressive. Last April in Scranton, Pa., he waged a 10-round bell-to-bell slugfest with hometown favorite Eddie Hall, who won a split decision.
"When the final bell sounded," said Green, "the crowd gave them a five-minute standing ovation."
Pettway remains a strong favorite and will have the support of his fellow workers at Merry-Go-Round, the clothing chain sponsoring the show. Profits are earmarked for sickle cell disease research.
A part-time model and recreation supervisor, Pettway has been idle since winning the USBA title here last February with a close decision over Gilbert Baptist.
"Vincent definitely needs the work if we're going to fight for a title soon," said Lewis.
"There are no guarantees. I know Smith can punch a little, too. I watched him drop Gerry Walker twice early this year. And he's got staying power, only been stopped once. I figure Vincent will have to go 10 hard rounds, but that's probably going to help in the long run."
In another fight on the card, Glen Burnie lightweight Chuckie Sturm meets Horace Waterson of Rockville in the eight-round semifinal. Sturm, now co-managed by Elbaum, has won two straight in his ring comeback after a year off with eye and shoulder problems.
Also, hard-punching middleweight Les Johnson (15-1) of Rockville faces James Thornton (7-1) of Kingston, N.C., in a six-rounder, and unbeaten Baltimore welterweight Wade Duncan (5-0) meets Elvis Delotch (2-2) of Hyattsville.