Of course Holmes eventually stopped Shavers in the 11th round of that fight, King kept the division for himself, and a year and a half later Smith's suspiciously grandiose empire—Empire of Deceit, prosecutor Dean Allison called it in his book about the bank scandal—came crashing down around him. He was convicted for his involvement in a "rollover" scheme, whereby withdrawals from Smith's account at one Wells Fargo branch were falsely credited at another branch. Smith disappeared for five years into federal prison camps in Danbury, Conn., Petersburg, Va., and Boron, Calif. But for a while there, a lot of people were loosening collars and mopping foreheads. All that money was making people hot. Maybe that was the point.
A decade later money can still make you want to open a window and ventilate a room; it's just that there's not so much of it around anymore. Smith, a free man since Oct. 31, 1988, is again traveling coast to coast in the pursuit and service of boxers, but no longer does his carry-on bag contain folding money. This is a new age, a new Harold Smith. Instead of cash, he delivers a smooth line of patter to fellows like Holmes and Hearns (and very nearly Mike Tyson). He's no longer Harold Smith, flamboyant promoter, but Harold Smith, background adviser. He is operating at a much lower temperature now. He says he would rather the fighters open their eyes instead of their collars.
It's odd to see him back at all, after his travails. But then where did you think he was going to turn up? "My problem was never boxing," he tells people. "It was banking." In his mind, his incarceration, as he calls it, was simply the failure to balance a checkbook properly. Didn't you ever overdraw $21.3 million?
It can happen.
But it's especially strange to see him maintain as low a profile as he has in this little comeback. When Holmes decisioned Ray Mercer recently, it took a trained eye to locate Smith amid the assemblage. As Holmes entertained the press after the fight, Smith stood well apart from the crowd, occasionally standing on tiptoe to see what was happening. This wasn't the Harold Smith anybody remembered from a dozen years ago, when his Muhammad Ali Professional Sports (MAPS) outfit was barnstorming the country, signing nine world champions to promotional contracts and staging fights, one after another, that turned out to be spectacular only in the amount of money they lost. This new Harold Smith wore a business suit. The wild beard that we remembered was neatly trimmed. He wore sensible shoes. Everything about him seemed restrained and disciplined.
By many accounts Smith is every bit the businessman that he appears to be. At least thus far. Seth Abraham, who oversees boxing for HBO and TVKO, marvels at the transformation. Although Smith was sighted on the boxing landscape soon after his release from prison, when he had a brief affiliation with former Olympian Roy Jones, the last Abraham had actually heard from Smith before he turned up a year ago with Hearns and Holmes was back in 1981. At the time, Smith was putting together a card in Madison Square Garden. There were to be four title lights, plus a Ken Norton-Gerry Cooney heavyweight bout. Smith called the promotion "This Is It" and boasted that it was a lock to do $80 million. When Smith called on him at HBO, Abraham was intrigued.
"He came in wearing that big cowboy hat, those boots and a MAPS track suit," Abraham says. "He tells me he wants $75 million. That's a bit steep, I tell him. He says, "But this is the biggest event in the history of the world.' I said. "You mean in boxing, don't you?' " Smith retired to a different office, came back after 20 minutes and admitted he had, in fact, overpriced it. He would take $55 million. "I'm thinking I'm a helluva negotiator," Abraham says. "A million a minute." Still, they were about $52 million apart. Abraham told him to leave for an hour.
Of course a meeting with Smith could never be complete without the ritual opening of baggage. This time Smith trotted out an Adidas bag full of money, more cash than Abraham had ever seen. Abraham saved the exit line for himself. "I explained it wasn't my bar mitzvah," and he sent Smith on his way.
Very soon after that the FBI arrested Smith, and as Abraham likes to say. "This Is It and That Was That." The only fight on that Garden card that remained was Cooney-Norton, and it turned out that Abraham needed to pay only $550,000 to MSG for the rights to televise it.
And here is Smith, more than 10 years later, sitting in Abraham's office again, "I know his past," says Abraham. "Still, it's just pleasant to be with him. He's a most likable guy." In meetings with Abraham, Smith sits right next to Hearns—the fighter's "personal kitchen cabinet," says Smith—and comments on possible opponents for Hearns.