"He's done a smart thing, how he's been reborn in the boxing business," says Abraham. "Here he is attaching himself as an adviser to the lighters. They don't hold Wells Fargo against him the way my company might."
What Smith does, exactly, is hard to explain. But certainly there is no one else in boxing doing it. "What I've done," he says, "is create a new position in boxing: consultant." Smith, neither manager nor promoter—it's less complicated that way, he says—helps the fighters map out careers. He never signs a contract, but his is the whisper in the fighter's ear. "Like this [Holmes-Ray Mercer] fight," Smith says. "I told him to make TVKO give him two dollars [per subscription] after 250,000 homes were sold. That could mean an additional half million dollars."
The fighters seem reassured by his presence and advice. "I don't know what Harold does," says Holmes, laughing, "except that I came to him as a friend, and here I am about to fight for the heavyweight title. The guy means well, he always did, even before he got into trouble. But I'm still kicking myself in the butt for not taking that bag of cash." Nowadays, Holmes enjoys Smith's advice instead of his money. Holmes, who like Hearns now eschews managers and their one-third shares of purses, installs Smith at his side for every major negotiation. Just two weeks ago Smith was alongside Holmes when he finalized a deal with Bob Arum to fight for Holyfield's heavyweight title. Holmes will earn $7.5 million. Fellas, is it getting a little hot in this room?
Arum, like Abraham, is amused by this new Harold Smith. After all, he knew Harold before he was Harold. "He was Ross Fields," says Arum. "Skinny guy, clean-shaven. Showed up in my office in New York and wanted to handle some of my closed-circuit locations for the Ali—Jimmy Ellis fight [in July 1971]."
Fields/Smith was impressive, and Arum signed a deal with him. But Arum had difficulty collecting what Fields/Smith owed him. Fields/Smith would propose a new deal on a new fight and use that money to pay off the previous contract. This rolling over of debt was something he would eventually practice on a much grander scale. Says Arum, "I never put it together when he was Harold Smith and spending all this money on all these wild schemes, paying these light heavyweights $750,000 when I was paying them $250,000."
Now Arum gladly pays him a fee on each fight (as do Holmes and Hearns) "to facilitate negotiations." Arum says, "He plays a useful role. I never felt confident doing deals with fighters. My M.O. is gaining the trust of managers. Where there is no manager, it's easier having Harold explain the realities to the fighter. He fulfills a role somewhere between promoter and manager. He's a schmoozer."
For Smith, even after all this time, the real difficulty is in explaining what he has done, not what he is doing. And this seems impossible. He still clings to a defense that, according to prosecutor Allison, borders on the hallucinatory. "He's still talking about a line of credit, about a Japanese mafia," snorts Allison. "It's hogwash!" Indeed, there are times Smith swears that he intended to pay back all the money due Wells Fargo. "Why do you think I called-This Is It" This Is It'?" he asks. That final score—$80 million!—was going straight to Wells Fargo, and the books would be forever closed, with enough money left over for everybody.
Smith still conjures up vast conspiracies in which he was the bankers' fall guy in grander schemes than even he could have concocted. "I never testified to it," he says mysteriously of the crime he served time for, "so I don't have to live my life looking over my shoulder." One thing about Smith: On a bad day his imagination is merely vivid. Of course, having dabbled in boxing and banking, he is entitled to a certain fantasy life. He mentions that arrangements had been made to get him out of the country following his sentencing. "But I'm not going to get into that," he says. He pauses. "Gaddafi would have taken me. I'll tell you that much."
Smith also spins a yarn about FBI agents who followed him everywhere upon his release from prison. Smith says that one night, at about 3 a.m., he threw a shovel and pickax into his convertible and headed off down an empty street. A procession materialized in his wake. The fact is, nobody who watched Smith operate during his glory years believes that there is any loot left over. Allison says, "I believe the FBI accounted for all but seven cents. The man spent everything!"
But there are other times when he seems almost ready to admit that he was indeed out of control. When the elder of his two sons, Ross, pressed him on the whole sorry affair, Smith found himself saying, "I was in a very fast car, in a very fast lane, and I didn't even know where the——brakes were."