By Mitch Abramson
“I'm sorry,” he said in his dressing room Friday, his eyes filling with tears as he pressed his head against his father's. “I'm sorry for what happened.”In the biggest fight of his career at Mohegan Sun Casino and in front of a national television audience on Showtime, the Jamaica native suffered his first defeat, stopped in the 11th round by Miami's David Estrada.Smith, an August Martin High grad, gave a lackluster performance, demonstrating none of the power and skill that had made him one of the most talked about welterweights in the sport. Estrada, who is trained by Angelo Dundee, the man responsible for guiding Muhammad Ali's career, easily dominated Smith with swooping rights and lefts that caught the pestering Smith walking straight in. Referee Steve Smoger stopped the fight at 1:11 of the 11th round with Smith trapped on the ropes after he had absorbed about 10 unanswered punches, his head still moving in a circular motion as if punches were coming. Disappointment covered his face like sweat.”I just feel really dejected about the whole thing,” said Smith, slouching in a chair afterward. “I know I'm a better fighter than that. Right now, I'm mad at myself. This is a strange feeling because I never lost before. I didn't think it would be like this. I feel like I let myself down, the fans, everybody.”The fight was an IBF eliminator bout for the No. 2 spot in the division, a position that should lead to a title shot in the near future for Estrada. For Smith, the bout was supposed to be the crowning achievement on a 20 bout career that only recently had begun to garner him attention. The blue-collar boxer who broke down opponents in an exhaustive study of will and determination, a style worthy of his nickname, the “Mechanic,” was recognized by the media as a colorful, humble personality. Sitting in the dressing room, he was a shell of that fighter.”It wasn't my night,” he said. “I thought he would eventually wear down, but he didn't.”From the opening bell, it was apparent that Estrada (18-1, 9 KOs), ranked No. 7 by the IBF, was bigger, stronger, the fresher of the two. Smith's promoter Lou DiBella thought Smith had overtrained for the moment. Whether that was true or not is unknown, but Smith fought uninspired, as if he had taken a sedative before the fight. Both fighters came in under the weight limit, but Estrada had gained nine pounds in the day since. Smith only added four, and his punches sounded like pebbles bouncing off a window compared to Estrada's thundering blows. Estrada and Smith were paid $15,000 each for the bout.”(Smith) was flat,” said DiBella, who signed Estrada to a promotional contract before the fight. “He was hitting Estrada and the guy was still coming.”After starting slowly in round one, Smith (19-1-1, 12 KOs) ran from his corner at the start of the second, hurling punches in his crouching, stalking style. Estrada withstood the onslaught, measuring Smith with a cautious eye, and ended the round with a series of sharp hooks. All fight, Smith slowly followed Estrada around the ring, allowing Estrada to patiently pick and choose his moments.”I figured I would be able to stop him in the later rounds,” Estrada said. “The way he throws punches, he's always off balance. I knew I was going to win. Even when I was backing up, I was in control of the fight. He was fighting my style.”In the seventh round, Estrada knocked Smith down with a straight right behind the head, the second time in his career that Smith had visited the canvas. The first time it happened was in his pro debut, and Smith had risen and knocked out his opponent in the next round. This time, Smith barely beat the count and rose on legs that were soft as taffy. He was saved when Estrada's mouth piece fell out later in the round, buying him more time.”I told Estrada that we haven't seen the best of him yet,” Dundee said after the fight, which was the main event on Showtime's Shobox series. “The more rounds he goes, the better he gets. He was in tremendous condition. He trained so hard for this fight.”So did Smith, and that may have been part of his undoing.Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.