In September 1974 Jeff Smith became the first lightheavyweight fullcontact world champion. The PKA was founded and each champion had to defend his title against a challenger similar to pro boxing. 15 rounds of one-and-ahalf minutes were scheduled in Toronto, Canada, for his first title defense against Wally Slocki, who Smith had faced in the final fight of the 1974 World Karate Championships. The following interview was published in Professional Karate magazine prior to this big fullcontact title fight.
Jeff, a lot of people think that Wally Slocki is the uncrowned lightheavyweight karate champion of the world. How do you feel about that?
SMITH: Well, I know how I felt after the match, and I know how he looked after the match. I didn’t have one scratch on me. I even went out the next day and worked out with some friends in L.A. and fought. We worked out all afternoon’. I didn’t have one scratch, and he had a black eye. He was dazed a couple of times during the match.
Do you maintain that he didn’t hurt you at all?
SMITH: Not in the least.
Did he ever land any solid blows?
SMITH: Not one.
How about Vejnovic in the first match?
SMITH: We had some wild clashes, and he hit me one time that I felt. Other than that it was just a wild flurry.
Were you convinced that you’d beaten Slocki in the first round of the last match?
SMITH: No question.
How about the second-round decision that they gave to Slocki. Do you feel that was a just decision?
SMITH: Well, I think the second round was a round that could have gone either way. He really didn’t do anything to me, other than the takedown thing; he wasn’t in any position to follow it up. He had a long delay after the follow-up. He was falling down with me, which made it look sloppy. I consider a takedown that when you take the guy down, you’re still standing up.
In the third round of the World Championships, you really laid off of him in the last 30 seconds. Why was this?
SMITH: I laid off of him??
Yes, you looked kind of dazed in the last 30 seconds of the match. You didn’t go after him real strong.
SMITH: He went out of the ring. I kicked him in the head, and he turned and stepped out of the ring. And they didn’t even count him out. And when he came back in, then he was probably dazed a little bit. If you look on instant play, then you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Do you feel that the title of light-heavyweight karate champion of the world is as meaningful as it may sound?
SMITH: Is it as meaningful as it may sound?
Is it as meaningful to you as it sounds?
SMITH: Well, I’ve worked a long time for it. I’ve won a lot of titles. And, of course, this is the most meaningful. Of course, it was on television, and it was full-contact, and that made it meaningful.
There was one moment in the first fight when you kicked Slocki while he was on the floor. Why did you kick him?
SMITH: He was getting up!
Do you consider that dirty fighting?
SMITH: Well, the referee didn’t say “break.” And when I hit him, I didn’t hit him full power. They said you could throw a controlled technique when the guy was down. When I hit him, I popped him, but I didn’t follow all the way. If you watch the tape, my leg snaps back, it doesn’t follow all the way through. If I were to follow it all the way through, he wouldn’t have gotten back up.
How do you feel about the new rules?
SMITH: Well, I haven’t really gotten to go over them, so .. .
Well, for instance, there are fifteen one-and-half minute rounds. (Editor’s note: Professional Karate Association rules have since been changed. All title fights will now be nine rounds in length, with two minutes in each round. For further information, please refer to this month’s News and Reviews department.)
SMITH: I think that’s going to be one treacherous thing. I’m going to have to be in two and a half times better shape — at least — than I was last time.
Do you think Slocki will be able to . . . do you think you’ll be able to go the 15 rounds if it went that far?
SMITH: It’s something to be seen if anybody can go that far!
Do you think Slocki will be able to go that far?
SMITH: I don’t think so.
On these new rules, there’s also only a 30-second pause between rounds. Do you think that’s going to affect you? Do you think that’s going to give you time to get your wind back? (Editor’s note: The pauses are now all one minute long.)
SMITH: Thirty seconds, I’ve already tried that, and 30 seconds isn’t that much time. The thing is, no matter what the rules are, both players are fighting by them, so it makes it even.
You also have to throw six kicks a round.
SMITH: That’s a lot of kicks in a minute-and-a-half. ‘Course the other guy’s got to be throwing six kicks, too. It doesn’t work too good when you’re throwing kicks the same time he does. You’ve got to be blocking and then kicking back, so it could get kind of tight on that.
How will these new rules change your fighting style?
SMITH: Well, according to what they are, of course I’m going to have to train even harder. If he has to throw six, you’re going to have to train that way.
You don’t think that will present any problems — those six kicks within a minute and a half?
SMITH: At this time, I haven’t gotten into fifteen rounds to try it. But it looks like it could be physically demanding, without any question. I think you’d have to be in twice as good shape as a boxer. You know they’re doing fifteen boxing rounds; even in the Muhammad Ali fight, the eighth round, they were dragging out — both of them. And they weren’t even using their legs.
If it comes to a point where you’re both dragging ass, or let’s say your opponent is dragging ass, what technique would you use to put him away?
SMITH: I would have to see the situation. Whatever I think he would be most vulnerable to. I’d just as soon kick his head off as punch it off.
Will you kick more against Slocki this time than the last time since the takedowns are out of the rules?
SMITH: Definitely. Because you have to kick six times!
Would you kick anyway, if you didn’t have to kick six times?
SMITH: Yes, I would be kicking more.
How do you feel about fighting in Toronto, in Slocki’s own home territory? If the Maple Leaf Gardens is filled to capacity, there’ll be 19,000 Canadians all yelling at you.
SMITH: I might need a body guard after I win.
Do you think it’s going to have any effect on your fighting?
SMITH: Well .. .
. . . or any effect on his fighting for that matter?
SMITH: I don’t know. Whenever I fight in tournaments, for some reason I’m usually not the favorite anyway. Like where I fight, I never . . . I never fought in Washington, anyway. I’ve traveled around so much, that I’m never the hometown guy, never the hometown favorite. At the Internationals, you’d think they wanted somebody from the East Coast to win that thing. In Houston, Texas where I’d lived, I moved and they hated me. Even the judges!
So a crowd’s not going to psyche you out?
SMITH: At New York City they were throwing things at me!
Really? When was that?
SMITH: Henry Cho’s Tournament.
Why were they throwing things at you?
SMITH: Just kidding. They were sure throwing a lot of words.
How do you feel about Slocki as a fighter? Do you think he deserves a shot at your title?
SMITH: I don’t know how he got up there anyway.
You don’t. Do you think there are better fighters around than he?
SMITH: I think so.
Who would you estimate as being your toughest opponent? Lightheavyweight.
SMITH: Lightheavyweight? Right now, I’m not worried about anybody in the lightheavyweight division.
You’re not worried about anybody?
SMITH: In my division.
You don’t think Slocki’s much of a fighter?
SMITH: I don’t think that he deserved to come back after being out of competition for so long. He didn’t prove himself in regular competition in the past year. He just came back and got a shot at the top.
Do you think there’s anybody else in Canada that could beat him, lightheavyweight?
SMITH: I don’t know about Canada, but I think there’s more in the U.S. who could.
What do you think about him as a person?
SMITH: He’s my type of person. He’s not a redneck, you know. He’s a pretty good person.
Slocki used oxygen at the World Championships. Are you going to have your oxygen bottle this time?
SMITH: I don’t need oxygen to beat him.
How are you going to train this time differently from last? Are you going to change your training methods at all?
SMITH: I’m going to probably double my training, do a lot more conditioning stuff. I was in good condition last time, I felt; but once you reach a certain point, you know whether other points lie beyond, so .. .
Were you tired in the last round of the World Championships?
SMITH: Well, I was tired, but it’s a matter of the better shape you’re in, the longer you can fight when you’re tired. And then when you take a short rest, you can get your wind right back. Even if you’re in good shape, it doesn’t mean you don’t get tired. It just means that you can recuperate better and faster.
Do you think you could have gone three more rounds in L.A.?
SMITH: Yeah, I think so.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the first fight. When he took you down in the third round, a lot of people think lit beat you. How badly do you want this rematch?
SMITH: I really didn’t feel that there was that much of a controversy. And from a lot of people I’ve talked to who’ve heard all about the controversial stuff and then saw it on TV, they were asking me where the controversy was. So, I don’t feel it was that controversial. I feel I beat him. But if he doesn’t think so, then we have to do it again. This time, we’ll try to make it where there’s no question.
What is your prediction for the match? Do you think he’ll go the distance with you? Do you think he’ll go five rounds with you?
SMITH: It depends on how I want the fight to go, I feel.
Are you going to try for an early knockout?
SMITH: I’m not going to say “early.” I’ll be feeling him out for a few rounds. If the opportunity arises in the early rounds, then I will.
Do you feel there’s any way possible he could go the distance with you this time?
SMITH: I don’t think so.
In other words, you are going to knock him out? Is that a prediction?
SMITH: Yeah, I think so.
You think so? The last time we talked to you, you said you were going to definitely knock him out in the first round.
SMITH: Yeah, well, I don’t want him to get too much on it. I’m going to let him be surprised.
Well, this interview’s going to be published, so he won’t be surprised. Certainly, he’s got a preconceived idea of what he’s going to do anyway. You’re not going to give me a prediction of an early round knockout?
SMITH: He definitely won’t make it through fifteen rounds. I’m going to be training hard enough to make sure that I could go full speed at least ten rounds.
Full speed for ten rounds???
Do you think you have enough time to get ready, since it’s May 16th?
SMITH: Oh yeah. I’ve been training for the past three years, hard. I didn’t have two years off like him.