As the old saying goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
And in today’s boxing landscape there are few fighters who can match the heat generated by WBA Featherweight Champion Derrick “Smoke” Gainer, who has not only secured his place as one of the sport’s rising stars, but also as one of its premier ambassadors, freely giving of his time and money to help those less fortunate than he.
His out of the ring generosity wouldn’t be possible without his success in the ring, much of which can be attributed to his dazzling speed, ring savvy, and deceptive punching power. All three attributes were on display in August of 2002 when he defended his featherweight title for the second time against unbeaten bomber Daniel Seda, who had the added advantage of fighting on his home turf of Puerto Rico.
Once the bell rang, though, Gainer showed why he is among the best 126-pounders in the world, dropping Seda to the canvas and having him on the verge of defeat when the bell ending the first round intervened. As “Smoke” moved in for the kill in round two, a clash of heads opened a wide gash over Gainer’s eye, prompting the referee to halt the fight over the champion's protests, and the bout was ruled a technical draw.
It’s not the first time Gainer has suffered disappointment in the ring, but like a true champion, he always fights on.
Born in Pensacola, Florida on August 22, 1972, Gainer loved sports as a youth, excelling in basketball and baseball. Gainer first became interested in boxing after he and his cousin read a local newspaper article on Roy Jones, Jr. in 1984. Encouraged by his cousin, they went down to the gym Roy trained at to test their mettle. Smoke’s cousin dropped out the first day, but showing the fire, dedication and determination of a world champion, Gainer stayed on. He and Roy became the best of friends and although Smoke admired Roy’s skills in the ring, he knew he had to develop his own persona and ring generalship. “He (Roy) can’t fight for me,” says Gainer. “I can’t get up for guys that are 15-10. I want to take on the best.”
Gainer compiled an amateur record of 38-5-1 with 24 KOs, and turned pro on July 14, 1990 with a first round stoppage of Andres Francisco. With his mentor Roy Jones guiding him and providing him with opportunities to fight on his undercards, “Smoke” saw all aspects of the boxing business and was determined to make a positive impact on the sport.
Even when he lost a couple of questionable decisions early in his career, Gainer was undeterred from his goal of becoming a world champion, and when he decisioned highly ranked Harold Warren for the NABF featherweight title on June 24, 1995, the boxing world had a new star to watch.
In a signature fight against Kevin Kelley in 1996, Gainer was winning a thrilling, entertaining slugfest. The southpaw’s whipping combinations were pelting Kelley, who was reduced to a one-eyed fighter when his right eye swelled to grotesque proportions. But former world champion Kelley, in a stunning turn of events in the eighth round, threw a hook that caught Gainer, sending him to the canvas for the ten count.
“I thank God for Kevin Kelley,” explains Gainer. “I had a bad knee going in and took on the best featherweight in the world at that time. I was still beating him when I wasn’t at my best or in top condition. That was encouraging to me and motivated me to continue.”
Continue he did, reeling off 16 consecutive wins over the next three years. Among his victims was future world champion Manuel Medina, who Gainer stopped in nine rounds. On July 18, 1998, “Smoke” finally got his revenge over Kevin Kelley, nearly shutting him out over ten rounds in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Unfortunately, this string of success meant no one wanted to fight Gainer, or give him a shot at a title. The only one who would fight the featherweight contender was junior lightweight champ Diego Corrales. Gainer, showing the heart of a champion, rose in weight to fight Corrales but fell short in this March, 2000 title bid.
But in losing, Gainer was able to secure a shot against WBA featherweight champion Fred Norwood. Back at his natural fighting weight, Gainer stopped Norwood in the eleventh round of a gritty war, and was finally, a world champion.
Gainer's work isn't over yet, though. He has defended his title twice, and looks to take on all of the big names at 126 pounds so he can cement his place in boxing history as one of the best featherweights to put on gloves. That is a continuous theme running through Gainer’s life: “Be the best. Take on the best. Try your hardest and be proud of your effort.” If it sounds like a lesson book of life, he’s had the proper inspiration.
In August 2000, Smoke opened his own high school. Named after his beloved, departed grandmother, who was a teacher, The Dr. Ruby J. Gainer School for Reaching Your Dreams initially enrolled 200 students as a public school in Pensacola. Gainer is the Dean of the school. He’s had the practice. A keynote motivational speaker, Gainer talks to kids at 10 schools per month. “Sometimes two a day”, he says. “I’ve always found a niche with kids and feel the school of hard knocks has opened up a path for me to be a guiding light, especially to kids who are having problems fitting in.”
Derrick Gainer has worked hard to make his place in boxing, and now that he’s here, he’s not giving that spot up for anybody.
Quoted from http://www.dbe1.com/scripts/boxers/gainer.htm