In 1955, when “Bud” Smith won the title of lightweight boxing champion of the world, a reporter asked him what that felt like. “It feels,” Smith said, “like the whole United States.”
Wallace “Bud” Smith grew up in Cincinnati’s West End, a very urban neighborhood that literally marked him. Whenever Smith wore shorts, people noticed the ugly scar on his leg. He recalled, “When I was a kid, they started building Laurel Homes near where I lived. I loved to play around there when the workmen went home. One day I was running and I fell on a jagged piece of pipe sticking out of the ground. It cut me bad here on the leg. I ran home and my mother wrapped it up tight to stop the bleeding. We didn’t go to doctors much in those days.”
By the time Smith was nineteen years old, and he was on the US Olympic boxing team, and he competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. After that, he turned pro. The world championship title came in 1955, but three years later, he lost the title to Gomeo Brennan. After that, things unraveled. Managerial troubles, money troubles. Smith got arrested a few times for gambling.
In July 1973, Smith was walking down a sidewalk in Avondale. He saw a woman named Delores Watts sitting in a parked car with the window rolled down, and he struck up a conversation with her. Watts’ former boyfriend drove up in a second car, rolled down the window, and pointed a gun at Watts. Smith yelled at Watts to duck, and she lay down on the car seat. The man pulled the trigger and shot Wallace Smith dead.
Smith had lived much of his life in the West End, but he never really liked it there. In 1955, a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer interviewed him and wrote, “The young fighters parents, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt Smith, still live on John Street, but their muscular son hopes not for long. ‘If God continues to give me strength,’ he said, I’m going to buy them a home, and it will be out in the suburbs, not in the West End.’”
After Smith died, the Enquirer wrote this: “Bud Smith, who fought all of his life to escape to the suburbs, will go there forever Friday. The former lightweight boxing champion of the world, gunned down on an Avondale Street at the age of 44, will be buried in the Union Baptist Cemetery in Price Hill, next to his father and only brother.”
Wallace Smith received a fine tombstone with an image of boxing gloves carved onto it. Wallace Smith’s father Vanderbilt Smith is indeed buried here as well – we know this from cemetery records – but the father does not have a grave marker, nor does the brother.