TAMPA — As China Smith stared into the face of opponent Mike Sheppard during Thursday's weigh-in for the Thunder at the Forum fight card, only one thought went through his mind:
On Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the 35-year-old Sarasota native made it happen, defeating Sheppard in the 10-round co-main event via unanimous decision to claim the World Boxing Federation's North American heavyweight title.
It was the second bout for Smith (35-4, 27 knockouts) since he stepped away for six years to start a nonprofit children's organization in Bradenton.
"I had to dig deep, but I knew it was for my hometown," Smith said, the belt wrapped around his waist. "So I had to dig deep hard and just go out and make it happen. By the grace of God, my team, we made it happen."
In the first six rounds, Smith was aggressive, keeping Sheppard (21-17, nine KOs) mainly on the defensive while landing powerful blows to the head and body.
In the seventh, Sheppard, 39, pinned Smith against the ropes, landing multiple punches to the head. But Smith slipped off and continued throwing right hooks.
"He was open for it, that's one of my best shots," Smith said. "My cornerman … was telling me to land it, place it. Double up and triple up on the hooks. It started paying off, and I started taking the fight to him."
In the other main event, Plant City native Chevelle Hallback won in her first bout since 2011, beating Dominga Olivo in a second-round knockout.
For Hallback (29-8-2, 12 KOs) it was the first fight in her hometown, before about 30 family members in the audience, something she said she will always remember.
"I was a little rusty. I was a little wild, but I kind of gathered my composure in the second round," said Hallback, who works the graveyard shift at a local post office. "She was a tough girl. I take nothing from her, her record (8-11) doesn't speak to her toughness. She brought it to me."
St. Petersburg native Noemi Bosques knocked off Elizabeth Anderson by a majority decision in the undercard. Bosques, a Pinellas Park High alum, said she took a beating at times but stayed in it using her style.
"It was definitely a scrappy fight," said Bosques (5-1-2, one KO). "She came out to fight and a lot of times, even when you're the more effective fighter, if somebody's in there scrapping in order to get the points back, you've got to fight right on back."