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Saturday, December 4, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Loss Puts Kick Back In Career -- Kick-Boxer Had Few Foes - Until One Ko'd Him

Maurice Smith's heavyweight kick-boxing career had been languishing the past few years. He had trouble lining up bouts.

It was not because his opponents thought he wasn't good enough. In fact, he was too good. Challengers were afraid of getting their brains bashed by a guy who has been world heavyweight champion since 1983.

`He's human now'

Ironically, it took a loss 20 months ago - his first defeat in 11 years - to revive his career. Now the 31-year-old Seattle product is busy fending off would-be kings to his throne.

"They figure he's human now because, before, Maurice was like a machine," said Kirk Jensen, his manager for the past decade.

Tonight in Las Vegas, Smith will be one of the headliners in a rare kick-boxing card at the Mirage. He'll be fighting a young Los Angeles fighter originally from Venezuela, Alex Desir, who is 13-0 with 12 knockouts.

Smith, however, is much the superior and more experienced fighter. He's 51-4-2 with 44 knockouts. His other losses were in the early '80s, before he won the title.

He fights between six and 10 times per year, mostly in Japan, where the sport ranks behind only sumo wrestling and baseball in popularity.

Smith, who graduated from West Seattle High School and is now based out of his AMC Kick-Boxing Center in Kirkland, had heard of Desir and had wanted to fight him.

"But he always said, `No, I'm not ready,' " Jensen said. "Now all of a sudden he wants to fight Maurice."

What moved him to accept was Smith's loss in April 1992 to little-known Peter Aerts of Holland. Aerts knocked out Smith in the fourth round of their nontitle fight with a roundhouse kick to the neck.

The kick immediately but momentarily shut off the blood supply to Smith's neck, and he crumpled to the canvas like a fallen cedar.

Loss opens doors

"I've worked 57 fights in his corner, but I'd never seen him knocked out," Jensen said. "It was weird."

Smith said he sustained no lasting damage. "You don't feel anything. You just sleep.

"But what it did was open some doors," Smith added. "Now there are guys who want to fight me. Before it was like, `whoa.' "

At one point three years ago, it was so difficult to get a fight that Smith turned to fighting Muay Thai style, a more violent extension of kick-boxing.

Muay Thai allows a limited form of wrestling and the use of the knees and elbows into the face and body of the opponent. It is allowed in only four U.S. states, Nevada being one.

His fight against Aerts was Muay Thai style but his fight tonight will be under regular kick-boxing rules.

"This sport, you know something is going to happen," Smith said. "You know you're going to get a beating. My feeling is, `Let's get it over with.' You have to be mentally and physically prepared for it."

Smith has carved an outstanding career and a fine living out of the violent discipline. He is treated like a rock star in Japan and the Far East. He needs to be slipped out back doors after fights to avoid his adoring fans and is constantly stopped on the street to sign autographs, have pictures taken of him or even kiss his feet.

His main regret is that the sport has not taken hold in America. He goes unrecognized in Seattle and around the country. "I've come to terms with it," he joked, "I'm going to therapy now."

He wants to keep fighting for at least another four years and retire as champion.

Then, he said, he'd like to open a club in the Central District to help kids harness and channel their fighting passions.

"But eventually, we're going to face Aerts again," Jensen added. "It's just a matter of when and where."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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