Forgotten Legends: Derrick “Smoke” Gainer

By: Steve Gallegos

They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire and that was the case most of the time whenever former featherweight champion Derrick “Smoke” Gainer stepped into the ring. A southpaw standing  5’9″, he was very tall for a featherweight and along with excellent skill and speed, he was a force in a very hot featherweight division throughout the mid-nineties and early 2000’s.

Hailing from Pensacola, Fl, Gainer was often compared to his lifelong buddy Roy Jones Jr. Jones always went out his way to lend a hand to his buddy, helping him get televised bouts on his undercards. Jones most times would say that he wouldn’t fight if “Smoke” wasn’t on the card. Gainer turned pro in July, 1990 and would go 16-3 before facing facing former featherweight champion Kevin Kelley in June, 1996. This would be the 1st time Gainer would fight in front of a national audience on HBO against a very seasoned veteran.

Gainer boxed very smartly, using his speed to outbox Kelley throughout most of the fight. Despite being knocked down in the third and fifth rounds, he would drop Kelley in fourth and would cause Kelley’s right eye to completely shut. Gainer was well on his way to scoring an upset win before Kelley dug deep and landed a huge left hand shot that Gainer didn’t see coming which put him down and out. Despite losing, Gainer performed impressively in his first big fight in front of a national audience. Gainer lobbied for a rematch and would constantly call Kevin Kelley urging him to give him another fight and when he wasn’t speaking with Kelley, he would speak with wife Valerie.

After winning his next six bouts all by knockout, he finally got his rematch with Kelley on 07/18/98 at the theater in Madison Square Garden. It would be the co-feature for Roy Jones’ Light Heavyweight unification against Lou Del Valle. Gainer dominated the fight from start to finish, dropping Kelley twice and was many times close to knocking Kelley out. There was a huge mutual respect between the two fighters and both men hugged each other prior to the start of the 12th round. Gainer would win a 12 round unanimous decision and he celebrated as if he won a world title.

After getting his revenge on Kevin Kelley, he headlined the final main event on USA’s Tuesday Night Fights putting on an impressive performance in winning a 10 round unanimous decision.  He began working his way towards a world title and he would get a shot at super featherweight champion, now top tier trainer Robert Garcia in a rematch of their 1994 bout won by Garcia. The bout was scheduled for 06/05/99 on the undercard of Roy Jones’ title unification bout with Reggie Johnson. Many hardcore fight fans, including myself were very excited for this bout and it more than likely would have stolen the show that night; however Garcia pulled out of the bout within the last 24 hours due to an issue with officiating.

It was a crushing disappointment for “Smoke” and he even admitted that he cried once he found out the fight was scrapped. He would still fight that night, scoring a sixth round knockout. He would finally get his title shot in March of 2000 against super featherweight champion Diego “Chico” Corrales. After outboxing Corrales in the first two rounds, Chico knocked Gainer down twice in the third. Gainer got up off the canvas and didn’t appear to be hurt, even answering “Yes” clearly when asked if he was ok; however referee Jay Nady prematurely stopped the fight. It was another bad break for “Smoke”; however six months later he got another crack at a world title, this time against tough and rugged featherweight champion Freddie “Lil Hagler” Norwood.

The fight was an all action, foul filled slugfest in which numerous low blows were exchanged between the two fighters. Gainer performed well, weathering Norwood’s constant body attack and dropping him twice in the fight. In the 11th Norwood would hit Gainer low and Gainer retaliated with two low blows of his own causing Norwood to go down. Referee Paul Sita oddly counted to 20 and then stopped the fight. It was a very unusual ending, but in either case, Derrick Gainer was now a world champion and he immediately went into Roy Jones’ dressing room to celebrate his victory prior to Jones defending his light heavyweight championship in the main event.

He would successfully defend his featherweight title 5 times before losing to Juan Manuel Marquez via a seventh round technical decison in November, 2003. He would go 4-1 from 2005-2012 including a 12 round decision loss to featherweight champion Chris John in 2005. Today Gainer devotes alot of his time to helping the community. He started a charter school for troubled teens in 1999 and in 2013 he started a childhood obesity program called Fit Nation. On 12/17/13, he posted on Smoke Gainer.com that he plans on making a comeback in 2014. While at times, he couldn’t escape the shadow of his lifelong pal Roy Jones Jr., he definitely was capable of holding his own on his own. We definitely wish him the best on his comeback.

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