Once upon a time, New York City’s Chris Smith was a celebrated prospect on the fast track to boxing glory. He was immensely likeable, had a marketable nickname (“The Mechanic”), and was backed by a formidable promoter in Lou DiBella who was guiding him to the top of his profession. Then on Jan. 21, a weary looking Smith was knocked out by David Estrada and his smooth ride to stardom took a frightening detour. The Mechanic, the joke went, was in dire need of a tune-up. But before he could polish off his artillery, Smith was summoned into the ring on two weeks notice to fight former champion, Sharmba Mitchell, on June 11. A slow starter, Smith gave away too many rounds before an incidental headbutt opened a cut under Mitchell's left eye. The fight was stopped, and Mitchell, in is hometown of Washington, D.C. won a five-round technical decision.

“I can't believe this is happening,” Smith thought to himself at the hotel later that night.

Two losses later, Smith (19-2-1, 12 KO's) is scheduled to fight Virgil McClendon (22-5-1, 8 KO's) this Friday at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in upstate Verona for the vacant NABA welterweight title.  Against a fighter who lost four of his last five fights and has fought once a year since 1998, taking 2004 off all together, Smith could use this bout to showcase himself and make a statement.

“I don't really know too much about the guy except that he fights left-handed and he fought Terron Millett (in 1997 he was stopped in round 12),” Smith said. “I'm definitely looking forward to the competition and looking my best, just showing everyone that I'm back.”

Although losing streaks in boxing don't necessarily breed affection, Smith has received nothing but good will from his fans since the two losses.

“Even in D.C., after the Mitchell fight, people were coming up to me and telling me that I got robbed,” he said. “Everyone has told me that I'll get my position back. If anything, the losses solidified the notion that I am a true fighter because Sharmba Mitchell was a true fighter.”

As often is the case after a boxer loses, Smith has changed trainers, from Reggie Green (against Estrada) to Joey Gamache (against Mitchell) to Colin Morgan, who preaches aggressiveness in his fighters. Smith is a volume puncher who stands in the pocket with his opponents, so the pairing with Morgan, a Manhattan-based trainer who also trains heavyweight Larry Donald, appears to be a good one.

“Colin fits my personality perfectly,” he said. “I've always been an aggressive fighter. Now my combinations will be a lot faster. I can't wait to get back into the ring to fight. I'm just ready for good competition.”