Hidden away from the public eye for more than a year, Ishe Smith has arisen from a sea of prizefighters like a lost sunken treasure.

Sugar Shay is back.

Smith, 28, fights venerable Sechew Powell (20-1, 12 KOs) in a junior middleweight showdown at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on Saturday Feb.17. The Las Vegas native has big goals for this year. No time to waste.

“This is my year. I want to be the first native from Las Vegas to win a world title,” says Smith (18-1, 8 KOs), who is ranked as a junior middleweight.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, the gambling Mecca that has also replaced New York City as the new boxing showcase, Smith spent years developing his craft as an amateur and now as a professional prizefighter with speed, power and cunning.

Smith was on track to a world title fight three years ago after defeating former WBO junior welterweight world titleholder and knockout puncher extraordinaire Randall Bailey. After a nip and tuck battle the Las Vegas boxer emerged victorious.

Months earlier he battled 10 rounds against rugged David Estrada and was the victor.

Then came the Contender reality television show and he decided to take a chance. At the time he was already a contender with name recognition.

“Before I came on the show me and Peter Manfredo Jr. were the most known fighters,” Smith said.

Both Manfredo and Bailey were familiar with each other and had spent a stint in Big Bear Lake as sparring partners for Shane Mosley. Then they both entered the television show tournament that was held on NBC that year in 2004.

Immediately Smith doubled his fame as millions of viewers got a glimpse at the world of professional boxing on a weekly basis. The tit for tat sniping with other fighters such as Ahmed Kaddour focused attention on the confident Smith.

Though one of the favorites, he ran into then unknown boxer Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora, a clever and strong fighter who eventually captured the Contender championship. Still, Smith’s talent was not forgotten.

“Ishe Smith is so good,” said Mora. “He’s fast and hits hard. It wasn’t an easy fight.”

After the Contender, the Las Vegas fighter beat Patrick Thompson in Atlantic City. That is where he convinced Golden Boy Promotions to sign him.

“Ishe Smith is a great fighter,” said Eric Gomez, matchmaker and vice president for Golden Boy Promotions. “We have big plans for him.”

First, there is Powell, a left-handed junior middleweight who has traded barbs with Smith via the Internet. Both are itching for this showdown that takes place in Smith’s New York backyard.

“All I’m focusing is on this fight with Sechew Powell,” said Smith, who trained in Arkansas and is making his New York City debut. “I resurrected the old team for this fight.”

Trainer Danny Smith is back in Smith’s corner after a couple of years focusing on Fernando Vargas. It was during sparring sessions with Vargas that Smith suddenly became a known boxing entity.

“This cat Ishe is a bad cat,” said Vargas during their sparring sessions in 2003. “The world is going to know about him.”

Even during his initial years as a professional boxer Smith was engaged in terrific battles against fighters who would later make names for themselves such as Alfonso Gomez and Norberto Bravo. It was only his fourth fight when he met Gomez and sixth fight when he met Bravo.

Nothing came easy for Smith who still lives in Las Vegas with his wife and children.

That’s ok, Smith says.

“Golden Boy Promotions has treated me great. This is a first-class outfit. Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins have talked with me and they know how to treat boxers,” Smith says.

Now it’s time to perform.

“There have been a lot of fighters from Las Vegas who just fell off,” said Smith, who was an amateur stand out. “I want to be Las Vegas’ first world champion.”

The fight will be shown live on HBO this Saturday.

McCarter defending world title

Layla McCarter, the current GBU and WBA lightweight world champion, steps back in the ring to defend her title against Melissa Hernandez (6-0-1) on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas.

McCarter (22-12-5) has become one of the busiest female fighters with Crown Boxing Inc. enabling her to get in the ring almost monthly.

One of the biggest problems facing female prizefighters is finding a promoter willing to showcase women on fight cards. Another is finding someone willing to pay sanctioning fees to set up world title fights.

In her last two bouts McCarter made boxing history: for being the first woman boxer to fight in three-minute rounds, and for being the first woman boxer to fight in a scheduled 12-round fight.

“I’m always looking to make a statement for women’s boxing,” McCarter said.

Though she has a dozen losses, McCarter is recognized by many as one of the most skillful female boxers in the world.

“I lost a lot of hometown decisions,” she says. “That’s OK. I’ve avenged most of those losses. There’s still a few left.”

Luis Tapia, who trains and manages McCarter, said they’ve sent out many requests to fighters for rematches.

“We asked Jessica Rakoczy many times but she has never signed to fight Layla again,” said Tapia. “

Other fighters targeted by McCarter are Jelena Mrdjenovich, Mary Jo Sanders and Holly Holm.

“They don’t want to fight Layla again,” said Tapia. “They’re afraid of her.”

Tapia is also bringing a heavyweight into the fight card named Bronco Billy Wright.

“He’s going to make me a lot of money,” Tapia said.

Wright (32-4, 24 KOs) spent eight years away from boxing after building up a record of 22 wins and one loss. But he’s back.

“It felt like I hadn’t been away at all,” said Wright who is six-foot-five-inches tall and weighs 275 pounds. “I feel just the same but maybe more mature.”

Wright faces Cornell Davis in a six round heavyweight bout.

Also on the card will be Hemet, California’s Ronald Hurley taking another crack at Las Vegas’ Oscar Marin.

“Their first match had three standing ovations in a four round fight,” said Frank Luca, the promoter of the event.

Both Marin and Hurley spent all four rounds attempting to take each other’s head off.

“It won’t go to the judges this time,” said Hurley.

For tickets and information call (702) 365-7075.