China "The Dragon" Smith is living proof that dreams don't come with an expiration date.
"Just look at me; hard work and dedication can take you anywhere, no matter what," said Smith, a Sarasota native who trains in Bradenton.
After retiring in 2007, Smith made his comeback last summer in a knockout win over Rubin "Hollywood" Williams at Bradenton Area Convention Center.
"When I walked away ... each year that passed, people believed less and less in my return to the ring," Smith said.
Even though he wasn't fighting, Smith never lost sight of his goal while he prepared mentally and physically, awaiting on a prime opportunity.
That chance came June 13 against Mike Sheppard. The two squared off for the World Boxing Federation North American heavyweight belt in at Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa.
In a 10-round slugfest, Smith outlasted Sheppard and captured the title in a unanimous decision, improving his career record to 35-4 with 27 knockouts.
"We both had something at stake, I wasn't going to be denied. He was going to have to kill me," Smith said with a smile.
In a sports world where negativity is used as motivation to overcome adversity,
Smith chooses the support of his family and friends.
"In the last couple of rounds, strategy went out the window for me and it came down to who wanted it more," Smith said.
"All I could think about was not letting down my family. I didn't want to have to go back and apologize to them and my corner for not winning," Smith said.
In attendance at Smith's title fight was the great Antonio Tarver. "It's definitely good for boxing here in the Tampa/St.Pete area," Tarver said. "The Tampa area should come out and support the great sport of boxing and show the kids the work that we put into it."
The 35-year-old Smith, who is expected to be back in the ring in August, credited his conditioning to Rodrick Miller. Miller is CEO of GLC Athletics and trains Smith on a weekly basis.
"He kept my body guessing. I could come in one day and think we will work on one thing, and he would switch it up on me," Smith said.
Smith seemed as if he gained 10 years on his life after the win. He was unable to stand still during a recent interview, even punching the air with a massive grin on his face as he discussed the next step.
"I can't stop now. I've come this far, and I'm not done yet," Smith said.
Smith, who runs a Boxing Extreme Fitness program at the Manatee Police Athletic League, gives hope to his hometown fans that dreams can always become a reality.
No one knows how the story will end for Smith.
What is for certain is that he will never have live with the worst question any athlete could have in the back of their mind.