By Thomas Gerbasi
Cory Spinks once told me that “If you understand boxing, you know that boxing is an art. If you just go in there to get punched on and then try to hit, it’s not really a skill because anyone can do that. The skill is to hit and not get hit.”
He was one hundred percent correct. But there are a lot of truths in this world that aren’t exactly pleasant to deal with: you have to pay taxes every year, vegetables are good for you, and that those boxers whose philosophy is to hit and not get hit often aren’t the most compelling to watch.
Spinks definitely fell into that category for a lot of years until a New York press conference in 2003 made me change my opinion of the St. Louis native forever. His opponent for a December 2003 bout, Ricardo Mayorga, was never known for his class or tact when it came to promoting a fight, but after Spinks spoke of dedicating the bout to his deceased mother, Mayorga crossed the line of tastefulness by a mile when he told the assembled media, “I’m going to send you and reunite you with your whole family that happens to be upstairs with the Lord Jesus Christ and I’ll stay down here with my family, which is alive and well.”
Spinks glared at Mayorga, but kept his cool. Much was said about the Nicaraguan’s rough upbringing on the streets, but it was unlikely he had seen anything very different than what Spinks had experienced growing up. This time, the IBF champion was not going to be drawn into his opponent’s game, telling me later, “You’ve just got to keep your cool. You gotta have a strong mind to not feed into that.”
And when the bell rang at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City two months later for their welterweight unification bout, the underdog Spinks took the crude “El Matador” to school, showing off the sweetest aspects of the sweet science in winning a 12 round majority decision that was a unanimous win in the eyes of everyone else who witnessed it.
The way I saw it, Spinks would never be an Arturo Gatti or Diego Corrales, but he was an honest fighter using the tools he had to win fights. I respected that and I became a fan. He would go on to defend his unified crown against Zab Judah and Miguel Angel Gonzalez before losing it in the Judah rematch in 2005, but as the sport goes, you expected him to remain in the hunt for a world title for a while, and he did.
In his very next fight in July of 2006, he took the IBF junior middleweight title from Roman Karmazin, defended it once against Rodney Jones, and then lost a split decision to then middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. Nearly a year later in 2008, Spinks was upset by Verno Phillips, but a year later he was wearing gold again as a split decision win over Deandre Latimore netted him the vacant IBF 154-pound belt once again.
It was an odd situation to say the least, as the quartet of Spinks, Latimore, Sechew Powell, and Cornelius Bundrage competed in seven fights among themselves, almost as a round robin of 154-pound standouts trying to stay alive in the mix long enough to get a big fight against a marquee name. Spinks’ shot to move back up into the winner’s circle crashed in August of 2010 though, as another stretch of inactivity and battles outside the ring led him to a fifth round TKO inside it against Bundrage.
Bundrage would successfully defend his crown once against Powell in June of 2011, while Latimore removed himself from the Fab Four and went on to do his own thing, going 3-1 since his decision loss to Powell in March of 2010. As for Spinks, his career had apparently hit the skids. 32 years old in the loss to Bundrage, it looked like the speed and reflexes that had put him on top had started to fade, and being heavier wasn’t helping matters.
By the time his uncle, Hall of Famer Michael, turned 32, he was a month removed from his final fight against Mike Tyson. His father Leon was actually in the midst of a five fight winning streak that earned him a shot at Dwight Muhammad Qawi’s cruiserweight title, but the former heavyweight champ would lose that fight in six rounds, kicking off the 9-13-1 run that ended his career at 42 years old.
Neither option seemed preferable to Spinks. He wasn’t ready to retire and he didn’t want to be a “name” for younger opponents to beat up on. So with new trainer Anthony Hamm manning the corner after longtime coach Kevin Cunningham and sometime trainer Buddy McGirt were out of the picture, Spinks began the road back with a dominant, yet unspectacular shutout decision win over 16-10 Shakir Ashanti in June of 2011. That same night, Bundrage turned away Powell, and you just knew what was coming up next.
It was a clear sign that despite his advancing age, promoter extraordinaire Don King still has influence in the game, as Spinks found himself in an IBF title elimination bout in January of this year against Powell, and though he was far from prime form, the soon to be 34-year old Spinks took a close, but unanimous, decision win over the New Yorker.
And just like that, Cory Spinks is going to be competing in the 13th world title fight of his 45 fight (39-6, 11 KOs) pro career against Bundrage this Saturday night at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California. Normally, this would be the kind of matchup that makes purists cringe, simply because it’s another recycled former champion getting a title shot based on past accomplishments and name recognition. But this one has a little heat behind it due to the result of the first fight, which was only the second stoppage loss of Spinks’ career, and because Bundrage’s name has been mentioned as being in the running for the September 15th main event slot across from Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. So if revenge and redemption aren’t suitable enough themes for the underdog Spinks, possibly spoiling Bundrage’s big money fight certainly is.
Kinda sounds like 2003 and Mayorga all over again. Maybe that Spinks Jinx still works after all these years.
"Spinks is Spinks again,” said Cory. “Spinks wasn't Spinks the last time we fought. The first time, I didn't train properly. I was sick. I had no mechanics. I don't care who you are, if you aren't right mentally and physically, you're not going to be able to do anything. Fans are going to see the total package on Saturday. I'm ready. I've been blessed with a gift. I didn't have to learn how to box. I always could and I could fight any way I wanted. I can sit down with you, I can box with you. I will do anything I have to to win this fight.”