By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Javan Hill knows that moment.
The very instant when a fighter – be it in the locker room, on the ring walk or in the midst of the action – noticeably loses focus on the task at hand.
And it’s at that point, he says, where a trainer earns his paycheck.
“Right there, that’s my job,” said the veteran Kronk-reared cornerman and nephew of Detroit-area legend Emanuel Steward. “It’s the time where you pretty much have to know your fighter – what makes him tick and what makes him happy and sad – so you know how to go in when the heat is on and smooth it out.
“Hopefully you don’t encounter any problems. But if you do, it’s knowing your guy personally that’ll help you get out of it. It may be that he’s not motivated or something, and you have to know how to handle it. It’s almost like being a psychologist – figuring out what’s wrong and working with their minds to set it right.”
Hill’s next portable ringside couch appointment comes Saturday night in St. Louis, when he and Motor City client Cornelius Bundrage take on defending champion and hometown hero Cory Spinks in a bid for the IBF junior middleweight title at the Scottrade Center.
The bout is part of a three-title card that also features St. Louis native and IBF/WBC champ Devon Alexander in a 140-pound defense, as well as a light heavyweight match between IBF incumbent Tavoris Cloud and veteran ex-claimant Glen Johnson.
It’s the first title shot for Bundrage – perhaps best known for his season two stint on “The Contender” and menacing “K9” nickname.
But Hill doesn’t expect the 37-year-old to act like a rookie.
“It’s his first shot, but he’s been through a lot in his career, so I don’t think that’ll be a factor,” said Hill, who’s worked with Bundrage for 12 of the fighter’s 15 years as a pro. “The TV series was something pretty big and it sort of made him a big-time fighter.
“It helped guys get names and a lot of people know him more for the series, sort of like a celebrity boxer.”
Speaking of celebrities, the corner may have its share as well.
Hill said he’s not yet sure if Steward – who serves as Bundrage’s manager – will be joining him for their charge’s initial title try.
Press releases publicizing the fight have said Steward will be in town, but Hill said they haven’t spoken specifically about fight night and how roles would be worked out if he does accompany the full-time team to ringside.
“We’ve worked many corners together through the years, so whether he’s there or not it won’t be a big deal,” Hill said. “He’s my uncle. He trained me and he and I think alike. There’s never been a conflict of any kind when we’ve worked together.”
Bundrage, who turned pro in 1995 after a limited amateur background, opened his career with 21 straight wins before a 22-second KO loss to Sechew Powell in May 2005.
Two wins preceded a Contender loss to Steve Forbes nine months later, which was followed by three more wins and an eight-round KO loss to Colombian slugger Joel Julio in 2007.
He’s 3-1 with a no-contest in five outings since – primarily earning the title shot with an upset fifth-round TKO of then-unbeaten Russian Zaurbek Baysangurov in December 2008.
His lone fight since ended after just three rounds, when Yuri Foreman was injured by an unintentional headbutt in a June 2009 IBF eliminator in Atlantic City.
Spinks is making the first defense of a crown he won with a split decision over Deandre Latimore four months ago in St. Louis. The 32-year-old southpaw is a former IBF/WBA/WBC champion at welterweight and also held the IBF belt at 154 pounds from 2006-08.
Ironically, it’s the difference in career achievement that Hill sees as decisive.
“It’s true, maybe I have the more motivated guy in there,” he said. “Maybe (Cory) doesn’t want it as badly. He’s had belts for years now while K9’s been waiting and hungry. He’s very hungry.
“This is the opportunity fighters dream about. It’s like the Super Bowl in football or the World Series in baseball. We have the opportunity in front of us and we have to take advantage.”
* * * * * * *
This week’s title fight schedule:
Vacant IBF junior lightweight championship – Johannesburg, South Africa
Mzonke Fana (No. 1 contender) vs. Cassius Baloyi (No. 2 contender)
Fana (29-4, 12 KO): Fifth title fight (2-2, 1 KO); Held IBF title in 2007-08
Baloyi (37-4-1, 19 KO): Former IBF/IBO champion; Defeated Fana by decision in 2008
Fitzbitz says: “Baloyi won the first one on points, and it says here he’ll do the same.” Baloyi by decision
IBF junior welterweight/WBC super lightweight title –St. Louis, Mo.
Devon Alexander (IBF/WBC champion) vs. Andriy Kotelnik (No. 13 IBF contender)
Alexander (20-0, 13 KO): Third title fight (2-0, 2 KO); First IBF defense/Second WBC defense
Kotelnik (31-3-1, 13 KO): Fifth title fight (3-1-1, 1 KO); Held WBA title in 2008-09
Fitzbitz says: “Alexander’s a star on the rise who won’t lose at home.” Alexander by decision
IBF light heavyweight title – St. Louis, Mo.
Tavoris Cloud (champion) vs. Glen Johnson (No. 1 contender)
Cloud (20-0, 18 KO): First title defense; Ended 13-fight stoppage streak in last bout
Johnson (50-13-2, 34 KO): Eleventh title fight (3-6-1, 1 KO); Held IBF/IBO titles in 2004-05
Fitzbitz says: “Big step in class for young Cloud, but it’s high time for Johnson to step aside.” Cloud by decision
IBF junior middleweight title – St. Louis, Mo.
Cory Spinks (champion) vs. Cornelius Bundrage (No. 2 contender)
Spinks (37-5, 11 KO): Twelfth title fight (7-4, 0 KO); Eleven straight wins by decision
Bundrage (29-4, 17 KO): First title fight; Eight wins in 12 fights since 21-0 start
Fitzbitz says: “A solid old pro, Bundrage is hungry to cash in with a first title.” Bundrage by decision
Last week’s picks: 1-2
Overall picks record: 118-43 (73.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .