By Rick Scharmberg
Mention a boxer named “K-9”, and everyone who follows boxing, and, thanks to the TV reality show “The Contender Season 2”, many who don’t, know you are talking about junior middleweight contender Cornelius “K-9” Bundrage. “It sounds scary, so I picked it up for respect,” said Bundrage of his unusual nickname. “Being from Detroit, which is real rough, I couldn’t be Cornelius – they would try me.” Bundrage is coming off of an impressive fifth round stoppage of IBF #7-ranked Zaurbek Baysangurov, on December 13 in Germany. Bundrage, who was ranked #14 in the IBF before the fight, should move into the division’s top-10 at the very least.
Bundrage is 29-4, with 17 KOs, and fights out of the famous Kronk Gym in Detroit, Michigan and is managed by his wife, Shawana. He had a rough beginning in life, but parlayed his religious faith and athletic talent into a way out. “I still go back to the ‘hood, but not as much as I used to. I like to go back to show them that someone from the ‘hood can make it out,” he said.
Folks at “The Contender” knew they had a star in the making when Bundrage met up with Sechew “Iron Horse” Powell in a battle of unbeatens seven months before the show started. Bundrage, then 21-0, and Powell, then 15-0, hooked up on Showtime on May 6, 2005, and they put on a short, but spectacular display of fireworks. In the opening seconds, they exchanged right hands, and scored a rare double knockdown! Both fighters bounced to their feet. For some reason, the referee neglected to begin a count for either fighter, and waved them in. Bundrage could have used the mandatory 8-count to clear his head. Instead, Powell landed first, and the fight was over.
Bundrage took the defeat in stride, saying, “If I lose a fight, it doesn’t mean I am going to lose the next one. That fight [with Powell] is so far behind me. We talked, and we’re cool. He was at the top, and he lost since then. This is a business. If I need to fight him again to move up, I will, otherwise, I don’t need to fight him again. He lost to Kassim Ouma, and I beat Kassim Ouma. That was my revenge.”
The Ouma bout was one of three for Bundrage in 2008, and they weren’t against soft touches. After defeating Kassim Ouma, “K-9” lost to fellow Contender, and the eventual champion, Grady Brewer, in the bout before his win over Baysangurov. “They said it wasn’t the same Kassim Ouma, said Bundrage. “What will they say about the guy I just beat? I am looking for bigger fights, guys like Sergio Mora and Peter Manfredo. It’s time to get paid now!
“In life, when you’re doing good, people want to be your friend. In boxing, it’s just the opposite. They avoid you. After I lost, my phone didn’t stop ringing. I still got it. I am fighting to be the best. I have confidence in myself. I didn’t tell anybody about my fight in Germany because I didn’t want to hear any negative vibes,” he said.
With Cornelius Bundrage, it is all about overcoming the odds. When asked about his career highlights, he could have mentioned his Contender success, or his big victory over Chris “The Mechanic” Smith, or one of his recent wins. Instead, he said, “I’ve been able to fight all over the world. God blessed me with the ability to be able to learn from my mistakes. I went from not graduating, to becoming something in this world. My wife and I hung in there together. People said I couldn’t do it, but I overcame that.”
In boxing, as in life, “K-9” is considered an underdog, and he is all right with that, too. “If it has anything to with a dog, I’m good with it,” he joked. “Never count me out.”
On “The Contender”, Bundrage was taken lightly, and was chosen last during the selection of the teams. Always looking for the positive – Bundrage believes 2009 will be his year because 2009 and “K-9” both have the number “nine” in them – he quoted from the Book of Matthew in the bible, “And the last shall be first”, and promptly volunteered to be the first fighter up to represent his team.
Bundrage drew the veteran Michael Clark, out of Columbus, Ohio. Fighting in the scheduled five-round bout, Bundrage took a majority decision, winning the last round after splitting the first two. The underdog advanced to the next round, the quarter finals, where he took on brash, trash talking Walter Wright. He beat Wright by unanimous decision in what was a very physical fight. Bundrage said of Wright, “He barked too much, and he got bit.”
Former IBF 130-pound champion Steve “Two Pound” Forbes beat Bundrage in the next bout, and sent him to the bronze medal, round. “I believe I beat Forbes too, even though it didn’t look like it because of the way the show was edited. Guys on both teams said that I won that fight,” said Bundrage. After the Forbes bout, Bundrage went on to win the bronze medal with an impressive seventh round stoppage over tough Norberto “Nito” Bravo.
Fighters on “The Contender” have said the show had a positive impact on their careers, with some negatives mixed in. “K-9” is no exception. “The show put me in the door and made it easier to get fights, but the fights got harder after that. They knew if they beat me, it would put them in contention and make a name for themselves. On the other hand, it was a great experience being on a TV reality show with my family, going to Hollywood. My son [Dai’Shaun, 7] can say that he was on TV,” said Bundrage.
Bundrage narrowly defeated dangerous Chris “The Mechanic” Smith, and then appeared on “The Contender Challenge: UK vs. USA”, which was broadcast on ESPN. Bundrage dominated the relatively inexperienced Colin McNeil, stopping him in six rounds. The win assured an American victory on the team format event.
Bundrage had a setback when he lost to hard hitting Joel Julio, but bounced back nicely with two wins, including a dominant performance over former world champion Kassim Ouma. After coming within two points of beating “Contender Season 2” champion Grady Brewer, Bundrage used two overhand rights and a left hook to impressively stop Russian Zaurbek Baysangurov. He hopes to use that victory as a springboard to a title shot.
The junior middleweight division is suddenly loaded, with former world welterweight and junior middleweight champion Cory Spinks at the top, followed by young guns like James Kirkland, Yuri Foreman, Sechew Powell, “Contender Season I” champ, Sergio Mora, and powerhouse Alfredo Angulo.
His recent victory breathed new life into his career, and “K-9” Bundrage suddenly finds himself right in the championship mix. “Give me someone established with a name, not a stepping stone. I want to be a champion. I will put my life on the line against whoever it is. I am ready to shock the world!’