Adding intrigue to Cory Spinks’ defense of his IBF junior middleweight crown in St. Louis on June 12 against IBF mandatory challenger Cornelius Bundrage is the fact that Bundrage will be trained for the first time by International Boxing Hall of Fame member Emanuel Steward while Spinks’ new trainer is former two-time world champion James “Buddy” McGirt.
Maybe the most interesting fact of all is that the globe-trotting Steward—who may be best known now for his longtime role as a boxing analyst for HBO Sports—will be making his first visit to the Gateway City. “Believe it or not, I’ve never stepped foot in the city other than making a connection at the airport,” Steward said. “The closest I’ve ever been to St. Louis is drinking a Bud Light, my favorite beer. I’m looking forward to seeing the Gateway Arch, which is something I have always wanted to see.”
Steward says the IBF No. 1-ranked Bundrage (29-4, 17 KOs), from Detroit, is younger than his 37 years would indicate due to his lack of an amateur boxing background.
“The bottom line is Cornelius learned how to fight as a professional,” Steward said. “I don’t think he ever participated in an amateur tournament. Like Larry Holmes and Bernard Hopkins before him, Cornelius has learned his craft while working professionally. This helps to explain some of his earlier losses against top-flight opposition, but what I’ve seen in the last two years tells me he’s putting it all together now.”
Steward points out that when K2 Promotions (who also promotes Steward-trained heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko) was looking for an opponent in 2008 to face then-undefeated (19-0, 16 KOs) 154-pounder Zaurbek Baysangurov, they picked Bundrage. After traveling to Germany on short notice, Bundrage shocked the Russian by stopping him in the fifth round.
“Cornelius has long arms, fights tall and can control a fight with his left hand,” Steward noted. “Not only does he have skills, but he will come into the gym and box for 15 to 20 rounds, so he’s in good shape too.
“If he can put pressure on Cory by focusing his energy and placing his punches—but not reckless pressure like just running in—he can win this fight. Speed slows with age and Cory was never a big puncher, so the opportunity is there for Cornelius, who I view as fresher in the ring at 37 than Cory is at 32.”
Bundrage has always fought under Steward’s famous Detroit boxing brand of the Kronk Gym but was trained by Steward’s nephew, Javan Hill. Steward has acted as Bundrage’s manager but will join Hill in the corner for the Spinks fight.
Steward has taken Bundrage with him to Tampa, Fla., where he is training alongside Steward’s latest client, Miguel Cotto, who will face another 154-pound world champion, Yuri Foreman, on June 5 at Yankee Stadium. Steward would like nothing more than to pick up two world titles in one week.
Steward knows and admires Spinks and thinks he has made a good move by hiring McGirt as trainer.
“Buddy is a beautiful guy,” Steward noted with enthusiasm. “You know who he reminds me of? He’s just like Muhammad Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee. Angelo and Buddy are two of the nicest people I have ever met.
“I told Angelo the other day that I was facing Buddy, and I told him Buddy’s got his personality. Both guys never have a bad word to say about anyone and are very talented.”
When told of Steward’s kind words, McGirt said it didn’t surprise him.
“There is a reason why Emanuel has been so successful, which goes beyond his undeniable talent as a trainer and manager,” McGirt said. “Manny looks for the good in people, not the bad.
“Having said that, don’t think for a moment this means he’s not trying to out-train me or that he doesn’t want Cornelius Bundrage to upset Cory Spinks in his hometown on June 12. You don’t get where Manny’s gotten in the sport of boxing by forgetting what your job is. The difference with Manny is he can do that and still have class. This is going to be an interesting chess match between Manny and me.”
Both Steward and McGirt enjoyed success as boxers. In 1963, Steward won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in Chicago. While younger, McGirt became IBF junior welterweight champion in 1998 and World Boxing Council welterweight champion from 1991 to 1993. McGirt then followed in Steward’s training footsteps, too, having trained notable world champions like Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver, Vernon Forrest, Tomasz Adamek, Lamon Brewster, Paulie Malignaggi and, now, Spinks.
“Manny’s from the Old School,” McGirt added. I’ve learned a lot from him and all the Old School trainers. They should be a guide for all the young guys that are into boxing.”
With Spinks, McGirt believes he’s got an edge in this fight.
“I keep saying that all I have to do with Cory is remind him of how great he is,” McGirt said. “This guy has all the ability in the world, much of which comes from his family tree that includes his father, Leon (whom Steward managed at one time), and uncle, Michael, both former heavyweight world champions. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is training who. It’s who has the better fighter and who wants it the most inside the ring. So far, I’ve won the first two.”
Tickets priced at $28, $50, $87, and $200 are on sale now at MetroTix.com, the Chaifetz Arena Box Office, MetroTix outlets at select Schnucks and Macy’s stores, or charge by phone at (314) 534-1111. The event is being promoted by Don King Productions and will be the first world championship boxing match at Chaifetz Arena. Doors will open at 6 p.m., and a full undercard will be presented.