An interesting fact emerged in June when Don King planned to present IBF 154-pound champion Cory Spinks against mandatory challenger Cornelius “K9” Bundrage in St. Louis: Bundrage’s Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward revealed he has never set foot inside the city of St. Louis. As fate would have it, the fight was postponed, but King this week added the match to his already-loaded “Gateway to Greatness” card at Scottrade Center on Aug. 7 featuring two undefeated world champions. WBC and IBF 140-pound champion Devon Alexander “The Great” (20-0, 13 KOs) will defend against former WBA junior welterweight champion Andriy Kotelnik (31-3-1, 13 KOs) and IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud (20-0, 18 KOs) will face the former holder of that belt, Glen Johnson (50-13-2, 34 KOs).
But the questions remain: Will Manny Steward, the proprietor of Detroit’s famed Kronk Gym, ever set foot in St. Louis? Will the legendary trainer ever gaze upon the inspiring Gateway Arch? Will he ever sip his favorite beer, Bud Light, in its home city? Could it be that a man who has accepted all challenges, inside the ring and out, has run into a new type of Spinks Jinx?
“I really can’t explain how I have gone all over America and the world and never been able to visit St. Louis,” Steward said. “But maybe it’s for the best that I have to wait until Aug. 7 because Don King has put together a great card. The people of St. Louis should know this is going to be a big-time star-studded boxing event from top to bottom. This is the type of card Don loves to do, exactly the kind that has made him so famous, and it is what has been missing in so many of the recent fights I have attended.”
Another noteworthy fact is Steward—for all he has achieved as a boxer, manager and trainer—may be best known now for his longtime role as the premier boxing analyst for HBO Sports.
“I love every aspect of the fight game,” Steward said. “I’ve been blessed.”
Luminaries of the sport will abound at this fistic explosion. While Steward is training Bundrage, Spinks’ will have a new trainer in his corner, former two-time world champion James “Buddy” McGirt. Since hanging up his gloves, McGirt has followed in Steward’s training footsteps. He has guided notable world champions Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver, Vernon Forrest, Tomasz Adamek, Lamon Brewster and Paulie Malignaggi.
Steward says Bundrage (29-4, 17 KOs), from Detroit, is younger than his 37 years would indicate due to his brief amateur boxing background.
“The bottom line is Cornelius learned how to fight as a professional,” Steward said, “He learned on the job. 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 promotes Steward-trained heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko) was looking for an opponent in 2008 to face then-undefeated 154-pounder Zaurbek Baysangurov (19-0, 16 KOs), they selected 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 15-to-20 rounds, so he’s in great 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 for the Kronk Gym but was trained by Steward’s nephew, Javan Hill. Steward has been Bundrage’s manager but will join Hill in the corner for this vitally important match.
Steward knows and admires Spinks and thinks he 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 are very talented and they never have a bad word to say about anyone.”
When informed of Steward’s kind words, McGirt was appreciative but 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 Aug. 7. You don’t get where Manny is 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. McGirt became IBF junior welterweight champion in 1998 and was the WBC welterweight champion from 1991 to 1993.
“Manny’s from the Old School,” McGirt said. “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 intriguing matchup.
“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.”
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