Saint Louis: The Way Boxing Should Be

By Tom Donaldson
Updated: February 8, 2005

NEW YORK, NY—It is Mardi Gras time in Saint Louis where normal people for one night shed all inhibitions in preparation for Lent. And many ways boxing is the perfect sport for Mardi Gras, for it often proves to be the theatre of the unexpected and on occasion, the absurd. There is nothing predictable about a boxing match and Judah-Spinks championship bout proved no exception. When you add the maestro of the whole affair is Done King, then only the unexpected can be expected.

The fight was a sell out and as I walked through Saint Louis in the mid mornings, I come to think of what could the unexpected factor- Cory Spinks fighting at home. Normally, the home court advantage benefits the hometown fighter- in particular, with the judges. Close rounds go to the hometown favorite and when you add the factor of the hometown fighter is also the champion- this benefited Spinks even more. There was another thought. Will Spinks, a normally disciplined fighter, allow the hometown crowd to affect his fight plan? Zab Judah indicated that he would push the action and will the crowd push Spinks to exchange blows and give Judah his chance to end the fight? Spinks was an excellent boxer and his advantage was his ability to counterpunch a charging Judah. If he went toe to toe, he gave the harder punching challenger his opportunity such as he did in the twelfth of round of their previous fight when Judah nearly pulled out victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

Sheraton Hotel lobby was a hotbed of boxing pundits, professionals and various boxing entourages. Championship fights create a buzz that is a rarity in sports and can only be match by a Super Bowl or a seventh game of a basketball or baseball playoff game. And this bout was no different. All of Saint Louis talk radio gave the fight as much as attention as the upcoming Super Bowl. There was a time that Boxing attracted as much attention as any sport and for one brief weekend in Saint Louis, boxing had that place again. As Showtime would advertise for its Sho Box series- Boxing, the way it used to be.

Tye “Big Sky, formerly Railroad” Fields stands 6’9”. The native Iowan Fields was a former basketball player turned boxer. Fields came into the match with 29 knockouts in 31 victories but much of this was against mediocre opponent throughout the Midwest. Ray Lunsford was just another opponent added to the resume.

One boxing pundit quipped that Lunsford had a body that only a truck driving wife would love and the six foot Lunsford did even land a punch on the six foot nine inch Fields. For Fields, this was target practice. Lunsford hit the canvas more times than he actually landed punches. He hit the canvas once in the first round and three more times in the second round before the referee said enough were enough. Fields walked away with the victory. Sitting behind me was KMOX sports talk show host Mike Grimm. Before coming to Saint Louis, Grimm worked in Cedar Rapids radio and after Fields sent Lunsford for the last time, I turned around and quipped, “Iowa is now 1-0 for the night.” He laughed.

KMOX would have a live feed from the boxing and I had a chance to appear at Mr. Grimm request. I discussed the why and how Cory Spinks should win, merely repeating what I have written. (One of the risk on being a pundit, you are often asked to make choices and sometimes you are proven wrong as I was.)

Many of the prelims proved one-sided affairs. The Texas Havocs team featuring Light Heavyweight prospects Marcus Johnson and James Johnson indeed wrecked havoc among their opponents. Johnson used a volley of body shots to stop the previously unbeaten Aaron Blake in the first round and Mark Long looked like a pin ball machine as he hit the canvas often in the less than two rounds he went toe-toe with Johnson.

Josiah Judah set the stage for the Judah brothers as he sent a left hook directly in the Brandon Jackson face and Jackson went down like a soufflé. Judah took only 59 seconds before heading back to the locker in triumph. Hardly worked up a sweat.

The only competitive prelim was Devon Jackson versus Donovan Casteneda. Castenda was a tough Mexican fighting out of Kansas City and he came out of the first round winging every shot there was. Jackson coolly avoided most of them and countered with straight shots. Jackson is a 17-year-old slick southpaw with potential and while he did not dominate his opponent, he showed maturity. Casteneda tactics did not fluster him and while Jackson expressed disappointment at his own performance, Jackson learned from his experience. Casteneda was a tough opponent and not just a tomato can that many prospects see at this point in their career. These are the opponents that young prospects learn from.

Featherweight prospect Elio Rojas pasted Yamin Mohammad in three rounds. Rojas’ manager view his young charge as a potential champion but the only thing learned in this fight was that Rojas could pound an outclassed opponent. He now has his ninth knock out in 10 straight victories. Soon Rojas will be leaving opponents like Mohammad and fighting tougher opponents. Then we will know whether Rojas is a championship quality fighter. Or even one that is worthy of a Sho-Box or Showtime appearance.

Facing the undefeated Dula, Eric Mitchell had the advantage of experience and it showed quickly. Mitchell knocked Dula cold and Dula lay motionless for a few minutes as he hit the canvas hard. This is the biggest risk of boxing. Any punch can end a career or even a life. A fighter can’t think of these risks but these risks exist. Dula regained consciousness but he was carried out on a stretcher. For Dula, this step up proved disastrous.

Owen Beck came in this fight with unblemished record and a lot of questions marks. Most pundits, myself included, viewed Beck as a fighter with a padded record whose ranking was politically given. Barrett was the more experienced fighter and he had his brush with the upper elites. In his last fight, Barrett went into Dominick Guinn’s backyard and taught the undefeated Guinn a boxing lesson. While he won a split decision, the closeness of the decision was due more to hometown judging as oppose to actually what happened in the ring.

In the first two rounds, Barrett controlled the fight with his jab and superior firepower. In the second round, a Barrett left hook sent Beck to the canvas. Most pundits at ringside viewed this vindication of their view. There are times that a fighter has to decide what price he is willing to play to stay in the game. In the third round, Beck made his stand. His opponent may have been the more experienced, but he decided to fight. Moving inside, he ripped Barrett with body shots and turned this fight into an alley brawl. A head butt opened a cut over Barrett’s eye and now the fight became a battle of desperation.

After a spirited fifth round, Ringtalk Pedro Fernandez turned to me and asked, “When was the last time you saw heavyweights go to the body like these two guys?” Beck gained respect as he unleashed body shots to get back in the fight. In the third through the fifth round, Beck took control as he hurt Barrett with hooks to body and head. His hands proved quicker

In the sixth round, Barrett eyes were bloody and the left side of his face swelled from Beck’s constant pressure. Barrett began the round jabbing as he attempted to gain control of the fight. The jab allowed Barrett some space to work his combinations and it reduced Beck pressure. Barrett found a home for his uppercut and he started to use his entire arsenal as he ripped hooks to the body followed by uppercuts and hooks to the head. Beck still found a target for his straight rights and hooks but Barrett punches started to make a statement.

Going into the ninth round, this fight was still anyone’s bout. The judges were of mixed mind as two judges had Barrett ahead whereas one judge rewarded Beck for his body attack with a slight lead. The ninth repeated the pattern of the previous three rounds for the first two minutes as Barrett used his jab to open up space and Beck attacked Barrett body. Then came the last explosion. A Barrett uppercut stopped the charging Beck and a left hook sent Beck reeling into the rope. Barrett unleashed a volley of punches that sent Beck down. Barrett did not allow Beck off as he continued to punish Beck. With less than 20 seconds, Beck hit the canvas for the second and final time.

Beck lost the fight but gained respect. He fought a top-level fighter and he gave a good account of himself. When asked of the fight, Beck quipped, “I didn’t keep my hands up and I went down.” That summed up his failure. As for Barrett, he told reporters afterwards, “Show me the money.” This fight put Barrett back in the championship hunt and his goal is to fight Chris Byrd and the IBF championship. As he joked, “I want to kill two bird with one stone.” Or is it two Byrds with one stone? As for Beck, it is back to the drawing board. No longer protected, Beck showed heart and now he must show the skills. In a depleted heavyweight division, Beck has opportunities and one loss should not end his career. Maybe it will inspire him to train even harder and fight tougher opponents.

Zab Judah walked like a caged cat as he waited for Cory Spinks entry. Spinks entered the ring as he rapped with recording star Nelly. Fernandez whispered to me, “When a fighter comes rapping in the ring, he is going to get whacked.” Spinks looked confident as he walked in the ring. Judah kept pacing and looking in Spinks direction.

The first round set the pace of the fight as Judah pursued. Unlike their first fight, Spinks jab kept falling short as he kept back peddling. Judah moved forward and Spinks counters missed their target. Spinks hit air more than Judah and Spinks fought as if he still remembered the 12th round of their previous round.

Judah had to start quick and he did just that. While Judah rarely hit to the body, he still pressed the action. For the first four rounds, there were few punches thrown with intent but Judah aggressiveness forced Spinks out of his rhythm. In the seventh round, a Judah straight left buckled Spinks as Spinks knee appeared to hit the canvas. The referee ruled it a slip and Spinks avoided a 10-8 round. It also may have been the decisive moment in the fight for Judah sent the message to Spinks; on this night Judah would prove the master.

That one punch showed Spinks that Judah power was ever present. Spinks was losing rounds and coming close to the point of the fight that he had to stand and fight. In one exchange, a Spinks straight right nailed Judah but Judah failed to take a step back. Judah countered with a combination that sent Spinks back.

In the ninth round, Judah ended the fight with a straight left that wobbled Spinks and then Judah threw a combination to send Spinks to the canvas. Shaken, Spinks tried to hold on. Judah wouldn’t allow his prey to get away. As Spinks went wobbly across the ring, Judah followed. It appeared that Judah knew the end was over and hoping the referee would stop the fight before he had to punish Spinks further. One more quick combination and a record 22,370 spectator stood quiet. Other than a few fistfights in the stands, most fans filed out quickly. Their hometown hero was knocked out for the count.

Judah is one of those fighters that greatness had been predicated and last Saturday night; he fulfilled some of those predictions. He came in Spinks hometown and dominated this fight. Now he is the king of the welterweights.

In the post fight interview, Judah stated he wanted De La Hoya. After gaining $100,000 for this fight, Judah wants the big payday and that cash cow is De La Hoya. However there are several obstacles. For one, De La Hoya the businessman will not allow De La Hoya the fighter to sign options with Don King. And Don King is not about to allow one of his champions without some control over the opposition- just in case the opponent wins. So this is not a done deal. There is the question of a third Spinks-Judah fight and with a record breaking 22,370 for an indoor fight in Saint Louis; this makes economic sense. Welterweight champion Jose Rivera’s manager, Tank, was promoting a fight with his fighter and the winner of this bout. This tough Puerto Rico is one of Welterweight best kept secret and as Tank told me, “My fighter is tough, he can knock anyone out.” Judah has options and with De La Hoya coming down to welterweight; the 147-division may be where the action is for 2005. Or at least for big money fights.

As for Saint Louis, big time boxing came back. With Showtime showing the fight across the country, boxing fans saw a great event. With a tough hard fought heavyweight fight between two dogged opponents followed by a virtuoso performance by a young star, this was one of those evenings that make boxing a great sport. As Showtime likes to advertised, this weekend was like what “boxing used to be.”