King TV lacks Leon

Mar 25, 2008 6:00 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz | A few days before his (and mine) beloved St. Louis Cardinals open their season, Cory (The Next Generation) Spinks will open Don King’s latest plaything against someone who in fact has roots in his father’s generation.

Verno Phillips turned pro in 1988, 10 years after Cory’s father upset Muhammad Ali and managed to get in 25 fights before Neon Leon finally retired. At 39, and idle for 13 months, Phillips is probably not the toughest test for Cory Spinks. That’s why promoter Don King is unable to sell this apparent mismatch to even the Food Channel.

Instead, he will stick it live as part of the inaugural show on

St. Louis will be blacked out. The four-hour telecast, to be graced by the dulcet tones of boxing’s best blow-by-blow man, Col. Bob Sheridan, will begin at 5 p.m. on the Left Coast. The card will also feature Cory Spinks’s protégé, a well-schooled undefeated welterweight, Devon Alexander, against a tough stepup, Miguel Callist.

The only "action" is on the main event, where the southpaw stylist is anywhere from a 5-1 to 7-1 favorite in defense of his real and IBF junior middleweight championships. He is probably worth it considering the volatile nature of Wall Street.

This is no knock on Phillips, one of those unsung marvels who plods along agelessly. Three times (if one counts the World Boxing Union, which one should not), he has held junior middleweight titles. He’s been in with the 154-pound division’s best, from Julio Cesar Vasquez to Kassim Ouma, including such as Julian Jackson, Gianfranco Rosi, Bronco McKart and Ike Quartey.

The man knows how to fight, but he is not a big puncher and no longer the swiftest of warriors. Spinks, at 29, should be able to control the action easily and, with the crowd surely behind him (he’ll probably wear an Albert Pujols T-shirt into the ring), that means stifling the action.

It’s how he fared so well in his last start, against then undisputed middleweight king Jermain Taylor. CAVEAT: That was last May. Since then, Cory has dumped his long-time local trainer, Kevin Cunningham. However, he’s been working with Kenny Adams lately.

In any case, at this stage of his career, he’s 36-4. There isn’t much you can teach this Spinks about boxing.

Against Taylor, much bigger and stronger than Phillips, Spinks was able to dart in and out, land quick combinations and escape. It made for a dull fight, yes, but it was his best chance and I thought he deserved at least a draw. He did manage to garner favor on one official scorecard to drop a split decision.

He talks a good game. At the St. Louis press conference, he asked for a moment of silence for Phillips’s career, causing the challenger to hop up and reply, "Nobody’s taken my heart away in my career and Cory Spinks isn’t going to do that. You don’t punch. Don’t run and hide. Come to fight."

Spinks is too smart to be talked into a battle. He is the consummate boxer, the guy who exposed Ricardo Mayorga.

Spinks defended his title successfully against the multi-talented Zab Judah. After getting stopped by Judah in their rematch, he moved up and dethroned Roman Karmazin, who beat Ouma.

But outside of Cardinal fans, Spinks is an acquired taste. TV is reluctant to mar its pristine image with an advocate of self-defense.

It is a shame, of course. Spinks deserves better matches, though Phillips is somehow the IBF mandatory so he has to be fought. The 154-pound division is in a down period, awaiting the eventual growth of all those wonderfully talented welterweights.

Soon Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Kevin Cintron, Paul Williams and friends will have no choice but to seek Spinks. For now, he can amuse himself at King press shows. Someone has to.