Latimore ready to make name
Deandre Latimore believes the 154-pound division is potentially the most competitive in the sport, and the 23-year-old junior middleweight prospect may have a point.
Even if undefeated contender James Kirkland’s recent legal troubles removes him from the 154-pound scene, the division is still home to skilled veteran titleholders like Vernon Forrest and Daniel Santos, dangerous contenders like Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez, and talented up-and-comers like Alfred Angulo and Vanes Martirosyan.
Latimore (19-1, 16 knockouts) will become a prominent junior middleweight player if he beats former welterweight champ Cory Spinks (36-5, 11 KOs) in their Showtime-televised (11 p.m. ET/PT, 10 p.m. CT, delayed on the West Coast) bout from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. this Friday.
A victory over his fellow St. Louis native will earn Latimore the vacant IBF 154-pound title, instantly elevate him from prospect to bona fide contender and add his name to the junior middleweight mix.
“Junior middleweight should be considered the best division in boxing,” Latimore said. “I think all the good young fighters coming up right now fight in and around that division. Some dangerous older fighters, like Spinks, Verno Phillips and Vernon Forrest also fight there, but fighters like me, Paul Williams and James Kirkland are the new generation. If we win world titles and fight each other, fans will want to see that.”
Before fans see any major matchups involving Latimore, he has to prove himself against Spinks, who represents a big step up in competition.
The only other quality names on Latimore’s resume are Ian Gardner, who knocked him out in three rounds in January of 2007, and Sechew Powell, who he knocked out last June to earn his shot at the vacant IBF belt.
However, between those fights, Latimore evolved from a southpaw brawler who fought in the style of his nickname, “The Bull,” to a poised-but-aggressive boxer-puncher. He did so under the guidance of veteran trainer Ken Adams.
“Deandre came to me right after his loss to Ian Gardner,” said Adams, head coach of the 1988 U.S. Olympic squad and trainer of many professional world titleholders. “Back then he was mostly a slugger, a strong kid who winged a lot of right hooks but didn’t have a straight left or much of a jab. He would just fight, period, that’s all. He tried to overpower everyone until Gardener got him.”
That loss humbled Latimore to the point that he was willing to do whatever it took to improve his defensive skills.
Adams, a Missouri native, was happy to impart his wisdom.
“Training Deandre is a joy because he works hard all the time, and unlike another hard-punching left hander, he listens to me,” Adams said, referring to Edwin Valero, the lightweight KO artist who recently left him to train with Robert Alcazar. “Unlike Edwin, Deandre allowed me to take what he had and take it to the next level. I’ve had a lot of fighters that I’ve molded over the years, but Deandre’s probably taken to my instructions the most.”
Following his loss to Gardner, Latimore won seven fights (five by KO) with Adams in his corner. When he faced Powell, in an ESPN2-televised bout, the New Yorker was ranked No. 1 by the IBF.
“I brought Gardner into our camp when we were preparing for Powell,” Adams said. “I wanted Deandre to work on his defense, but I also wanted to help his confidence. Doing well against Gardner in sparring let him know how far he had come. The first time they sparred, Ian may have gotten the better of him, but the second time it was more even, and after that Deandre was too much for him.”
Latimore was too much for Powell as well, but can he corner and catch the ultra-slick and savvy Spinks? Adams thinks so.
“Deandre has a jab now, and I keep him working it,” he said. “I’ve added a straight left to his arsenal and I’ve got him working combinations, not just two punches at a time, but three and four at a time, along with good foot movement. He’s learning how to cut the ring off, which will be the key to victory.
“I used to train Cory Spinks, so I know how to catch him. I told him at the press conference that I love him to death, but to paraphrase General Colin Powell during the Gulf War, I told him that we're gonna cut him off and kill him. The right hook could be the key. We will utilize the jab, keep Cory on the move, let him get comfortable for a round or two, move him to the right, and then I’ll tell Deandre to ‘Kill it!’ between rounds and that should be it.”
Adams, the former head coach of the U.S. Army’s boxing team, sounds rather harsh at times. Latimore isn’t quite as militaristic as his trainer when he talks about Spinks.
An amateur standout from North St. Louis who started boxing when he was 8, Latimore says he used to idolize Spinks, the son of 1976 Olympic gold medalist and former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks.
“I still look up to him,” he said, “it’s just my time to shine. I beat the No. 1 contender in the IBF, and it’s my time to get the title.
“It will be a privilege to be in the ring with someone who has won as many world titles as Spinks. I’m trying to do what he did, but it starts with beating him.”
Latimore admits that it won’t be easy, but he’s confident that he knows how to take the next step in his career.
“Spinks is still slick and fast,” he said, “he’s still dangerous but I’m going to make him fight my fight. I’m going to keep the pressure on him. I won’t let him get confident, or let him get set; I’ll make him fight at my pace.
“I’m ready to get it. Come this time next week, I’ll have that world title.”
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]