Best I Faced: Cory Spinks
From the beginning, Cory Spinks had big shoes to fill. His father Leon and uncle Michael had won heavyweight titles in the 1980s. Those were always going to be hard acts to follow but, to his credit, Cory continued the family dynasty between 2003 and 2009, unifying the welterweight division and twice winning the IBF junior middleweight title.
He was born Cory Calvin in St. Louis, Missouri, on Feb. 20, 1978. He was the youngest of five children. His parents were separated before he can remember.
“I had my mom’s maiden name, which was Calvin, but everyone knew Leon was my dad,” Spinks told RingTV.com. “I was under my mom most of the time; my parents were separated, so I really didn’t see my dad. My older brothers always went to his house and come back talking about his bodyguard – his bodyguard was Mr. T – they come back telling me all this stuff.
“I was under my mom at the time. A lot of people think I got my toughness from my dad. No, my mom was that one. She was a sweet woman but I lost her at the age of 21; that’s where I got my strength from.”
Understandably, boxing was instilled in him from a young age – though not through his father or uncle. His three brothers all boxed and took young Cory to the gym when he was six. He spent a lot of time around the gym while his brothers trained under Charlie Ham’s guidance. Ham would always ask Cory, “When are you going to come and box for me?” When Spinks turned nine, he took up amateur boxing.
Spinks says his father didn’t really have much to do with him until he was 13.
“We didn’t make that bond until my brother Leon Jr. had got killed and then my mom passed away and my dad stepped in to be a parent,” he explained. “We developed a relationship and I see where I get a lot of my ways from.”
When Spinks was 14, he quit boxing for three years because his brother and friend passed. He returned with instant success.
“I didn’t lose. As soon as I came back, it was the Golden Gloves,” he recalled. “I got ‘Outstanding Boxer’ in St. Louis. I went to the Nationals; I was the only one from St. Louis to win out and, then, next tournament was the PAL and it happened this fast.
“After the Golden Gloves, Top Rank (Promotions) sent the agent down to watch me at the PAL. He couldn’t stay the whole tournament but he heard I won the whole tournament – beating U.S. Olympic representative Dante Craig – and I went pro.”
Spinks would have liked to have represented his country at the Olympics but his daughter was born and he had other responsibilities. He left the amateur ranks with over 300 fights, losing just 10.
In the fall of 1997, months shy of his 20th birthday, Spinks debuted as a 140-pounder in his home state of Missouri, winning a four-round decision.
Spinks was very active over the first year of his pro career – going 13-0 – and witnessed the more experienced Antonio Diaz fight on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez II.
“I saw him fight and I was like, ‘I can beat that guy,'” he said of the bold move. “We asked for the fight but they said the only way they’d fight us was if they fight us in his backyard. I said, ‘I don’t care.’ I had only fought (the six-round limit twice) before but you couldn’t tell. It was a learning experience, learning how to adjust how to go all them rounds and change different gameplans as the fight goes on. You do get tired within them 12-rounds; you just have a second wind.”
Although Spinks dropped a split decision, it was a valuable lesson that locked him in good stead for the rest of his career.
Over the next three years, he continued to progress as a fighter, winning 16 consecutive fights, while gradually moving to welterweight, winning the USBA title, with which he earned the mandatory spot with the IBF.
Vernon Forrest abdicated his throne to face WBC titleholder Shane Mosley, leaving the IBF belt vacant. In the spring of 2002, Spinks headed to Italy and fought local Michele Piccirillo.
At the conclusion of the fight, it appeared Spinks had done enough to win the title. However, he was denied by split decision. It was a definite low point in his career.
“I won that fight but you know how sometimes the ball bounces,” he said defiantly. “The fight wasn’t shown over here and they stole it from me.”
Things worked themselves out, he signed with Don King and fought an interim bout in Florida before dusting off his passport and traveling back to Italy. This time he wouldn’t be denied: “I went back over there and kicked this dudes ass like I did the first time but came back with the belt.”
In his next fight, he met Ricardo Mayorga to unify his IBF belt with the wild Nicaraguan’s WBA and WBC titles.
Spinks took training very seriously. Before his own training camp, he headed up to Big Bear, California, for two months to help prepare Diego Corrales for his upcoming fight with Joel Casamayor. It helped, getting away from the comforts of home to focus his mind for what lay ahead.
He flew home spent the weekend with his family and then decamped to Las Vegas.
“I was already in tremendous shape. I had one sparring partner for Mayorga, the whole camp, which was two months,” he explained. “Mayorga said some things he shouldn’t have said about my mom at the press conference. We almost got into it, so we couldn’t even pose for the pictures for the fight because of what he said; I was so mad.
“I came in way underweight. I felt terrific. I ate before the weight in and I was still on weight. I knew I was gonna have a good night. I felt terrific. I wasn’t worried about the tactics Mayorga used to get you to really street-fight with him. I kept my cool and boxed him to death and came up with the victory.”
In front of a star studded crowd, Spinks was awarded a majority decision, also winning THE RING magazine title in the process.
He followed that by besting Zab Judah and Miguel Angel Gonzalez in title defenses in Las Vegas in 2004.
For the first time in several years, Spinks was scheduled to fight in St. Louis, in February of 2005. King matched Spinks and Judah in a rematch in front of 22,000 fans for his homecoming. It wasn’t a successful one. Judah’s power told and, as the fight wore on, he took control and stopped Spinks in the ninth round.
Despite the loss, Spinks was, and remains, content with what he achieved that evening.
“It was a dream of mine to defend the world title in my hometown,” he said proudly. “I didn’t care what happened, at that moment; my dream has been fulfilled. I’m defending all three titles in my hometown. Nothing couldn’t bring me down that day, a loss or a win. I was happy. Right after the fight, I went out to celebrate with my hometown, just like nothing happened.”
Spinks was inactive for 17 months, for a myriad of reasons. When he returned, he enticed another bumper crowd in his hometown to watch him face IBF junior middleweight titlist Roman Karmazin.
On this occasion, Spinks wouldn’t leave his fans disappointed, claiming the title by majority decision in close-fought, cat-and-mouse encounter.
After one successful defense, he made the bold move to step up to middleweight, where he faced middleweight boss Jermain Taylor. The two had known each other since childhood.
“Nobody would fight him and nobody would fight me, so, when I was asked if I’d go up and fight Jermain, I said, ‘Why not?,'” he said of the bold move. “He’s a big middleweight. I didn’t care. I have the mentality of the old fighters, like (Sugar) Ray Leonard, (Thomas) Hearns, (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler, how they fought each other with no thought. That’s how I look at it: Whoever’s night it is is whoever’s night it is. I’m ready to throwdown. I’m a prizefighter. I dared to be great.”
Spinks used his movement and awkward southpaw style to befuddle the champion. It wasn’t quite enough, despite some believing Spinks deserved the decision; he lost a split decision.
The St. Louis native dropped back down to junior middleweight and, as a 7-1 favorite, lost another controversial decision, this time to Verno Phillips.
Phillips vacated to face Paul Williams later that year, leaving the title unoccupied. After 13 months, Spinks and fellow St. Louis native DeAndre Latimore met for local bragging rights. Spinks won a split decision to regain his belt but would again drop the title – looking a shell of his former self – he was stopped in five rounds by Cornelius Bundrage.
Spinks fought four more times, going 2-2, including a second bout against Bundrage, in which he was again stopped, this time in seven.
After dropping a wide points decision to Carlos Molina in an IBF title eliminator in early-2013, Spinks decided to step away from life as an active fighter with a record of 39-8 (11 knockouts).
“Every career comes to and end and my reflexes weren’t what they were but it was time to hang ’em up. I was starting to feel pain nowhere you could get hit. I was aching and I thought, ‘I’m done. I can’t do it.'”
Looking back on his career, Spinks is largely happy with his achievements and whom he fought but there is one person – who also has a similar impressive family lineage – he’d have liked to have met.
“I wanted to fight Floyd (Mayweather Jr.). We almost came to a deal after the first Zab (Judah) fight but it didn’t happen,” he explained. “I flew to New York and signed a contract but, instead of fighting me, he fought (Carlos) Baldomir. I thought it was going to happen. A chess match of two great defensive fighters, I think it would have been exciting.”
Spinks, now 39, is married to Christie and has three children. He relocated to Florida several years ago and works as a personal trainer in Boca Raton, where he helps adults and children stay fit. He maintains a good relationship with both his father and uncle and speaks to each regularly.
He graciously took time to speak to RingTV.com about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Jermain Taylor: I would say the person that had the best jab was Michele Piccirillo…no, let me take that back: Jermain Taylor. Jermain Taylor had the best jab. You could tell he worked on it a lot and he used it to set up everything, so I had to basically try to take his jab from him. Piccirillo, he had a nice snapping jab. It was like a herky-jerky jab but it was a good jab.
Zab Judah: I would say Zab because we were both skillful southpaws and I had to adjust and deal with his defense. He had a pretty cool defense. It wasn’t that easy to hit him.
Judah: It goes again to Zab. Zab had the fastest hands; I would give that to him. That was one of his attributes; he had fast hands and a little pop.
Judah: I didn’t fight too many people that had just as fast a hand and foot speed as me, so it has to go to Zab.
Miguel Angel Gonzalez: Rafael Pineda, I hit him and nothing (laughs). I was heavy and I kind of underestimated him and didn’t train as hard as I possibly could. When I got in there, I wished I did (Laughs), very good chin, strong body. I made it through that one but it was tough. I hit him with everything and he wouldn’t stop coming. He fought one of my idols, Pernell (Whitaker) and that got me a little pumped but he wouldn’t budge.
I hit Miguel Angel Gonzalez with everything but he wouldn’t go nowhere. I would say he had the best chin because I sat down on a lot of shots and he did not go anywhere. He didn’t take a foot back or anything; I give that to him. Mayorga had a decent chin when he wanted and wasn’t acting silly but I would say Miguel Angel Gonzalez got him though.
Judah: I really didn’t fight a person who made me do things they wanted me to do because I was a smart boxer. At first I thought Zab was. He was a smart fighter at that time, at the top of his game and we had two wars.
Ricardo Mayorga: He was very strong,. A lot of his punches weren’t straight. He packed a mean punch. I was in tremendous shape but I could tell when I clinched with him, I could tell he was probably the strongest person I fought.
Mayorga: I weaved some of them punches and I swear I heard a whistle. He can punch.
Miguel Angel Gonzalez: He had smart tactics to fight a southpaw but he was an older fighter but I could tell he did his homework and he came with a gameplan and he tried to execute it but I was being a little hard-headed, at the time.
Taylor: That’s a toughie. I would have to say the ones that accomplished the most, Mayorga, Jermain Taylor, Zab and Miguel Angel Gonzalez. I would say Jermain Taylor. He knew what was his best and he used it to win the fights and that’s his jab. He had a terrific trainer; Emanuel Steward taught him how to use it even better and he perfected it and it made it real tough to get past his jab.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him at www.twitter.com/AnsonWainwright
Struggling to locate a copy of THE RING magazine? Try here or…
You can subscribe to the print and digital editions of THE RING magazine by clicking the banner or here. You can also order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page. On the cover this month: THE RING 2016 Fighter of the Year, Carl Frampton.