Here’s one more reason to attend fights whenever possible rather than sit complacently on a couch feeling satisfied by a medium that tells you to: Delightful spectacles happen at ringside. In January 2011 at Pontiac Silverdome, a decidedly undelightful venue, one such delight happened in the form Cornelius “K9” Bundrage’s copiously furred winter coat draped over its bearer’s impressive shoulders while he circulated press row – its writers all runny noses and doubt – flashing his unforgettable smile and schmoozing and distributing laminated brochures about himself.
Whatever one knew about Bundrage’s fistic rage or justifiable displeasure with then-promoter Don King, who happened to be co-hosting a major card in the IBF light middleweight titlist’s backyard without inviting him to participate, one strained to take Bundrage seriously in that shimmering, furry getup. Which was fine; as Showtime viewers saw in Bundrage’s barking postfight interview, Saturday, “K9” does not take himself too seriously either.
That interview came after Bundrage blitzed and assaulted former world champion Cory Spinks, stopping the son of Leon and nephew of Michael at 2:32 of round 7, after forcing him to the canvas four times with an assortment of blinding and blind overhand rights.
Bundrage pitched the right hand at Spinks in their rematch the same way he threw it in their 2010 match: without regard for anything but ferocity. It was a faithful effort; Bundrage believed, in accordance with very limited evidence, if he stepped outside, removed his eyes and head fully from his target, and sailed the right hand in a wide enough arc, it would devastate Spinks.
It is a task to describe adequately how awful Bundrage’s punching form can be. Usually his overhand right overshoots its mark by being too wide to clip even a target’s far ear or temple. When it scores, it does so by bringing the outside of the knuckle of Bundrage’s right index finger crashing into some part of the left side of an opponent’s face. The “outside of the knuckle of Bundrage’s right index finger,” really, is too charitable by half. It’s the pleated folds of the Grant glove between the V where the thumb breaks from the fist and the small strip of leather that fastens the appendage back on at its thumbnail – that is what crashes against the left side of an opponent’s face.
From there Bundrage’s Sunday punch is mainly muscle. The cuff of his right glove pressed to an opponent’s chin, Bundrage throws the opponent downwards, as his right foot swings over his left like a little-leaguer on a dangling rubber whose lost footing unbalances the follow-through. Often the most devastating part of the Bundrage right hand comes from the blue mat onto which his opponent is tossed. Such was the case, Saturday, when the most concussing blow of Bundrage’s seventh-round barrage came when the apron bounced off the back of Spinks’ head.
But Bundrage, bless his soul, is all fighter. He is not an athlete who nearly got a basketball scholarship and dejectedly followed a friend downstairs after a pickup game, put on a pair of gloves, collected immediate compliments on his hand speed and reflexes and athleticism, and then set about doing his best Roy Jones Jr. impersonation. (Though that does appear to be what Bundrage is after.) Like golfer Lee Trevino imagining his swing on Ben Hogan’s plane, Bundrage looks nothing like RJJ. All the better; he lacks everything a prime Jones had, including an aversion to combat and well-matched opponents.
Jones once peppered a postfight interview with this suspicious and suspiciously delivered suspicion: “Y’all just want to see me bleed.” Bundrage would bleed on-command if asked to. Because any eye can see Bundrage’s formless ferocity, though, those who purport to be experts turn their heads away in disapproval, tacitly implying anyone could do what Bundrage does. That’s wrong.
Bundrage, for all his spread-eagled awkwardness Saturday, consistently placed his lead foot well outside the southpaw Spinks’. Perhaps Bundrage is not in boxing’s doctorate program, but critics must concede he’s well past putting Boxing 101 on his transcript.
Writing of transcripts, does anyone think Manny Steward wants a picture of Bundrage on his hall-of-fame-trainer résumé? One imagines Steward watching Bundrage spar fellow Kronk Boxing Gym standout Andy Lee and wondering what other marvels life might bring. How the hell did these two end up apprenticing in the same studio? Steward is among boxing’s great trainers because he is offense-oriented, and boxing, when done properly, is too. That much Steward must love deeply about Bundrage; “K9” never needs to be peptalked with a street poem about an opponent’s trying to steal food from his family.
“K9” already takes punches so personally the only enemy to the fight in that dog is fatigue, which is Bundrage’s great affliction of course. One doesn’t wear Bundrage’s short, tight musculature, and keep it tensed at all times, without dropping his jaw to suck breath, as Bundrage does early and often.
If Saturday’s card, opened by effectively undefeated Cuban southpaw Erislandy Lara and closed by Detroit’s Cornelius Bundrage, was a casting call for Mexican Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s next supporting actor, it was a failure. Neither Lara, “age 29,” nor Bundrage, age 39, should be allowed the unconscionable leap from ShoBox: The New Generation to pay-per-view main event. But if Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime do make plans for hara-kiri on Sept. 15, Bundrage-Lara could make an excellent co-main.
Lara, who has every boxing tool, often fights reluctantly, and fights not at all once an opponent gets inside his punches. Bundrage, whose toolbox comprises only a piece of jab and a stub of cross tossed carelessly on a bed of befuddlement and fierceness, wants nothing but to fight. Let Lara try that no-hand head-butt trick on “K9,” and watch what chaos ensues. There are worse ways to spend an undercard, no?
Bart Barry can be reached at bart.barrys.email (at) gmail.com