Last week’s telephone conference call between Cory Spinks and Zab Judah in anticipation of Saturday’s rematch in St. Louis ended in a shouting match.
But it started calmly.
John Beyrooty of Brener Zwikel & Associates served as master of ceremonies and got things going: “We have a great, great fight card on February 5th on Showtime in the main event, a grudge rematch between the undisputed welterweight champion, Cory Spinks, and a former two-time world champion, Zab Judah.”
Beyrooty turned things over to Alan Hopper, head of DKP’s PR, who announced the presence of a surprise guest: “I’d like to introduce the man that put it all together. He’s making a special guest appearance - rare these days ‘cause he’s such a busy guy - but my boss Don King.”
“Thank you Alan and to all the press,” King said. “This is the role model. ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is the theme coming from 1904 when they had the World’s Fair in St. Louis and they had a hundred eighty-seven, eight-hundred or nine-hundred people. We are revisiting ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ bringing the world to St. Louis again in 2005, and we’re bringing millions into St. Louis, valued at new technology that they developed in the prior hundred years.”
Don King tells it like it is and prefers commas to periods: “This is called ‘Arch Rivals’ because the gate rate to St. Louis you have the Great Arch there and the Arch is saying something like, you know, ‘This is the gateway to the west,’ I say, so they came and they rested in St. Louis for a moment of repose and then they ended up with staying there because it’s the best, so we’re gonna bring pure Americana to America and the rest of the world with Spinks and Judah, which is a great, great match for a return match.”
King informed the assembled members of the press that “two high school bands will be welcoming the people . . . They’ll be playing to show the comradery and conviviality that’s gonna take place. This is gonna be like a pep rally for the rest of the country, and taking back, taking off the shackles and fetters of negativity and putting on those of friendship and unanimity.”
Along with the crowd of fight fans hitting St. Louis over the weekend, the promoter enticed a hard-to-get guest to the bout. “I’m inviting Bucky Bush, who is the President’s brother,” King said, “who, as you know, I promote George Walker Bush for four more years and we are elected.”
Alan Hopper had a question for his boss: “Don, real quick, we’ve got the fighters on the phone, but you’ve had an illustrious career, you’re the greatest boxing promoter ever, and maybe you’re the greatest promoter ever. How do you explain, or what does it mean to you, the response that you’ve received in St. Louis? It’s been pretty overwhelming.”
“Yes, it has,” said King. “It’s been super sensational because it’s people power. Because no matter what you say or do, the people is the one that really makes it. You can do anything with public opinion. You can do nothing without it.”
John Beyrooty introduced the other principles, “Zab and Cory and Kevin and Yoel.” He asked Kevin Cunningham, Cory Spinks’ trainer and manager, how things were going.
“Oh, man, things are going great in camp, man. This has been a great camp,” Cunningham said. “We’re ready to go, man. If the fight was tomorrow, we’re ready. We’re ready, man. Cory is ready and he’s prepared to put on a special performance on February the 5th.”
King expressed fond feelings for Kevin Cunningham: “Kevin is the man. And he has a word. And that’s something so rare in this business. Kevin is one of the fantastic-ist guys I’ve ever worked within the business, but it’s a loot thing. It’s a loot thing, and when you get to St. Louis, we make it that way.”
Spinks was asked if he felt any additional pressure performing in front of his hometown fans.
“I’m going into this fight like I’m going into any other fight,” Spinks said, “clearheaded to go into the ring and handle my business.”
Beyrooty turned to Team Judah and asked Yoel Judah, Zab’s father and trainer, about their training camp.
“Everything is going great, man,” he said. “We gotta good camp. We got no complaints. We love St. Louis. And, hey, we look forward to be there. No problem.”
“Zab, how are you doing, man?” asked Beyrooty. “What are you gonna do differently in this fight that you didn’t do in the first fight? Or are you?”
There was a long silence.
“That question’s for Zab.”
There was more silence.
“Zab’s not here right now,” said his dad.
“Where is he, Yoel?”
“He’s not here.”
“All right, well get him.”
That was typical. If ever a sport loved flirting with chaos, that sport is boxing.
Beyrooty asked if there were any questions for Cory Spinks. Scribes from USA Today, St. Louis American and Baltimore Sun lobbed softball questions at Cory, and he lobbed softball answers back.
Zab finally appeared and Beyrooty asked the same question he asked ten minutes earlier when Judah was missing: “Zab, what are you going to do differently this time that you didn’t do first time around? Or what are you going to try to do differently?”
Zab hesitated. “I don’t think that I have to do anything different,” he said. “I just go in there with the same game plan and be myself.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Zab clowned his way to a loss in the first fight with Cory Spinks. For Zab to believe there was nothing he needed to do differently in the rematch seemed like a huge miscalculation - if not flat out denial.
King said “What he want to do different is to win. That’s what he want to do different. In the last one he did what he did but lost. So what he wanna do different is to win.”
A writer from the Associated Press asked Kevin and Cory if they gave any thought about training in St. Louis.
“Never,” Cunningham said.
“Never,” Spinks repeated.
“We don’t even think of nothing like that, man,” Kevin said emphatically. “We don’t train for no fight in St. Louis.”
Cory seconded that emotion: “No matter how small or big it is.”
“And why is that?”
“Let me get this,” Cunningham said to Spinks. “I run a tight ship. You don’t wanna allow any distractions at home around you. Your woman, your boys, your buddies - it’s just all a distraction when you’re trying to focus and get ready for a fight of this magnitude. This fight here is life and death. That’s how we see this fight. You know what I’m saying?”
Cory was asked if Zab is a dangerous opponent.
“Zab is dangerous,” said Spinks. “I mean, it don’t get too much more dangerous.”
Kevin Cunningham said “We’re willing to fight anybody. We’re willing to go up and fight Trinidad. We’re willing to fight Chicken De La Hoya, Sugar Shane Mosley, Floyd ‘Sell No Tickets’ Mayweather. We fight anybody, anywhere, at any time.”
“Say that again though, Kevin,” insisted King. “What did you say? Floyd, Floyd . . . What’s that last part?”
“Floyd ‘Can’t Sell No Tickets’ Mayweather,” Cunningham said.
“Thank you very much,” King said. “I just wanted them all to hear it.”
King has the soul of a salesman and could sell snow to the Eskimos in the dead of winter. If King were promoting Mayweather, they’d be talking about Pretty Boy Floyd in the Oval Office.
The questioning resumed. Robert Morales from the LA Daily News asked Cory a two-part question: What it was like growing up in St. Louis? And what effect did his father, former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks, have on his career?
“The neighborhood I grew up in was terrible. It was killing here, killing there. It was basically all about survival. I’m just happy I survived it,” Spinks said. “As far as my daddy having an impact on my career, my dad had his own life, so I was more close to my mom. My mom was my backbone. But once my mom passed, my daddy started - you know what I’m saying? - playing that dad role, and I just embraced him. He’s a cool guy.”
Don King aimed the spotlight back on Neon Leon’s son: “Cory is now undisputed welterweight champion of the world and this is what makes the difference here, and he’s electric and he’s a ticket seller. But more important than even the tickets - which is vitally important to getting the money - is the conviviality, the comradery, the momentum that you can cut with a knife,” King said, “and the great congregation of people coming together demonstrating what America is truly all about. And this is what’s so fantastic about this sport. Rather than the negativity that we always have to suffer and live with, we’re taking it to a whole new level . . .”
It was my turn to ask two questions. The first was for Yoel Judah: “Just a little earlier Zab said that he doesn’t have to do anything different in this fight, and of course as his father and trainer you must have spoken to him after the loss to Cory Spinks. What did you tell Zab after that fight?”
“I thought he fought a good fight. I thought it was a good fight. I thought if anything the fight should have been a draw,” Yoel Judah said. “But some of the judges didn’t see it the same way. So, you know, that’s the way it goes out. You know what I’m saying? But I know it gonna be a whole different story this fight here.”
“Okay,” I said. “But he’s certainly not going to get the benefit of the doubt from judges in St. Louis.”
“St. Louis don’t have anything to do with the judges,” Judah said.
“So you think he can win a decision?”
Don King had something to say: “If he wins the fight he can win the decision, because you’re gonna have neutral judges that are coming in to judge a fight. They’re not having house judges that are gonna say give the house guy the decision.”
“Let me ask you, Don, while I got you there,” I said. “I know 15,000 seats were sold. You said this was an overwhelming response. And I know it’s in part due to Cory, because he’s like a local phenom, but is it at the same time because St. Louis is a bit of a backwater, relatively speaking, in terms of boxing?”
“What’s the word you say?” asked King.
“Backwater,” someone said.
“I don’t know nothing about any of that,” said the promoter. “All I do know is that in 1904 St. Louis brought the World’s Fair with the fairs from all around the world. Japanese, Germans, Spain, Asian - all of them put up, you know, their displays for their natural country, so in that time we didn’t have television and we didn’t have the type of advanced technology that we have today, where you have satellite broadcasting and it be going out like it is today. So what we’re doing is reduplicating it.”
A writer from the Santa Monica Observer, who had roots in St. Louis, asked Cory where he grew up.
“I grew up in the North Side of St. Louis, the water tower area,” answered Spinks. “I live in St. Charles now. I’m married now, grounded, got a daughter, so I’m not as wild as I used to be when I use to live down in the city.”
Spinks no longer lives in the city, but he still believes in St. Louis. As does Don King.
“Cory Spinks is loyal to St. Louis,” King declared. “You have got great stars that have come to St. Louis, all the people that’s there, you know, that’s been there. You got Maxine Waters, that’s a Representative. She’s been there. William L. Clay, another Representative fighting for civil rights. He’s in Congress right now too. You have Phyllis Diller. You know what I mean? I mean stars that have been the Walk of Stars is great. Bob Costas, who works for another network, he’s there. He was born there in St. Louis . . . All these people that I’m calling for and inviting to ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ who was there, they’ve worked. Angela, Ma, Maya, Angelou, all of them, the great poets and things that were raised in St. Louis. It has a Walk of Fame that’s unprecedented. And I wanna be able to bring in all these people. Agnes Moorehead, who used to be with Barbara Eden. You know they can wave the magic wand and do all that kinda stuff out of St. Louis. Virginia Mayo. You’ve got people that are there that’s, that’s - We’re gonna bring back the ones that are gone . . .”
It was time to wrap things up, so Cory was asked for his final thoughts and predictions.
“I predict that I will win,” he said. “I’m gonna put on the best performance of my life. I guarantee that. I am so prepared for this fight . . . I’m very, very, very focused for this fight, and thrust me, trust me, I’m gonna put on a show.”
Zab was asked the same question and said “I’d like to elaborate on what Cory said in laymen’s terms. What he’s really saying is he’s prepared himself and he’s gonna bring his running shoes to run around the ring to get away from that hard-hitting boy Zab Judah. That’s what he really means to say. No disrespect to Cory Spinks. I like him a lot as a person, but my whole thing is this: I’m here to take. You know what I’m saying? I’m going to his backyard, ‘cause I’m from Brooklyn . . . That’s the way we do it in Brooklyn.”
Kevin Cunningham had heard enough. “You gotta show us that shit,” he said to Zab. “You can’t tell us about it. You gotta show it to us.”
“That’s why I do best,” said Zab. “I show, baby. I show.”
Then the shouting started. Dis went to brag went to boast went to gloat went to swagger went to threat - and all of it was incomprehensible. Zab was screaming into a speaker phone. Kevin was hollering into a cell phone. Beyrooty was trying to calm everyone down. Don was pouring fuel on the fire.
And that was the end of the telephone conference call.
I hope the fight is that entertaining.
Cory Spinks vs. Zab Judah is on SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005. In the co-feature, Owen “What The Heck” Beck faces Monte “Two Gunz” Barrett in a 12-round heavyweight elimination bout. SHOWTIME will televise the doubleheader at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).