Cory Spinks can ill-afford another hiccup in his up-and-down career.
The son of the former heavyweight champion, Leon, has shown roughly the same consistency that his father displayed almost 30 years ago. That's when "Neon Leon" won the heavyweight title in his eighth professional fight, against aging legend Muhammad Ali. And though it was obvious that Leon's time at the top would likely be limited, he didn't help himself once he discovered the party scene. A rematch loss to Ali, and a disappointing career followed.
Cory seems a much more stable guy. He never makes headlines outside of the ring. He's always in shape. And, unlike his father, he's a talented boxer who specializes in frustrating his opponents.
His problem is focus – or lack thereof.
Before his rematch with Zab Judah in January 2005, Spinks – as is his custom – danced and boogied his way into the ring, combining with fellow St. Louis alum Nelly to rev up a sold-out Savvis Center in a homecoming spectacular. Exciting the crowd and having some fun isn't a sin, but when it starts to border on the ridiculous, well, then you start to wonder what the guy is thinking.
Didn't anyone learn from "Prince" Naseem Hamed's embarrassment against Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001? That stupid trapeze stunt, and then the Mexican beer that was splashed in his pompous mug?
It was a precursor to a nightmare for the Prince.
Spinks didn't learn from Hamed and, 10 minutes after he started the ring walk, he finally ended it, as a sold-out throng of 22,000 went nuts. Meanwhile, Judah – not exactly known for his humility – stood quietly in his corner and seethed.
It was a fight Spinks was supposed to win. After all, he had beaten Judah fairly easily 10 months earlier. But this Spinks was different. He lacked focus. And he paid for it.
In the seventh round, a charging Judah nailed Spinks with a left hand, and that was the beginning of the end for the "Next Generation." Judah, looking as impressive as he had in an equally inconsistent career, didn't let him off the hook. And the fight was stopped in the ninth.
So did the dancing. And the cheering. At least for that night.
Spinks was on the cusp of some big things – possibly a fight with the elite names of boxing, Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya (unlikely), Fernando Vargas. Instead, he screwed it up. And he had to start all over. All that good work he had done against Ricardo Mayorga and Miguel Angel Gonzalez and Judah the first time was suddenly dismissed and forgotten.
Will history repeat itself Saturday when Spinks meets veteran puncher Rodney Jones in Kissimmee, Fla.?
Spinks has already re-won a world championship since the Judah disaster, beating Roman Karmazin on a decision back in July to win the IBF junior middleweight title. It was Cory's first fight back since the Judah loss, and he looked remarkably sharp, remarkably focused.
Again, he is in a prime position. He is in a potentially lucrative position. He could fight the winner of the May 5 De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather showdown (very likely if Mayweather wins). He could fight the winner of the Feb. 10 Mosley-Luis Collazo fight. Or he could fight the winner of the proposed Vargas-Mayorga scrap.
His options are plentiful.
But if Spinks missteps again, those options will dry up, and the boxing world could well forget about him. He is 28 years old – getting up there for a lighter-weight fighter – and he has been on the championship stage for five years now – since drawing with Michele Piccirillo in 2002. The reflexes won't get any sharper than they are right now. The speed won't get any better than today.
It's time for Cory Spinks to get focused, and take advantage of a tremendous situation.
The window is closing.
And, please, no 10-minute ring walks, please. Save those for clowns like Hamed.
Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?