MASHANTUCKET, Conn. – With two rounds to go, Joey Spina not only looked to be on the way to his first defeat, but as if he’d have find a new nickname as well.

Spina bills himself as “The KO Kid,” but two of his past three fights had gone the distance, and according to most neutral eyewitnesses he should have lost at least one of those.

Now, with six minutes to box he was critically behind on all three scorecards (by four, four, and two points) and on his way to losing to “Contender” alumnus Jesse Brinkley in the main event of Jimmy Burchfield’s ESPN2 card Wednesday night at Foxwoods.

The bout turned on a single punch, a sweeping left hook to the body that caught Brinkley right along the beltline. The “Contender” semifinalist swooned as if he’d been hit by bad ratings.

Clearly damaged by the body shot, Brinkley reeled across the ring with Spina in hot pursuit before taking refuge from the inevitable onslaught by dropping to a knee in his corner.

Brinkley wearily rose at the count of eight, but when Spina resumed the attack, Brinkley couldn’t ward him off, leading referee Mike Ortega to halt the bout at 1:50 of the 11th.

“Every time I’d go back to the corner Eddie (Mustafa Muhammad) was telling me ‘Son, go to the belly,’ reported Spina, who finally took the advice.

The outcome represented a sudden reversal of fortune that was as shocking to Brinkley as it was to the Foxwoods crowd. (Although he was fighting close to his home turf, Spina’s fans didn’t exactly dominate the audience; Brinkley presumably picked up some supporters over the course of last year’s television run.)

Brinkley’s chief second Miguel Diaz said of the telling blow “To me, it looked low,” and Brinkley certainly reacted as if it had been.

“Fudge, I don’t know,” said Brinkley on his way out of the ring. “I can’t believe I lost.”

Once he had recovered, though, the defeated Brinkley conceded that “there was no low blow. It was a good, clean shot. I was just taking it for granted in the later rounds, and I got sloppy. The better man won.”

“He caught him in the ribs. It wasn’t low,” said Peter Manfredo Sr. (In an ironic twist, Spina, the Providence fighter, had Las Vegas-based Mustafa Muhammad working his corner, while Brinkley, a native Nevadan, had a Rhode Island trainer in his.)

“But what’s the difference?” pointed out Manfredo pere. “Neither one of ‘em is going anywhere anyway.”

Spina, whose record went to 18-0-1 with the win, said that he had gone into the bout with a broken hand.

“When we went to see the doctor in Vegas I learned I had a fractured left hand,” said the winner, “but this was my time, so I sucked it up and didn’t pull out.”

It was the fourth loss for Brinkley, now 26-4, but the first in nearly eight years that didn’t come in a made-for-TV fight.

If neither Spina nor Brinkley exactly looked prepared to claim a place on the world stage on this night, another Providence fighter, cruiserweight Matt Godfrey, gave every indication that he may be ready to make some noise in his chosen division. Godfrey remained unbeaten at 12-0 with a first-round TKO over Shaun George, who had come into last night’s co-feature unbeaten in a dozen fights.

Working behind a good jab and appearing to effect some damage when he banged Godfrey with a left to the body during a clinch, George had the better of it for two minutes before the roof caved in. Then Godfrey smacked him with a crisp right hand that sent him down, and while he made it to his feet by the time referee Dick Flaherty reached ‘eight,’ it was plain when action resumed that George was still hurt.

Defenseless, he cowered in a neutral corner while Godfrey landed a succession of unanswered blows. When two successive Godfrey rights crashed off George’s unprotected head, Flaherty had seen enough, and stopped it at 2:21.

“When I was in the neutral corner after the knockdown I could look at him and see he was hurt,” said Godfrey. “Watching tape of Shawn George, we knew he had confidence issues once he gets hit, and I knew then it was just a matter of time.”

Although George promoter Lou Duva was exercised over what he considered Flaherty’s premature intervention, Duva’s son-in-law, trainer Tommy Brooks, had no problem with the stoppage.

“None at all,” said Brooks. “I’ve been telling [George] all through training camp he had to keep his hands up because Godfrey would be throwing right hands.”

“He was throwing a lot of jabs, but barely touching me with them,” reported Godfrey. “I waited him to actually commit to the jab, and when he did he pulled it back a little low and I threw the right hand over it. He got careless and gave me an opportunity, and I took advantage of it.”

“What the heck?” shrugged Tommy Brooks. “You can’t fight the fights for them.”

Godfrey wasn’t at all surprised by the stoppage.

“I was mildly surprised that they even let it continue after the knockdown,” he said. “This is a pretty tough commission when it comes to safety.”

The bout, which unified two titles you’ve probably never heard of, had been scheduled for 12 rounds. For what it’s worth, Godfrey retained something called the USNBC belt, and added George’s NABA title for good measure.  With his first loss, George fell to 11-1-2.

Manchester (Conn.) junior lightweight Matt Remillard and his imported Ohio opponent Leo Martinez traded leather for six nonstop rounds, with Remillard prevailing on a unanimous decision. Remillard won by scores of 59-55 (Don O’Neill) and 58-56 (Glenn Feldman and Don Ackermann) twice. Remillard is now 8-0, Martinez 8-8, but off his excellent night’s work here we can’t help but be curious about other seven guys who beat him. They must be some fighters.

Las Vegas-domiciled Cleveland cruiserweight Aaron Williams (8-0-1) made short work of his North Carolina foe Lloyd Wilson (3-4), scoring a quick TKO at 1:52 of the first.

A Williams right had already dropped Wilson early in the round, and as Williams closed in on his wounded quarry he landed to quick lefts and a right that snapped his head back. Referee Mike Ortega was already in the process of waving the bout off when Wilson, in a delayed reaction, staggered and then fell over backward.

Tony Grano, who won the heavyweight title in last year’s US Boxing Championships in Colorado Springs, improved to 4-0 with four knockouts as a pro when he whacked out his willing Mississippi opponent Mike (The Hammer) Jones. Jones (2-5) performed creditably for the four minutes the fight lasted, but in the second round Grano caught him with a short, clubbing right hand and The Hammer couldn’t make Charlie Dwyer’s ten-count.

In the walk-out bout, New Haven super-middle Elvin Ayala (14-0) tuned up for next month’s headline appearance at the neighboring Mohegan Sun with a 4th-round TKO over 41-year-old former world title challenger Virgil McClendon (22-9). The end came when Flaherty rescued McClendon, who had been down earlier from an Ayala right, at 1:50 of the round.

ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas arrived early for Wednesday night’s show, and was autographing copies of his new book, “From the Streets to the Ring” for a long line of eager customers… Newly-crowned WBA junior middle champion Jose Rivera was on hand and introduced from the ring.

New England fight fans were excited to learn that the area’s two best light-heavyweights, Chad Dawson and Eric Harding, will be facing one another on ShoBox next month, but none too pleased that the June 2 fight for local supremacy will take place not in either of the Connecticut casinos, nor in New Haven (Dawson’s hometown) or Hartford (Harding’s), but at a tribal casino in California. Money talks, apparently: the six-figure site fee promoter Gary Shaw was offered by the Chumash Resort apparently trumped anything on the table in New England.

Burchfield plans a pro/am card next Thursday night (May 18) at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, the main event of which could well eliminate one of his drawing cards: Cranston’s Missy Fiorentino will challenge for Jaime Clampitt’s IBWF lightweight title. Fiorentino is a popular local with a substantial following, while Clampitt, who relocated to Narragansett (RI) from here native Canada several years ago, is the wife of CES matchmaker Ted Panagiotis.

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May 10, 2006

CRUISERWEIGHTS: Matt Godfrey, 194, Providence, RI TKO’d Shaun George, 192, Brooklyn, NY (1)

Aaron Williams, 194, Cleveland, Ohio TKO’d Lloyd Wilson, 190, Winston-Salem, NC (1)

HEAVYWEIGHTS: Tony Grano, 215, Hebron, Conn. KO’d Mike Jones, 246, Jackson, Miss. (2)

SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Joey Spina, 167, Providence, RI TKO’d Jesse Brinkley, 166, Yerington, Nev. (11)

Elvin Ayala, 168, New Haven, Conn. TKO’d Virgil McClendon, 167, Columbus, Ohio (4)
JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS: Matt Remillard, 128½, Manchester, Conn. dec. Leo Martinez, 132½, Columbus, Ohio (6)