Junior middleweight titleholder Cornelius Bundrage spoke with RingTV.com about having signed with Golden Boy in October, his break-up with late former manager Emanuel “Manny” Steward and his feelings heading into the Feb. 23 defense of his IBF belt against veteran Ishe Smith on Showtime in his native Detroit.
Coming off June’s Showtime-televised seventh-round stoppage of Cory Spinks, whom he originally dethroned by fifth-round stoppage in August of 2010, Bundrage (32-4, 19 knockouts) claimed in April that his contracts with both Steward and former promoter Don King had expired.
Bundrage signed with Golden Boy in early October, a few weeks prior to the death of Steward at age 68 on Oct. 25, with Bundrage and the legendary trainer providing different reasons for why they ended their nearly three-year-long relationship.
Steward cited what he considered to be Bundrage’s unprofessional behavior after the victory over Spinks failed to earn him a coveted shot at WBC counterpart Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 KOs).
Steward said Bundrage showed no gratitude to either him or Golden Boy Promotions, the latter of which won the purse bid to promote Bundrage-Spinks and positioned the Detroit-based 39-year-old for consideration against Alvarez.
Steward said that Bundrage had orally committed himself to fight for Golden Boy prior to facing Spinks, but then, backed off of that agreement after winning the bout.
A free agent, Bundrage said he was approached by other promoters, including the now-defunct The Money Team (TMT Promotions), which was to be formed by recording artist 50 Cent and fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Although he said that he has since made peace with the situation through an acquaintance of Steward, Bundrage explained, at the time that there were no “hard feelings between myself and Emanuel Steward, because I really do appreciate everything that Emanuel Steward did for me.”
“I’ve definitely got love for the Kronk Gym and the Kronk fighters,” said Bundrage, referring to Steward’s famed Detroit-based training facility.
“But at 39 years old, it’s time for me to make the best decision for me and my family. Emanuel, we didn’t sit down and talk about no signing bonus or nothing. It’s just time to move on.”
Bundrage said that his relationship with Steward took root when his 12th fight — only his third outside of Michigan — resulted in his first-ever flight on an airplane.
It was Steward who positioned Bundrage for a unanimous decision in Memphis, Tenn., over Anthony Bowman, which improved him to 12-0 with five knockouts on the undercard of Lennox Lewis’ stoppage victory over Mike Tyson in June of 2002.
Bundrage shared his thoughts about facing Smith (24-5, 11 KOs) as well as all of the above during this Q&A:
RingTV.com: What has motivated you to devote so much to your physical conditioning as you seem to (despite age and inactivity)?
Cornelius Bundrage: Really, to me, it’s not about the age, I just want to be the best, and I want to be known as the best, and I want everybody to look at me and to say, “Man, this guy ain’t no joke.”
You know, whether or not they see how old I am, or I just want to gain their respect and I just want to be known as the best. I don’t know any fighter who wants to lose.
If I’m going to be in the game, whether I’m 50 years old, I want to be the best. I don’t want to be in it if I can’t compete.
I feel like no matter what age I am, and no matter how old I am, I want to be able to compete. So I’m competing and I am one of the best, because I’m the champ of the world.
CB: I chose him. Floyd Mayweather didn’t have anything to do with me choosing this fight. I gave Ishe Smith the title shot.
So he should give the champ more respect than he’s giving me, because if it wasn’t for me giving him this fight, he would still be on ESPN2.
For me, to be honest, all of my fights are tough fights. They realize that to beat me, it’s a big thing. Ishe Smith is no exception. I’m not looking past Ishe Smith.
Even thought he’s gone on all of the Twitter pages and on the internet and all of this stuff, he stands for boxing and I stand for boxing. I look at him as a good fighter.
But I wouldn’t have picked him if I didn’t think that I could beat him. I’m up for the challenge, whether they say he’s got a good chance to win, or whether they say it should be an easy fight. I’m ready for whatever.
RingTV.com: Are you happy with the fact that you have this fight coming up against Ishe Smith, or are you disappointed that it is not a bigger fight?
CB: You know what? This fight with Ishe Smith is actually a very big fight because it’s in my city, so this is a fight a fight that, for me, is as big as one with Canelo or even Floyd Mayweather.
This is a big fight for me because it’s in my home town and in my city where I grew up. My city is struggling really badly.
So for me to be able to bring money into the economy in Detroit, where there are areas of Detroit that are struggling like Africa? There are some really, really bad areas over here.
People are not getting no money, there are not jobs, the crime rate is so high, you know? I want to be a part of bringing smiles back into people’s lives and I want people to be excited and to be happy.
So it’s a very big fight for me. And I chose Ishe Smith. The arena that we could be fighting in, the Joe Louis Arena, that’s the great Joe Louis.
The Joe Louis Arena is dead right now. The hockey town is in shock because Red Wings are on strike right now. There are no hockey players playing hockey, so the Joe Louis Arena is dead right now.
So for me to bring hockey to the Joe Louis Arena and to wake the Joe Louis Arena back up, that’s going to be a really great thing.
The Detroit Lions, they just lost. The Detroit Tigers didn’t win the world series. So I’m boxing to put smiles on people’s faces. This is going to be real big.
RingTV.com: How big was the second win over Spinks to your career?
CB: When I won that fight over Corey Spinks, it kind of woke me up from the dead. People started to say, “K-9 this,” and, “K-9 that.”
Beating Corey Spinks, man, everybody and their momma started calling me. 50 Cent started calling me, wanting me to be on The Money Team.
So to be fighting on Showtime, all I’ve got to do is to go out there and to handle my business and to do what I do best, and just let God handle the rest.
RingTV.com: Are you happy with your new Golden Boy deal?
CB: I’m going to be satisfied with what Golden Boy has to offer if they get me the fight with either Floyd Mayweather or Canelo.
Because, being a world champion, I was able to get the fight with Ishe Smith. I could have gotten that without a promoter. I don’t think I could have gotten it on Showtime.
But then again, if they can’t get me the big fight, the one that I deserve, being a world champion, and having proven myself. I deserve to fight the Canelos and the Mayweathers of the world.
RingTV.com: Do your personal struggles in any way parallel or equate symbolically with some of your Detroit natives?
CB: Let me tell you something, man. I grew up right down the street from the great Kronk Gym. I mean, that’s where Tommy Hearns fought at, and where Emanuel Steward trained other great fighers out of.
It’s a gym that everyone knows about. See, I’m a real Kronk fighter. I was a Kronk fighter before the Kronk became The Kronk. I stayed down the street from The Kronk. I lived right near The Kronk.
CB: Well I have memories of them bringing eight, nine and 10 bodies out of buildings when I was like four and five years old. I was there when my auntie was run over in the street.
A van ran over her head. So I’ve been through the struggles, and I’ve seen the struggles. I’ve been round the killings and all of that.
So when my town was going through, and what Detroit is going through, I’ve been there and done that a long time ago. I feel like I’m a product of what’s going on right here and right now.
So anything that I can do to help my city, and to help my economy, you know, I’m willing to do it. So that’s how come it’s so important to me to be helping the economy and to be bringing a fight to Detroit.
RingTV.com: Can you talk about how your relationship with Manny Steward?
CB: Well, I will say this much, that if he hadn’t passed, that he would be happy for me having this fight right here at The Joe Louis Arena.
Before he passed, he had his nephew, Sugar Hill, as my trainer. So he gave him the okay to train me. If he was still upset with me, this shows that he wasn’t as mad as people thought that he was.
That’s the type of relationship that we had. My very first fight where I had to get on an airplane was with Emanuel Steward.
To fight on the undercard of the Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis fight, I flew on an airplane for the very first time. So Emanuel Steward had a whole lot of love for me.
When you’re a business man, you’ve got to make the best decision for your family, and at the end of the day, he understood what was going on. He was just upset.
But at the end of the day, him and Tommy Hearns became friends again. He just passed before he and I got a chance to reconcile and to get back right with each other again, but I know that he had a lot of love for me.
A whole lot of love. We just didn’t have a chance to iron it all out at the end of the day. But I’ll definitely miss him, because he did so much for me, he did so much for my city, and he did so much for boxing.
I’m still in touch with one of his good friends, and we’re in touch and she’s wishing me the best, and she has responded back to me when I’ve texted her. So there is nothing but love.
With me having been able to make peace with his really, really good friends, I feel like I have been able to reconcile and make peace with him. I’m definitely going to be fighting for a cause on Feb. 23.
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org