Lee Groves

10: Notable Super Bowl week fights

7. Feb. 5, 2005, Zab Judah KO 9 Cory Spinks II – Saavis Center, St. Louis, Missouri

Super Bowl XXXIX paired the New England Patriots, who were seeking to become the first team to win three championships in four years since the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s, against the Philadelphia Eagles, who were still trying to break the NFL title jinx that had reached its 44th season. The Patriots, 14-2 in the regular season, were a solid touchdown favorite over the upstart Eagles, who had finally made the Super Bowl after three consecutive failures in the NFC title game.

Judah was trying to exorcise his own demons. He long had been perceived as immensely gifted as a boxer but unfocused and immature as a person and his critics pointed to his stool-throwing tirade following his two-round KO loss to Kostya Tszyu.

This encounter with Spinks was a rematch of a bout that took place in April 2004 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, and one of the reasons why a second act was necessary was because the unanimous decision in Spinks’ favor was hardly resounding. While Spinks scored an 11th round knockdown, Judah returned the favor in the closing moments of the fight. The scorecards were razor-thin (114-112 twice, 116-111) and neither man provided a convincing enough argument to move on without a re-do.

Following the loss to Spinks, Judah showed both his potential by blowing out Wayne Martell in 128 seconds and his problems by struggling to a split decision over 38-year-old Rafael Pineda. No one, perhaps even Judah deep down, knew which version was going to step inside the Saavis Center ring.

Meanwhile, Spinks was on a roll. Four months after narrowly defeating Judah, the three-belt welterweight champion scored an impressively wide decision over ex-lightweight titlist Miguel Angel Gonzalez. Moreover, Spinks was making his first appearance as a champion in his native St. Louis, a city where he had gone nine-for-nine previously. The oddsmakers made Spinks a slight favorite to make it 10-for-10 and if he came through he’d be in line for potential superfights against Tszyu, Shane Mosley and Oscar de la Hoya.

The sold-out Savvis Center created a new Missouri boxing attendance record of 22,370, making the crowd as big a story as the fight. The atmosphere was a dream come true for Spinks and he reveled in the adulation. His meticulously choreographed four-minute ring walk featured a performance by St. Louis native Nelly and Spinks went dance move for dance move.

The first six rounds featured plenty of style and flash but spurious substance. Entering the seventh Spinks seemed in control due to his sporadic bombs but in the round’s final six seconds Judah exploded with a crunching left cross followed by a hook-cross that caused Spinks to fall forward. Referee Armando Garcia waved off the apparent knockdown, saying Spinks’ tumble took place after the bell.

Spinks rebounded fairly well in the eighth and regained momentum in the ninth with several strong counters. But like round seven, Judah shattered the champion’s security with the one asset that Spinks couldn’t claim – sudden one-punch power.

An out-of-the-blue overhand left forced Spinks’ body to bend leftward and a follow-up barrage caused Spinks to collapse under his own weight. After Spinks arose at four Judah tore at him like a wild man. A final left cross turned Spinks’ legs to jelly and as the hometown hero careened toward his own corner pad, Garcia waved off the fight.

In the aftermath Judah was hailed for his focus, execution and especially his maturity in the face of unanimous hostility. The Eagles tried their best to follow Judah’s lead the following evening and they came close to upending the mighty Patriots. Tied at 14 after three quarters, the Patriots scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth, then survived a late comeback to secure a 24-21 victory. 

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