Missouri: A state of embarrassment
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Forget the "Show Me" state.
Missouri has officially become the "Please, tell me you're kidding" state.
A Thursday morning Associated Press story from Carthage -- a town of some 13,000 and the administrative center of Jasper County -- told the heartwarming tale of the "Garage Boys Fight Crew," a 12-member team specializing in the violent free-for-all sport of ultimate fighting.
Of course at first glance, my initial reaction was "So what?"
If stepping into a cage, assuming a silly nickname and bashing one's neighbor silly is the typical southwestern Missouri resident's idea of a good time, I say more power to him or her. After all, it's a small price to pay for having to live in, well, southwestern Missouri.
Upon taking a closer look at the demographics, though, it's a little more than that.
Rather than a group of pals training for sadistic competition with co-workers at the local slaughterhouse or quarry, the "Garage Boys" are instead a dozen kids -- aged 6 to 14 -- apparently groomed for such endeavors for the titillation of their parents, under the implausible guise of teaching discipline and respect.
As reporter Marcus Kabel described, a recent training session saw two "Fight Crew" members touch their thin martial-arts gloves in a flash of sportsmanship before beginning a relentless exchange of sucker punches, body blows and swift kicks, hardly a traditional means of disseminating life's lessons.
But never fear, folks. It's not as bad as it sounds.
Heck, according to Tommy Bloomer, a 34-year-old construction contractor and father of two "Garage Boys," it's just barely a blip above tee ball.
"We're not training them for dog fighting," he said, adding that the sport has evolved since the no-holds-barred days by adding weight classes to better match opponents and banning moves such as strikes to the back of the neck and head, groin kicking and head butting.
And hey, the kids all wear protective gear and no blood is shed.
So what's the problem, sissy boy?
Yet amazingly, it seems the neighbors haven't gotten with the "Super Nanny" on steroids program.
According to the story, Missouri appears to be the only state in the nation that explicitly allows youth fights. In many states, it is a misdemeanor for children to participate. A few states have no regulations.
Missouri's office of athletics regulates professional fights but not the amateur events, which include the youth bouts. For amateurs, the regulation is done by sanctioning bodies that have to register with the athletics office.
The rules are different in Oklahoma, where unauthorized fights are generally a misdemeanor offense. The penalty is a maximum 30 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
There, Joe Miller, administrator of the state's professional boxing commission, said youth fights are banned and he wants it to stay that way.
"There's too much potential for damage to growing joints," he said.
Hogwash, says Bloomer -- perhaps stopping just short of a chorus of "liar, liar, pants on fire" topped off by a pile-driver and a figure-four leg lock -- it's all in good fun.
"When they get out of the cage, they go back and play video games together," he said. "It doesn't matter who won and who lost. They're still little buddies."
Thanks anyway, Tommy Boy.
But when it comes to childhood play time, I'll stick with something tame like knife-tossing.
And next time I'm in Missouri, I'll stay in Tulsa instead.
One of the world's most underappreciated fighters cemented that status on Thursday.
Cory Spinks presumably made defense No. 2 of his IBF junior middleweight title before a hometown crowd at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, toppling veteran challenger and former champion Verno Phillips by a wide unanimous decision to run his pro mark to 37-4.
Cory Spinks ran his pro mark to 37-4 after toppling veteran challenger Verno Phillips.
But then he didn't.
Rather, the 38-year-old Phillips stunningly earned the verdict on two of three scorecards, taking 115-113 and 116-112 counts to offset a 115-113 view for Spinks and capture the third world championship of a pro career that began in January 1988.
FitzHitz scored it 116-112 for Spinks.
The fight was broadcast live and free of charge via the Internet on donkingtv.com, the signature Web site of electric-haired promoter Don King.
"This is another new and exciting adventure for us," King said. "I think these are the sorts of matches the people want to see, and we're taking it to the people."
Though delayed about an hour beyond a scheduled 8 p.m. start time, the broadcast was bug-less if not scintillating from then on, featuring nondescript one-round KOs by mid-card King properties Marcus Johnson and John Jackson, before a dullish 12-round shutout by unbeaten prospect Devon Alexander over unwilling Panamanian southpaw Miguel Callist.
From there, it seemed a perfect showcase for Spinks, dismissed by many as a famous-named slap-hitter in spite of a resume that includes recognized championships in two divisions and a reed-thin near-miss at a third in his previous fight -- a surprising split-decision loss to then-holder Jermain Taylor at 160 pounds last May.
Instead, the 30-year-old went down as victim to the same "pre-fight turmoil yields in-fight chaos" that recently bedeviled ex-King teammate Juan Diaz, losing his belt in the wake of lead trainer Kevin Cunningham's abrupt dismissal just three weeks before the fight.
Diaz, of course, lost his unified lightweight titles by split decision to veteran Nate Campbell on March 8 in Cancun, Mexico, just days after he was cut loose by King as a byproduct of the promoter's simmering feud with manager Willie Savannah.
It was Spinks' first loss in seven bouts between welterweight and middleweight.
"Nobody thought I could do it, but I trained hard and I was ready," said Phillips, who'd lost his most recent championship to Kassim Ouma in 2004. "I'm 38 years old and I'm prepared to keep going."
Spinks -- the son and nephew, respectively, of ex-heavyweight champions Michael and Leon Spinks -- left the ring without comment.
Elsewhere, leading off a two-pronged weekend title fight schedule is IBF middleweight kingpin Arthur Abraham, who'll risk his crown for the seventh time Saturday night when he faces No. 15-ranked challenger Elvin Ayala in Kiel, Germany.
Abraham, a 28-year-old Armenian now living in Berlin, won his belt in December 2005 and has since defended it with three unanimous decisions and three wins by stoppages, including a fifth-round TKO of Wayne Elcock on Dec. 8 in Basel, Switzerland.
He is 25-0 with 20 knockouts.
Ayala, 27, is just 2-2-1 in his last five fights, dropping a pair of 10-round verdicts to unheralded David Banks in 2005 and 2006 before fighting to a 10- round draw with ex-Contender participant Sergio Mora in October 2007.
Previously, he'd begun his career with 16 straight wins, including seven knockouts.
And in Japan, native favorite Takefumi Sakata risks his WBA flyweight title for the third time Saturday when he faces countryman Shingo Yamaguchi in Chiba City.
Sakata, beaten in a pair of world title tries before finally capturing the honors with a third-round TKO of Lorenzo Parra last March, has subsequently beaten Roberto Vasquez by unanimous decision and drawn with Denkaosan Kaovichit in two defenses.
He is 31-4-2 with 15 knockouts.
Yamaguchi, a former Oriental-Pacific light flyweight champion and a beaten challenger for the WBC's 108-pound crown in 2002, has won five straight bouts since losing the OBBF title in 2005.
He is 22-4-2 with eight knockouts.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com), provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.