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All In the Family

The Spinks men have always fought bigger than their size. That is why it would be a sizable mistake to dismiss Cory Spinks' chances of beating middleweight champion Jermain Taylor on May 19. Where some men look up and see a mountain, the Spinks clan just sees something to climb.

Mt. Taylor is obviously bigger and stronger than Spinks, but the junior middleweight champion has some family history on his side.

February 15, 1978. Leon Spinks, in only his eighth professional fight stepped into the ring to face more than just a legend in Muhammad Ali. At 197 pounds, Leon was giving up 27 pounds to a man virtually nobody gave him a chance to beat. Leon Spinks defeated Ali that night on a split decision. Five days later, son Cory was born.

September 21, 1985. Reigning light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, Leon's brother, stepped into the ring to face unbeaten heavyweight title holder, Larry Holmes (48-0). At 199 pounds, Michael was giving up 22 pounds to a man virtually nobody gave him a chance to beat. Michael Spinks defeated Holmes by unanimous decision. Cory was now seven.

Some 22 years later, Cory will be following in the footsteps of his father and uncle when he faces the unbeaten Taylor (26-0-1), a fight few are giving Spinks a chance to win. Cory, however, is intent on writing another chapter into the Spinks Jinx book.

"What they accomplished was amazing, and I want to add on to the legacy." said Spinks, who at 5'-9, is four inches shorter than Taylor. "I want to show people that boxing runs through the blood of a Spinks, not just the name."

If Spinks needs any reminder of what his father did, he will only have to look in his corner on May 19. Recently, Spinks announced he will have his father working the fight as chief second. It will be the first time Leon has ever been in his son's corner. He will not be there to merely carry a towel and a water bottle. It's all about the vibes and aura of history Leon will radiate for his son.

"Having him there for this fight will give me an extra boost," Cory said. "It'll make me fight harder. He beat a bigger champion, and that's what I am going to do against Jermain. My father gives me the inspiration that makes me feel I can do it."

While Cory will be taking a sizable move up against Taylor, it pales in comparison to the step up in life Leon will be making.

The man who once beat Ali and made millions in the ring, has been living in the small Great Plains city of Columbus, Nebraska, where he cleans the local YMCA for $5.15 an hour, and sometimes unloads trucks at a McDonald's, where his job entitles him to 50 per cent off on Big Macs. He also is a volunteer worker in an after-school program for elementary kids, and helps out in the kitchen of the Columbus Rescue Mission.

The gold medal Leon Spinks won in the 1976 Olympics, and his world championship belt were stolen from his mother's home in St. Louis long ago. All Spinks has left is his born- again dignity and a son who is a champion Despite all the bad things he has been through, by recent accounts, this humbler version of "Neon" Leon is happy with his life and cherished as a friend by all he touches in Columbus.

"I love my dad, and anything he wants to do is okay by me. He's living his own life style," Cory said. "When I asked him to be in my corner, he was overjoyed.

While Cory Spinks (36-3) comes from boxing royalty and has a heartwarming story, it will take more than that to beat Jermain Taylor, a middleweight with a light heavyweight's body of whom his Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward has said: "Forget all of that nice, Southern-type personality. I see a real, real tough guy inside of Jermain Taylor. He's one of the toughest fighters I have ever trained."

Spinks has a couple of sizable things on his side. For one, he is a brilliant boxer, with tremendous foot speed and a defense predicated on his ability to avoid getting hit. He acknowledges Taylor's punching power but his trainer and manager Kevin Cunningham makes a key point. "Jermain is strong, but he's got to catch Corey on the end of his punches, and he won't."

"I consider myself more than a boxer," Spinks said. "I'm an artist. I paint masterpieces and this fight is going to be one of the best of my career."

As for the size difference between him and Taylor, Spinks does not believe being just 5'-9 is not the measure of the man. Even Taylor, who has been friends with Spinks since their amateur days, says so.

Some 22 years later, Cory will be following in the footsteps of his father and uncle when he faces the unbeaten Taylor (26-0-1), a fight few are giving Spinks a chance to win. Cory, however, is intent on writing another chapter into the Spinks Jinx book.

"Cory has a large upper frame and he can carry 160 pounds without any problems," Taylor said. "Most people don't know he has worked out with guys much bigger than he is. If I went into this fight thinking Cory was too small, that would be big mistake. Size does not always win fights."

"I'm really not made to be a small guy," Spinks said. "I have the body of my father and uncle, and big legs. I am just a smaller version of them."

Both Spinks and his trainer believe he will fight better at the higher weight.

"Cory walks around at about 185 pounds, and making 160 has been a relief to him," Cunningham said of his boxer, who has fought most of his career at 147 pounds or under. "It was really hard for him to make 147, and even 154. It's not like he has a lot of fat on his body. He was taking off muscle, so he will be stronger at this weight."

This fight, Cunningham says, will be reminiscent of the May 5 Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. bout, with Spinks playing the Floyd role, stick and move.

"Oscar-Floyd was a pattern similar to how this fight will be," Cunningham said. "Jermain has never fought anybody like Cory, a quick-handed, swift-footed slick boxer. Jermain likes to come forward, but Cory will hit him with quick combos while moving. Cory is three times as fast as Winky (Wright), and when Winky gave Jermain some movement it threw off his balance."

Lou DiBella, who promotes Taylor, is very aware of what Spinks brings to the table.

"I think this is a much more dangerous fight for Jermain than Sergio Mora would have been. (Mora, who won "The Contender" reality TV series, reportedly turned down a sizable offer from DiBella to face his champion). "If Jermain doesn't knock out Spinks, he will be very difficult to beat."

Cunningham puts it more emphatically: "Anybody who does not give Cory Spinks a chance in this fight knows nothing about boxing."

Spinks was knocked down for the only time in his career when he lost by TKO to Zab Judah in 2005, a fighter he had beaten a year earlier on unanimous decision. In addition to distractions from a divorce proceeding, Spinks says the effort to make 147 left him drained and weakened.

"Jermain is not going to knock me out. I hope people don't think that the second Zab Judah fight was typical of me. I had never even been knocked down before, and I have been hit hard. I have a great chin. That was not me in there with Zab. My body was not there, I had no energy. I was surprised I lasted that long," Spinks said.

Spinks enters this fight with no such burden. And if the going does get tough, he has only to look at his father to remind himself of something Evander Holyfield once said that could serve as the Spinks family motto:

"It is not the size of a man but the size of his heart that matters.

"Jermain is not going to knock me out. I hope people don't think that the second Zab Judah fight was typical of me. I had never even been knocked down before, and I have been hit hard. I have a great chin. That was not me in there with Zab. My body was not there, I had no energy. I was surprised I lasted that long," Spinks said.

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