Spina stays loyal in fight game
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – It’s not every boxer that turns down $250,000 and a shot at a world title to meet a cross-town rival for local bragging rights, but Joey “KO Kid” Spina isn’t cut from the same cloth as many of his peers.
The 30-year-old Spina, 19-1-1 with 14 knockouts, who will meet Shannon “Trouble” Miller in a six-round light heavyweight bout Saturday at Grande Exposition Hall in the Silver Legacy Resort Casino, had the opportunity to challenge WBO world super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe in late 2006, but ended up facing fellow Providence, R.I., resident Peter Manfredo Jr. instead.
“Both of those guys own a section of Rhode Island,” said Spina’s promoter Jimmy Burchfield, who runs Classic Entertainment and Sports. “It was a fight everyone wanted to see. With the taxes and everything, the international contracts, it was better for Joey to fight Peter Manfredo Jr.”
Manfredo, a former contestant on the NBC reality show “The Contender,” scored a three-round technical knockout over Spina and went on to face Calzaghe, who stopped him in three rounds the following April.
“I was in the best shape of my life,” Spina said of his meeting with Manfredo. “I trained for 10 weeks. Then I broke my left hand and wrist in the second round. I take nothing away from Peter Manfredo. He’s a classy fighter.”
For Spina, the battle with Manfredo for Providence street cred was the logical choice.
“We drew 16,000 people,” Spina said. “We’re both from the same area, the same neighborhood. It was second nature to get in the ring (with Manfredo). That’s my home.”
Spina always dreamt of playing football and was a halfback and middle linebacker for Johnston High School, where he also played basketball and wrestled at 126 and 140 pounds.
A self-described “small guy” when he wrestled, the 6-foot-2 Spina did well from the sixth through ninth grades, but after getting pinned in 16 seconds as a sophomore he decided to hand up his singlet and find another avenue to pursue.
A proud Italian-American, Spina roamed the rough neighborhoods of Providence and carved out a reputation and a new moniker for himself.
“When I was 15, 16, they starting calling me ‘KO’ or ‘KO Kid,'” Spina said. “I was more of a street person. As a young kid in my early teens, I got in a lot of streetfights. I was one of the guys, if there was a problem, they’d call me. I don’t shy away from anything. I live by my word and my b—-. I respect all and fear none.”
Burchfield calls Spina a late bloomer and it wasn’t until “KO Kid” was 21 that he decided to try his luck in the squared circle. He had 32 amateur fights, winning more than 20 by knockout.
Spina carried his prodigious punch to the professional ranks and scored a one-round knockout over Thomas Barker on June 2, 2001, to open his career.
“I never wanted to be a pro boxer,” Spina said. “I’d rather be a football player, but I was too small. I didn’t train for my first 10 fights. They said, ‘You want to fight?’ and handed me a check. I trained for a couple of weeks (for fights) before I met (former WBA light heavyweight champion and current trainer) Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.”
In Spina’s 16th fight he defeated Carl Daniels for the vacant WBC United States super middleweight title in June 2005. And after stopping old warrior Anwar Oshana in three rounds in his next fight, Spina fought to a draw with Jose Spearman before meeting Yerington’s Jesse Brinkley.
The 5-foot-10 Brinkley outboxed Spina and was ahead on all scorecards when Spina caught him with a left to the liver and scored an 11th-round TKO in an ESPN-televised fight on May 10, 2006.
“Joey is a Rocky Marciano type of fighter,” Burchfield said. “You can never count him out. He can be losing every round and he’ll knock you out. That’s exactly what happened in the Brinkley fight and in quite a few other fights also.”
“I’ve got that puncher’s punch,” Spina agreed. “I don’t have much experience, so I’m learning on the job. Jesse’s a tough guy, but that fight shouldn’t have gone that long or that way.”
Spina said he’s an emotional guy and he used that to his advantage against Brinkley.
“I was in the corner and they said, ‘Everything you’ve worked for, you’re going to lose your belt – this guy is beating you. Go out and knock him out,'” Spina recalled. “My emotions took over. When your back is against the wall, you do whatever you can to come out on top.”
Spina captured the vacant IBF Intercontinental super middleweight belt by knocking out Jay Pina in his subsequent fight. Neither title will be at stake against Miller.
Burchfield said Spina brings an element of excitement with him when he steps into the ring.
“He’s what every boxing fan wants to see,” Burchfield said. “He comes in and gives everything he’s got. He’s what television loves and what fans pay to see. He’s got the punching ability they want to see.”
Against Miller 23-37-8 (17) with 2 no contests), of Columbus, Miss., Spina said he’s looking to get back into the swing of things after a year off following his bout with Manfredo.
“My plan is to fight a tough opponent like (Miller) – I’d like to knock him out,” Spina said. “I’d like to get the rust off and get back in there. It’s baby steps till I get used to everything again. I’d like to knock him out and then fight again Nov. 30 in Providence. Then on Feb. 8, it’s me and Jesse again.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
“I have nothing to prove against Jesse,” Spina said. “I beat him and I have two belts. If the money’s right, we’ll get it on. If not, then I’ll move on. I’d like to come back to Reno and fight him. I like the seasons. I used to live in Las Vegas for a couple of years.
“I like Reno. Not being in Rhode Island, there’s no distractions. I know there’s a lot fans out there. I hope to win some of them over, especially with Jesse being from up here.”
If the past is any indicator, Spina should be successful in his endeavor to endear himself to local boxing fans. There’s always a home for an exciting puncher, even if he’s from Rhode Island and has beaten a local favorite.
Doors open at 6 p.m. The first bout begins at 7.
Tickets are $150, $75 and $30 and are available at http://www.ticketmaster.com, http://www.silverlegacyreno.com, by calling (800) 687-8733 or (775) 329-4777, or by visiting the Silver Legacy box office.