February 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Terry Foster

Boxer Cornelius Bundrage hopes to win one for Detroit

Cornelius Bundrage, left, and Ishe Smith face off after the news conference Thursday in Detroit. The two will fight Saturday night. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./Detroit News)

Detroit -- Boxer Cornelius Bundrage sat next to his wife Shawana wearing his K9 gear, a cap tucked low on his head and sunglasses covering his face. He was set to tell the world why he was going to defend his IBF junior middleweight championship against Ishe "Sugar Shay" Smith on Saturday night at the Masonic Temple in downtown Detroit.

The bouts will be shown live on Showtime beginning at 9 p.m.

Bundrage goes by the name of K9. That's why there were German shepherds in the hallway outside the main ballroom, and plenty of barking from his handlers. K9 has been on this big stage before. But it hasn't been in his hometown in front of this many people and with the stakes this high.

There he was on stage Thursday at the MGM Grand with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Smith and the entire undercard. This is a big deal for the hometown guy who is doing this to promote his career and increase his profile and legacy.

But this becomes a bigger deal because Bundrage is also doing this in Detroit. This is his hometown and he loves the city in which he grew up. He's a guy who often shows up at charity events and allows fans to take photos with his championship belt. He loves to shake hands with fans, except leading up to fights. He will give you a friendly fist pump because he does not want a muscle head to shake his hand too hard and risk injury.

"I do that before every fight," he said with a laugh. "You can't shake my hand right now."

This is about helping downtown and he also wants to show his people up close and personal what he can do.

"That's what this is all about right here," Bundrage said. "I want to get this victory right here and hopefully more people will get interested in boxing here in Detroit and we can get this thing going."

K9 is a Detroit guy. He wants to be big here and he wants to make Detroit a boxing mecca like it was in the 1970s and 1980s with Thomas Hearns, Emanuel Steward and the rest of the Kronk Boxing team.

Boxing is in critical condition in Detroit. This card Saturday is being looked at by the boxing world. If there are plenty of empty seats at the Masonic it might be awhile before Detroit gets a chance any time soon.

"It (the show) can't hurt," boxing promoter Jackie Kallen said. "We need a good crowd Saturday night or it will look like Detroit's a dead city. ... I hope they fill it."

Even the bad guys are rooting for Detroit. Eddie Mustafa Muhammad is not from Detroit. But he spent a lot of time here when he boxed and became a light heavyweight champion. He loves Detroit and is all for the comeback in boxing. But he is here for business and will be in Smith's corner for the main event against K9.

"I'm here in town with the next champion of the world," Muhammad said. "He (K9) don't have enough talent. We got too much talent on our side. They do all that barking and stuff. That don't work with us. And they had those German shepherds. I thought somebody was blind or something. I was like, 'What the heck is going on?' We gonna beat your boy."

There is nothing wrong with a little trash talk and hype surrounding boxing. But here's the big bad monster. This boxing fall-off is not just a Detroit thing, it's an MMA and UFC thing. Young people love the action of the UFC and it will take a lot to convince them to switch back to boxing.

Boxing has too much grabbing and clutching. It's filled with controversial decisions and the sport wants you to pay a lot for fighters you don't know about.

Hearns wants to change that. He's getting into the promoter business and wants to find and nurture local boxers. That's what Steward, his mentor, did. Steward, who died last year, put Detroit on the boxing map. His main find was Hearns, who now wants to do the same thing and fill the sport with excitement and high-stakes drama.

K9 and Hearns need to get together to help promote the sport here. But now K9 is in lockdown mode. He knows the best way to promote the sport is to win this fight.

"I got to get this victory," he said, "and everything will take care of itself."

terry.foster@detroitnews.com

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