The Return of the Dog
Interview by Geno Vicario (March 26, 2008) Doghouse Boxing  
It's just before midnight on a Sunday evening.

As I flip through the channels, looking for anything to watch but the Academy Awards, I check the caller ID to see what calls I missed earlier that day. Amidst the slew of apparent telemarketers and bill collectors, I see a missed call at 9:23pm from area code 313. My mind immediately reverts back to the climactic ending scene in the Eminem movie, "8 Mile". "Everybody in the 313, put your hands up and follow me,"
Em's character, Rabbit, yells in the mic before finishing off his opponent.

Rabbit starts out the movie a hip hop underdog, losing a battle in front of a packed house of rabid fans.

He ends the movie a hero, who makes his way through three opponents to emerge triumphant.

"The last shall be first, and the first shall be last." Must be a Detroit thing.

But who would have called me from Detroit?

Maybe Marshall Mathers heard my demo and wanted to sign me to Shady Records…

But the name simply says Cornelius.

Could it be the same Cornelius who was picked last to join a team on the first episode of The Contender's second season? The one who fought Michael Clark later that same episode and won? The same Cornelius who beat two other Contender fighters to victoriously take home the bronze prize for the show?

"Last shall be first and the first shall be last." A verse in the book of Matthew became a rally cry for the overlooked and underdogged everywhere that night.

When I finally spoke to K-9, two days after that, the mood was very upbeat. "Training's going pretty good, I got a little time for this fight, but you don't wanna over-train." Bundrage was stopped last summer by Joel Julio during the 8th round. "He fought K-8, not K-9," he admitted. "Looking back on that fight, I looked good, but I was not in good shape. I had to lose 35 pounds for that fight in three weeks. I was exhausted." This time he insists things will be different. On March 28th, Bundrage will face off against 29 year old southpaw, Kassim "The Dream" Ouma. Ouma himself is coming off of two consecutive losses, one of which was against the then undefeated Jermain Taylor for the WBC and WBO middleweight titles. "I shoulda put 'No Excuses' on the back of my robe and shorts. I don't want people to say, 'Oh, Ouma's lost his last two anyway.' I respect him as a fighter and I know he respects me, but when that bell rings I'm taking care of business."

To understand Bundrage, you have to travel back more than two decades. To where his confidence and competitive nature grew to be part of his character. "Those were the best times, back when I was 11 years old," he reminisces fondly.  "It wasn't the way kids have it now and all they have to deal with. I rode my bike and ate cookies and milk. I was the king of Ms. Pacman. I used to go to the record shop and play that game and whoever had the highest score at 7:00pm would get two dollars.  Two dollars was a lot to me back then. I could buy me some more cookies and milk!"

Always a sports fan and apparent health nut, young Cornelius would watch Detroit Pistons games religiously on TV, doing push-ups during the commercials and eating his Farina. (Farina is a bland tasting, protein-rich food, made from grains and nuts, served as a hot cereal, somewhat comparable to oatmeal or grits.) When the game came back on, he'd watch intensely and continued the process again when it was commercial time. Life wasn't always cookies and milk for the Detroit native, though. By his teenage years, Bundrage began fighting around the neighorhood and selling drugs to get by. "They called me 'Tyson' on the streets 'cause I'd fight anybody. I musta had 140 fights on the streets and won 140 of them by knockout," he laughs. "I looked up to Mike Tyson because he was short like me, but powerful." It was also at this time that K-9 seemed to get a better vision of what was going on around him and what he had to do to avoid the wrong path. A path he seemed to be headed for. "I spent two weeks in Wayne County (Jail) and realized this wasn't for me. Then, my Grandma ended up in the hospital on the verge of dying. That night I spoke to God and said, 'God, if you'd just let my grandma live I promise I'll stop selling drugs.' The next day when I went back to the hospital she was doing a lot better, and I never sold drugs again."

It was moments like those, as well as the influence of his grandmother, that helped to shape one of Cornelius Bundrage's defining characteristics, not the trademark bark or devastating right hand he unleashes in the ring, but his unwavering faith in God. "I was raised in church. And my grandma always talked to me about God, but I never really understood. Then I started to realize…I asked Him to save my grandma, and she got better. All the times I got shot at on the streets, but never got hit… He had a better plan for me. I asked Him to send me a female and I was specific about what I wanted. She had to be taller than me, she had to be a virgin, she had to be athletic, and I wanted to meet her in church." And sure enough, later that year, at a wedding (in a church) K-9 would meet the soul mate he had requested, down to every last detail. Shawana Bundrage serves as Cornelius' manager, but she's much more than that to him. She's the rock that they say is behind every good man. A vessel of undying support and strength. The two make Rocky and Adrian look like Ike and Tina Turner. "We're blessed to have each other. I was sent by God to be his wife, and he my husband," Shawana told me. "K-9 is a wonderful husband and a marvelous dad. When he's out of the ring, he's the sweetest person." The happy family is completed by their 7 year old son, Dai'shaun Bundrage. "I feel great about K-9's upcoming fight with Kassim Ouma," Mrs. Bundrage went on to say. "This is the perfect fight to get him where he needs to be. I just hope after K-9 comes away with the victory that the boxing world respects his talent and skills and not just his strength."

K-9 finds himself in the midst of training for what is arguably the most important fight of his career. At a time when the alumni of The Contender are signing on for some of the biggest fights of this year, they are also under constant scrutiny. With two high profile losses against Joe Calzaghe and Jeff Lacy under Peter Manfredo's belt, Sergio Mora fighting virtual unknowns, and the fact that they all shot to superstardom on a reality show, there is a large consensus of boxing fans touting these Contenders as "fake fighters". A sentiment that not only bothered me as I brought it up to K-9, but obviously frustrated him as well. "I'm glad you brought that up,” Bundrage said. "I fought on Showtime and ESPN before The Contender. I was undefeated for 11 years. Steve Forbes is a former world champion. These guys are losing against #1 and #2 guys in the world. These are big fights. We paid our dues like every one else waiting for our time, and when it finally came, it came fast. I think that's what bothers a lot of people. We came in the back door. I went from the 'hood to Hollywood to overseas (referring to The Contender Challenge in the UK last year, where the contenders are even more popular than in the U.S.). I realized I was a star in England when everyone was barking at me. I couldn't even get to my seat. We can go anywhere and people know who we are. We just ain't got the money we should yet."

And so, the fight against Kassim Ouma on March 28th is more than another bout for K-9 Bundrage. It is, in a sense, a fight for the rest of his career. A fight to prove to the naysayers that they are wrong. "I'm gonna' beat him, beat the critics, and beat the doubters. I'm gonna' be back on the top again. I wanna' prove to the world I'm one of the best fighters out here - period. Thank you for the interview and the fans for their support… I won't let them down. To beat me is to cheat me. Don't bark if you can't bite." If only boxing matches were judged on one-liner catch phrases, Bundrage would be champion of the world.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Watch K-9 Bundrage vs. Kassim Ouma This Friday at 9 p.m. ET On ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

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