Subj: The BAWLI Papers No. 17
Date: 98-12-26 12:53:14 EST
The BAWLI Papers
(Boxing As We Liked It)
By J Michael Kenyon
Issue Number 17
Wednesday, December 30, 1998
New York City, New York, US of A
IN THIS ISSUE: MICHAEL SPINKS TAKES A LOOK BACK AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP CAREER HE
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HAYMAKERS DIDN'T BLINDSIDE SPINKS
(New York Daily News, Thursday, Aug. 6, 1998)
By Mark Kriegel
Ten years later, as Mike Tyson and his apologists plot yet another return from
ignominy, Michael Spinks has little to say about the man who took him out in
He knows Tyson has re-applied for a New Jersey boxing license. He understands
the debate will be framed amid a mind-numbing repetition of video clips
showing Tyson biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear.
"I always knew that was there in Tyson," Spinks says. "I knew he was a bully.
It was just a matter of time before that showed."
Beyond that, though, Spinks, now 42, has little inclination to moralize or
prognosticate. It's enough for him to know he escaped the ignominy himself. He
has his wits and his money.
Spinks stayed retired, making him almost alone in the recent history of
heavyweight champions. Look at them, the farce of their fates, their
heavyweight talent for ruination: for booze and brain damage, drugs and
domestic violence, for car wrecks, incarceration, financial desperation, and
of course, for that inevitable humiliation, The Comeback.
Those famous 91 seconds gave birth to the notion of Tyson as the planet's
Baddest Man. But a decade later, Tyson is an elaborately complicated failure,
an ear-biter and convicted rapist suing his promoter for fraud.
Even The Greatest, Muhammad Ali -- who, let it be known, counseled Spinks for
his bout with the bully - was not spared. His mind may still yield miracles.
But ask a fighter, and he'll say Parkinson's syndrome is a fancy way of saying
the guy stayed too long.
Spinks knows all this, knows it in his blood. His older brother, Leon -- one
of four men to beat Ali -- ended up abusing more substances than opponents. A
couple of years ago, Leon's address was an East St. Louis homeless shelter.
When he worked, it was as a $4.75 temp in a local labor pool.
Spinks loved being a fighter, but he never trusted the fight game. And of all
his fighter's instincts, that one served him best.
He has seven bedrooms, not including the guest house, on a secluded five-acre
spread outside Wilmington, Del. His teen-age daughter, Michelle, also lives
there when she's not away at boarding school. It's a good life, a quiet one,
and about as far as he could get from the Pruitt-Igoe Projects back in St.
History-making career Spinks made $13.5 million fighting Tyson, bringing his
final tally to $25 million for a career that made history. He was the first
light-heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight belt. Back in the '80s, his
promoter, Butch Lewis, thought to put him in those high interest zero-coupon
bonds. Spinks lives off the interest, more than a couple of hundred grand a
year, and more than he needs.
He doesn't need a fleet of cars. Doesn't owe the IRS. Doesn't need to make a
comeback. "Don't want to come back like Swole," he says. Swole wasn't a
fighter. He just ended up like one, walking around in his own private
"I was just a little kid back in St. Louis, hanging around the gym," Spinks
says. "Seven o'clock, guys start hitting on the bags, sound like drums, like
drum noise was coming off their gloves. "And here comes Swole, walking up
Cass Avenue. I didn't know his name. I just call him Swole 'cause he have this
big old swollen head. His whole body was swollen, really, like, from drinking.
Swole come up the street, smelling like alcohol, walking by the dope fiends,
talking to himself, cursing.
"So I ask this one guy, I say, `Why Swole like that?' He says, `Back in the
day, that man was one of the sharpest brothers on the avenue. Then what
happened was, his girl done left him for his best friend and he been like that
That Spinks considers the fables of failed heavyweights as versions of Swole
may be explained as an accident of association. Then again, maybe not. The
fight game is as cruel a mistress as Swole ever had.
"I felt proud to be a boxer," Spinks says. "But I knew boxers were supposed to
be dumb. I knew how a lot of guys ended up with no money, and I didn't think
I'd be dealt with fairly. "Plus, I was already happy. I had my mom -- and
best friend -- Kay Francis Spinks. I had my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. And
I had a job, potwasher at the Holiday Inn, made $100 every two weeks. They
promoted me from dishwasher to potwasher. I didn't need to be a pro. Only
thing I ever wanted out of boxing was making the Olympic team."
In 1976, Michael and Leon Spinks went to Montreal as the middleweight and
light-heavyweight designees of the best boxing team the United States ever
sent to the Olympics. They won gold medals, but not before they met a sharp
judge of talent named Butch Lewis.
"Most of the guys sitting around the coffee shop scouting the Olympics had
Michael as the dude least likely to succeed," Lewis says. "They said he's
clumsy. They said he's lucky.
"But I'm saying to myself, `If he's so lucky, then how come he's always
beating the favorite? When I seen him buckle that Russian, I knew. That wasn't
no luck. But he don't want to turn pro. And I mean, I'm hitting Mike with
everything just to get him to sign with me. I'm telling him this, telling him
that. I'm telling him, `Boy, you going to miss out on what you been blessed to
But after the Olympics, Michael Spinks felt blessed to have a $250-a-week job
at Monsanto. "I didn't want to take a chance and get me imprisoned to a pro
contract," he says. "I just wanted to come back to St. Louis, get a good job
and take care of my mom."
The Monsanto plant smelled like rotten eggs. The gold medalist worked a
graveyard shift, cleaning ashtrays, cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors. "I
didn't feel too bad about it," he says. "Hey, it wasn't like I had chemical
The days turn to months. Lewis keeps calling. But Michael Spinks pays him no
mind. Then one night, Spinks commits the great offense of falling asleep on
the sofa in the women's bathroom. "I admit it," he says, "I was wrong. But the
supervisor comes in there yelling, `Who the hell you think you are?' cursing
me out, calling me a bunch of bad names. Finally, I figured I might as well
just turn pro. I was probably dying sucking in those chemicals anyway."
So he signed with Lewis, as Leon already had. "After I turned pro, I saw me
and Leon being the baddest brothers ever to put on the gloves," Michael says.
"We were going to do everything together."
Leon, of course had other ideas. After Lewis got him that first fight with
Ali, Leon returned the favor by signing with a couple of lawyers out of
Detroit. He even moved to Detroit. Leon Spinks didn't know it, but he was
already well on the way to nowhere, drifting and drinking, drugs and debt. By
1981, Leon had become just another body for Larry Holmes to beat on.
"I didn't like how Holmes tried to hurt my brother," Michael says. "He did
the same thing with Ali. Ali would say how he's retiring after every fight,
but he never would."
None of these lessons was lost on Spinks, then still beginning a brilliant
career. Yes, Spinks was awkward, but such awkwardness enabled him to deliver
punches from almost any angle, the best of which was a right hand called "the
"I always moved my head," he says. "And I was never afraid to pack up and
In 1981, Michael won a 15-round decision against Eddie Mustafa Muhammad for
the WBA light-heavyweight belt. Two years later - just a few months after his
wife, Sandy, had died in an automobile accident - he beat Dwight Braxton, the
And in 1985, in violation of every oddsmaker's scenario, he beat Larry Holmes,
who was 22 pounds bigger, 48 wins without a defeat, the heavyweight champ.
Michael Spinks had done what Billy Conn, Archie Moore and Bob Foster could
not. "Most fun I ever had in the ring," he says. "That night was all my way."
Spinks won the rematch. Then he knocked out Gerry Cooney. Soon, the fight
everyone wanted to see, the biggest bout in the world, was Spinks-Tyson.
It took awhile to make, but unlike his night with Holmes, this one wasn't ever
going Spinks' way, even if Ali had picked him, whispering in Spinks ear that
he could beat the bully.
"He'd given me some pointers for Larry Holmes, and then for Tyson," Spinks
says. "I guess I let him down."
Of the 21,785 on hand at the Atlantic City Convention Center on June 27, 1988,
Spinks must have been the only one who didn't work up a sweat. He came in dry
as a bone. And he didn't even try to run.
"Guess I fought a pretty dumb fight," he says. "Trying to slug with a
slugger." Those 91 seconds ended with Tyson's right hand. "The way Slim hit
the ropes, the way his head snapped, I didn't want to see him try to get up,"
Lewis says. "Tyson was at his best that night. No one has ever seen that Tyson
"I heard on the street, how I threw the fight," Spinks says. "But I came to
fight like I always came to fight. Just wish I made a better showing of
A month later, Spinks announced his retirement. "I can't thank you and kiss
you enough for all the wonderful things . . . "
He broke down, weeping.
"I only started crying because Butch was crying," he says.
And maybe, because Leon wasn't there. "I don't know if we could find Leon
then," he says. "I wasn't keeping up with him. Leon meant a lot to me. I
wanted us to do it all together. But, well, it hurts to see your own brother
go through things like that. When I see Leon, I see a wounded person. I see
Leon, of course, was still fighting. That's easy, though, to keep fighting.
It's much more difficult to keep retired.
"It's tough on anyone, leaving the ring," Spinks says. But toughest on an
"The money, the power, that bright light around you, once you've been champ of
the world, that's tough to give up," Lewis says. "That bright light is a
Jones, my man, and you start living to satisfy that Jones. It's an addiction
like no other."
There's always another payday. Another belt. Another fight. And that's usually
the fight that gets you hurt or humiliated. "I could've gotten Slim five or
six million to fight Holyfield," Lewis says. "But it wasn't the right thing.
He didn't need it."
Michael Spinks didn't need that bright light. He's been tempted, sure. He
works out at Joe Frazier's gym on Broad Street in Philly. He talks about
sparring, but never does.
"Keep forgetting to get a mouthpiece," he says. Instead, he shadowboxes. He
wraps his hands, and bangs the big bag for 12 rounds, making the drum noise.
Then he heads home. He gets there before his daughter Michelle arrives with
her friends to swim in the pool. There's five acres. That's a lot for a kid
from Pruitt-Igoe: five acres and not a Swole in sight.
REMEMBERING A MAN NAMED MOORE
(The Sporting News, December, 1998)
By Dave Kindred
Archie Moore, an American original, died last week. By his mother's count, he
was 84 years old. He'd prefer 81. "My mother should know, she was there,'' he
"But so was I. I have given this a lot of thought and have decided that I must
have been 3 when I was born.''
Writing about boxing is dirty work. Yet I write about Archie Moore, whose fame
is built on boxing.
For 27 years, from 1936-63, he busted heads.
For 11 years as the light-heavyweight champion, he was the only man who fought
both Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.
He knocked out more men than any other pro fighter: 129. He won 183-of-215
No deal with the devil is necessary to write about Archie Moore because anyone
writing about the great man writes a celebration of life. To feel Moore's
benevolent presence, to see the almond eyes and wispy jazz-man's goatee, to
hear the moving river of his voice was to know he lived in answer to a
question he asked: "Wouldn't it be awful if a man had to go through a day --
even one day -- without a little music and laughter?''
Smart things he said simply: Worrying's a disease. Fat's a three-letter word
invented to confuse people. Gotta shoot some pool because life's not all
fightin'. Gave money to the Freedom Riders, the B'nai B'rith and the United
Fund because white people, black people, God made us all. I'm no glutton, I'm
an explorer of food!
One afternoon he talked about Muhammad Ali. He had known Ali in 1960 as
Cassius Clay. ``That child came to the mountain to seek the wisdom of The
Mongoose,'' Moore said.
In the old man's fighting days, agile, fearless and relentless, he called
himself The Mongoose. "But when I told him he had to wash dishes to earn his
way, Cassius declared, `Ain't washin' no dishes, no heavyweight champ ever got
dishpan hands.' ''
There came from Archie Moore a waterfall's roar of laughter. "Don't let
anybody tell you different, even without the enormous benefit of my
instruction, Muhammad Ali was the greatest. He could have whupped Joe Louis
four times in five.''
Odd to say about a man paid to inflict brain damage, but Archie Moore had
something dainty about him. It was there in an elegance that survived despite
wardrobe choices that moved San Diego sportswriter Jack Murphy to write of the
"His taste in wearing apparel is something less than severe -- he usually goes
into the ring draped in a gold or silver silk dressing gown festooned with
sequins, and he has been photographed at Epsom Downs in England wearing a gray
topper, striped pants, and a cutaway, and on Fifth Avenue strolling along,
cane in hand, in a white dinner jacket and Bermuda shorts -- but his natural
poise and his almost regal bearing enable him to carry off such trappings with
Perhaps such a show of overcompensation was to be expected from a brilliant if
uneducated man who was raised in a St. Louis slum and spent two years in a
reformatory for stealing coins from a streetcar motorman.
Out of the slammer at 15, uninterested in school, knowing the limits of police
work for a black of his day, understanding that Major League Baseball was
whites-only and the Negro leagues paid players a pittance -- why not be like
his hero, the fighter Kid Chocolate?
"I suppose I liked him because his name sounded so sweet,'' Moore said. ``Most
of all, the money intrigued me.'' Kid Chocolate had made $2,500 for one fight.
"Do you know how much money it was for a family that depended on the
government for a basket of food each week -- for a family that waited for a
government check each month to pay the rent? It was fabulous. It was my way
He trained by walking stairs on his hands. To perfect his jab, he stood in
front of a mirror, hefted his aunt's five-pound flatirons and threw punches
for 12 minutes with a 10-second break in the middle. The result: "I had the
best jab in the business, Joe Louis notwithstanding.''
Fighting maybe a dozen times a year, Moore won the light-heavyweight
championship in 1952 at the age of 35 (or 38).
He fought Marciano for the heavyweight title in 1955 at Yankee Stadium -- and
knocked the champion down in the second round. Decades later, Moore insisted
he should have won.
"In Yankee Stadium, before 60,000 people, the referee forgot there was no
mandatory eight count after I knocked Marciano down,'' Moore said. "He yanked
Marciano by the hands and yanked him out of his stupor.''
Without such assistance, Marciano might have been helpless against Moore's
next assault. Instead, he survived and in the ninth round knocked out the old
challenger. Marciano then retired, undefeated.
At age 49 (or 52), needing money, Moore lost by a fourth-round knockout to the
child who'd fled his mountain, Cassius Clay. He would fight only once more,
beating a Mike DiBiase.
"One of these days,'' Moore told Murphy, ``the law of averages, or maybe the
law of gravity, will catch up with me. I can't last forever. I've been
thinking about how I want to go. I want to be respected. When I'm finished, I
want people to say only one thing of me. I want them to say, `There goes a