The National Broadcasting Company will enable TV viewers to look over the officials' shoulders as they score each round Thursday night as Muhammad Ali defends his heavyweight title against Earnie Shavers in Madison Square Garden. (The fight is scheduled to start at about 10:10 p.m. and will be shown in Washington on WRC-TV-4.
The irony is that the paying fans in the Garden will not be informed of the progress of the scoring but those watching the free telecast will.
Ali is being paid $3 million, Shavers $300,000 and the Garden is paying Top Rank, Inc., $300,000 to settle a suit over the rights to use Shavers.
Ali is a 3-1 favorite and the Garden is expecting 7,000, with prices ranging from $20 to $100.
Twice reports came out of Ali's camp that sparring partner Jimmy Ellis had knocked the champion down, although Ellis did not come close to doing that before Ali knocked him out in the 12th round in Houston.
A member of Ali's entourage scoffed at the notion of Ellis being able to knock down Ali wearing 16-ounce training gloves.
At the weight-in ceremony today, Ali scaled 225 pounds, 13 1/4 more than Shavers.
There was no confrontation because they weighed in at different times Shavers affected nonchalance but might have given himself away when asked to comment on his poundage.
"I weighed 211 1/4 but I was 210 pounds without my trunks," he said, prompting a wag to quip he must be wearing leaded silk.
Someone asked Shavers why he was so sure could knock out Ali when other big hitters had failed.
"They didn't hit as hard as I do. When you're hungry you hit a little harder."
The father of five subteen-age daughters, Shavers has scored 19 knockout in the first round and 52 of his 54 victories on knockouts, but has never gone 15 rounds.
Asked about that, he said, "I'm getting paid to go 15 rounds, but if he makes a mistake I'll K.O. him. I'll be very cool . . . calm."
As if Ali could get his message about that across to Shavers through the media, the champion said, "It's not the fastest car or the best horse that always wins . . . sometimes it's the jockey who knows how to pace.
"He (Shavers) did not want to face me at the weigh-in; he will be scared by all that goes on at the fight."
Ali then began to hum the National Anthem to set the scene. He interrupted himself to say, "wait till he hears those fans shout, 'Al-i . . . Al-i.'" The champion hummed a few more notes of the anthem and said, "When the referee is giving the instructions I'm going to reach over and rub his bald head."
Someone in the audience shouted "Yeah, but he (Shavers) can hit hard."
"Yes," Ali admitted with a last-day concern for ticket sale, "but not like Joe Frazier or George Foreman, or Ken Norton, who broke my jaw."
Ali, 35, has won 54 of 55 bouts, 37 by knockouts, losing decisions to Frazier and Norton, but reversing them later.
Shavers, 33, has met mostly undistinguished opponents but knocked out Ellis in the first round, stopped Jimmy Young in the third and later drew with him. Shavers was knocked out in the first round by Jerry Quarry and in the sixth by Ron Lyle.
In addition to the TV scoring gimmick, NBC stipulated that there be no blackout in New York in the $4 million deal.
A code had been set up to flash the scoring, after every round, to reporters at ringside, on the scoreboard but the plan was abandoned.
There was the possibility the some schemers in the Garden audience could have solved the code and pulled off betting coups. If the bout was clearly one-sided, a smartie could have calculated the winner before the end of the bout and place a bet with the guy in the next seat.
As a result of the change, a fan in the audience now mights have a TV fan call him at the Garden.
People in boxing generally have been reluctant to have the scoring announced to the live audience after every round, particularly in a controversial bout.
The saying once was that instead of having a disturbance at the end of a 15-around bout, you might have one after every round. Another unwelcome effect is the round-by-round vocal pressure that would be put on the scorers by the respective rooters for the fighters.
Other fights, scheduled for 10 rounds, will match heavyweights Alifredo Evangelista of Spain, the European champion, and Pedro Soto of New York; light-heavyweights Mike Rossman of Turnersville, N.J., and Gary Summerhayes of Canada, and middleweights Vito Antuofermo of New York and Mike Nixon of Los Angeles. The Evangelista and Rossman fights will be televised, starting at 9 p.m.