Long ago having put poverty and obedience behind him, Muhammad Ali cracked his vow of silence yesterday, but it was barely a hairling fracture.
The Champion mumbled a few remarks for network television cameramen after the Carlos Palomino-Ryu Sorimachi welterweight title bout, but mostly he grimmaced and gesticulated. Ali's challenger, Leon Spinks, appeared willing to talk out may have been putting his listeners on with his rambling utterances.
The same media representatives who have ridiculed Ali's running off at the mouth in the past proved they don't know when they are well off. They complained because Ali brushed off the press in favor of the fellow with the microphone, a temptation Ali simply cannot resist.
To make communication more difficult with him, Ali has been wearing a gorilla mask around the lobby of the hotel here, where he will fight Spinks Wednesday night.
The champion still is jealous of his less sophisticated audiences.He felt compelled to talk at length when he saw Spinks trying to win over hundreds of youngsters from the less affluent section of the city.
The kids ended up booing Spinks and turning their attention to Ali, who told them he saw them "as a garden of flowers." He persisted in urging them to study hard rather than admiring fighters and pointed to Spinks as "so ugly that when he cries the tears run down his back."
Something less than a sharpie at repartee, Spinks mostly curled his lip in contempt at the champion by way of an answer with a predictuable result: Ali left the youngsters laughing and applauding.
Neither champion nor challenger worked out yesterday and Ali is expected to resume his snub of the media today at the sparring session.
He appears training for a gimmick to turn off inevitable questions about Spinks' lack of qualifications as a challenger, with only seven professionals bonts since winning the gold medal in the light-heavyweight division of the Olympic Games in 1976 at Montreal.
The champion also is avoiding references to evasiveness about a commitment to fight Ken Norton by April 5 or be stripped of his title by the World Boxing Council.
He occasionaly mumbles about retiring, only too aware that at age 35 he can look back to boxing professionaly when Spinks was only 8 years old. Ali won the same Olympic gold medal as a light-heavyweight in 1960.
The champion will be in a position to manage the news once he gets into the ring against the unstylish but busy puncher, who should be made to order for Ali if his legs respond to the task.
It is because he can light up a television screen merely by appearing on it that CBS has seen it prudent to pay him $3.7 million and Spinks $300,000.
There will be three hours-plus of prime-time boxing, beginning at 8 o'clock (EST). Ali does not have to talk this bout up to assure a good live gate because the Hilton Hotel sports pavilion accommodates only 5,500. Good television ratings are a foregone conclusion.
Only high rollers need apply at the box office; the tickets cost $200, $100, and $50.
Least of all those to be conned by Spinks' prospects are the bookmakers. They think it so much a mismatch that no odds have been established on the outcome, even in this mecca of longshots.
The only suspense is rooted in the expectation that some night, in some fight, some hungry upstart is going to put an end to the legend that is Ali and begin making a similar fortune. Ali does not figure to be in danger of "Spinks jinx." unless the challenger has been hiding a secret weapon.