Heavyweight egos were being crushed in the rush for recognition yesterday as professional boxing's electronic version of the Olympics neared.
Larry Holmes was miffed at people saying Sugar Ray Leonard is getting top billing on television Monday night. Muhammad Ali got into the act, upsetting tradition by downgrading future opponent John Tate instead of shilling for him.
ABC is setting a precedent Monday by showing boxing from 8 to midnight, with the four championship bouts from three cities another first. Television's previous high had been three title bouts in one night from one site.
The network expects upwards of 45 million to watch the bouts on home television and to attract at least 35 percent of the total viewing audience. The second Ali-Leon Spinks fight lured 60 percent of the audience in a one-hour rating period.
Monday's schedule on ABC:
8 p.m. -- From Knoxville: Marvin Johnson, World Boxing Association light-heavyweight champion, versus Eddie Gregory.
9 p.m. -- From Knoxville: John Tate, WBA heavyweight champion, versus Mike Weaver.
10 p.m. -- From Capital Centre: Sugar Ray Leonard, World Boxing Council welterweight champion, versus Dave Green.
11 p.m. -- From Las Vegas: Larry Holmes, WBC heavyweight champion, versus Leroy Jones.
The Leonard-Green bout will not be blacked out in the Washington-Baltimore area.
Fans at the Leonard-Green fight at Capital Centre also will see on the Telscreen there telecasts of the heavyweight title bouts from Knoxville and Las Vegas.
Ali said from his home in Los Angeles that he will be watching the four bouts on television Monday.
"I watched tapes of Tate's fights in my home today (Tuesday) with Gene Kilroy, my business manager, and I'm so happy because I thought Tate would give me a tough fight, but he's just no trouble," Ali said.
"(Promoter) Bob Arum said he was a young, strong punisher. But he ain't nothing. You won't believe what I saw. I'm praying that Tate wins; he's made for me. He's an amateur.
"He's 240, big and slow; he doesn't bob and weave like Joe Frazier. He ain't fast like Leon Spinks. He doesn't have a knockout punch like Frazier or Ken Norton. He's easy to hit. I've got the title won for the fourth time. I'll fight him in four months; I don't need a warm-up bout.
"I'll tape Tate's bout with Weaver and I'll watch it day after day. I'll spy on him; I'm an expert on that. I did it on George Foreman.After Spinks beat me the first time I watched that bout on tape, every punch every move; I found weaknesses.
"Holmes? He's good, but after I beat Tate, Holmes will be begging for me. He needs me to make money."
Holmes said from Las Vegas, "There's no way I can 'win' if I fight Ali. If I whip him it will be called a bad thing; that he is an older man; that he would have whipped me in his prime. I never get my just due in boxing. When I knocked out Earnie Shavers, they wrote that Sugar Ray Shavers, they wrote that Sugar Ray Leonard stole the show (knocking out Andy Price) that night.
"I have signed to fight Tate in the fall, but he hasn't signed. There may be a new champion on the (WBA) side. Weaver may beat him. I'm going to knock out Leroy Johnson, but I won't get my due. I've paid my dues for 13 years; I took a back seat to a lot of great fighters. Now it's my turn.
"Nobody can take anything away from the heavyweight champion, if he's good or bad.
"They told me I was getting top billing Monday, because I was going on last. Now people say Leonard is the one going on in prime time. It doesn't matter as long as I get paid what the network does."
Jim Spence, senior vice president for ABC sports, said Holmes-Jones is the principal fight as far as the network is concerned.
"I don't care if they dig somebody up from the graveyard for me to fight," Holmes said, "as long as he tries to whip me and I get paid. I don't have anything against Sugar Ray; he's my friend. We were in the Olympic trials together in 1971-72. But the reason he is not fighting on Monday in Las Vegas is that he wanted top billing; so they took his bout to Maryland.
"I've never had anybody going for me; I didn't have an Olympic title."