Boxing is in a fine state of organized chaos. Larry Holmes, World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, is dying for acceptance, so he is matched with trial horse Scott LeDoux, against whom no stature can be gained.
The other heavyweight champion, the World Boxing Association's Mike Weaver, is a virtual unknown, and he succeeded a champion -- John Tate -- whose fall from the top was even more puzzling, and fleeting, than his rise.
Aside from the two governing factions, there are two governing promoters, Don King and Bob Arum, to further confuse the scene.
The welterweight division has shot into prominence, but its future is unclear.
And, behind it all, stands the aging but still intriguing, figure of Muhammad Ali, who may fight Larry Holmes in Cario, and may not. And that announcement was made with bafflingly bad timing, prior to the Holmes-LeDoux fight, suggesting that the Minnesota fighter has no chance at at.
Is boxing riding a crest or lapsing into confusion?
Don King once said, "People in boxing lie a lot." When Ali made a personsal appearance in Montreal the week of the Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran welterweight championship fight, virtually everyone wrote him off as "washed up" as a boxer and no longer a magnetic personality.
But the same observers will be trumpeting it as the best boxing drama of all time if Ali finally gets around to trying to win the title for a fouth time, at age 38.
Even without a title, Ali is the glue and the yeast of the heavyweight division, despite his slippage. The close-circuit television people wouldn't be interested in a bout unless he was in it. Not many casual fans know that Weaver is a heavyweight champion, World Boxing Association version.
And Ali is still visible, even when he isn't fighting.Muhammad Ali Professional Sports, Inc., sponsors an international boxing team and is promoting the Aug. 2 fight between World Boxing Association welterweight champion Jose (Pipino) Cuevas of Mexico and undefeated Tommy Hearns of Detroit in the latter's home town.
And Ali Sports, Inc., took a step the other day to bolster the card by adding a heavyweight bout between undefeated Long Island heavyweight Gerry Cooney and Earnie Shavers at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. (Cooney and Shavers will fight "live" at 9:30 p.m., with the closed circuit telecast of the welterweight fight to be shown there at 10:30. Cooney-Shavers will be telecast in other cities.)
Mike Jones, comanager of Cooney, points out that his fighter is ranked as the No. 1 contender by the WBA and No. 2 by the WBC. Jones says he has received no offers to fight WBA champion Weaver "because Bob Arum controls Weaver and he knows that Cooney is not going to tie himself up with any promoter.
"For the same reason we have had no concrete offer to fight Holmes, because he fights for Don King. Ali's name has been mentioned to us as a possible opponent, but only mentioned. It doesn't matter who the opponent is if the money's right."
Since the deadline of Ali, a search has been on for a new face in the heavyweight division. Despite the current popularity of welterweights, it has always been said that "the fans like to see the big guys fight."
Cooney would seem to be the ideal new face along with undefeated Greg Page of Louisville, Ky.
But his management unwillingness to align him with a promoter may delay Cooney's climb into the big money. Among other boxers who have remained unattached are Leonard and Ali.
The unattached group has powerful attractions, but so do King and Arum.
King has the WBC champion in Holmes, regarded as the best heavyweight around, and Duran.
Arum has Weaver, undisputed middleweight champion Alan Minter of England and contender Marvin Hagler. Others who have fought in his promotions are Leon Spinks, Gerry Goetzee of South Africa and Wilfred Benitez, former WBC welterweight champion.
The sport is now pretty much cut up into two jurisdictions, those of the WBC and WBA. King has a strong hand in the WBC, with Holmes and Duran.
Arum did well in the WBA when he was conducting an elimination tournament to determine a successor to Ali. But now Tate appears finished and King figures to have little trouble from the WBA.
Some of that group's officials are employes of the Panamanian government, with which Panamanian Duran's management has considerable influence.
In that connection WBA champion Cuevas might be strongly swayed to fight Duran before fighting Leonard.
But it's hard to say. The welterweight picture is as intriguing -- and chaotic -- as the heavyweight scene.
Leonard pumped gold into the division after displaying his grasp of showmanship on television at the 1976 Olympics.
Latin-Americans such as Duran and Benitez were fighting for mere hundreds of thousands of dollars. They became millionaires when Leonard brought his U.S. television ratings into the ring with them.
By the bald force of the "numbers," Leonard's management persuaded Duran as challenger to accept $1.65 million against a potential of perhaps as much as $8.5 million to $14 million for the champion. And it worked on closed-circuit television.
Duran's success in the ring has gone to the head of King, who has promoted most of the Panamanian's bouts. With the catch phrase of "Fair exchange is no robbery," King is insisting the terms must be exactly reversed for a rematch, a "natural" after such a classic battle.
It is not inconceivable that King might bypass Leonard and have Duran meet the winner of the Hearns-Cuevas fight.
Duran could become the undisputed welterweight champion of the world by licking the survivor. There is no arguing the point that Duran is big box office. But a challenge to his drawing power would come in this country if Cuevas were the other fellow in the ring, or even Hearns.
It has been announced that the Cuevas-Hearns bout will be on closed-circuit television in "selected sites."
A promotional source involved in the Leonard-Duran production already doubts whether Cuevas-Hearns has enough appeal to be a hit on theater television. The "numbers" committed to the participants are called prohibitive by the source -- $1.5 million, tax free, for Cuevas, with $750,000 paid up front. Challenger Hearns will receive $500,000.
As of now, neither Cuevas nor Hearns has the stature of a Leonard or Duran and do not figure to "sell a promotion as well as Leonard.
Who would do the oral selling in English of a bout between Duran and Cuevas?
Duran could pick up other handsome purses. But he is 29 and was showing his age at the end of his struggle with Leonard.
The talent scouts of home television fastened into Leonard from the time he outshone in appeal four other Americans who won gold medals in the Olympics -- Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Howard Davis and Leo Randolph.
Leonard capitalized on his image so successfully that promoter King now derides him as "America's (defeated) darling." Leon Spinks, of course, went on to win the professional heavyweight title, but hardly approached Leonard's public appeal.
At 24, Leonard still can pick his shots. He was considering a bout with Benitez, from whom he took the WBC title, before losing it to Duran. The winner of the Cuevas-Hearns bout might deem it more profitable to defend the WBA title against Leonard than to fight Duran.
That would leave time for a rematch of Leonard-Duran to cook, especially if Leonard Won the WBA title.
Mike Trainer, attorney for Leonard, says he doesn't visualize another bout for him before October.
Others in the promotional business don't foresee Leonard in a big bout before January, when a new tax year begins and the professional football season, a conflict for attention in the sport pages, is pretty much out of the way.