Muhammad Ali today reinforced the notion that there is nothing more boring than a person losing weight and talking about it.
The graduate cum laude in willpower from the fat farm in Deer Lake, Pa., has developed an acute sensitivity about the last uncontrollable jiggle of his 38-year-old pectoral muscles and at the sides of his waistline. Larry Holmes exploited that sensitivity today in absentia.
A late arrival here is invited to "have a look at the fat man, down from 252 to 220. This is the first "miracle."
To a cynic who asked if he were disturbed about Holmes nicknaming him "Porky the Pig," Ali snapped, "My name is Muhammad Ali."
He was wearing Navy blue street clothes, the fashion designers' ruse to suggest the slim, trim image.
He appeared at a news conference, but Holmes did not, and Ali declared, "Holmes is too big, too great to come. Who the hell does he think he is?"
Richie Giachetti, Holmes' manager, sat at the head table and claimed that the champion outsmarted the challenger by not appearing. Giachetti said Holmes pulled a vanishing act because Ali had planned it the other way around, but Holmes heard about it and left Ali alone before all the media.
"This is your last hurrah," Giachetti said, alluding to promoter Don King's poster theme for Thursday night's bout for the World Boxing Council title.
Suddenly Giachetti said, "I've got something for you," and he handed Ali a package. The challenger unwrapped it and Giachetti displayed to the audience a drawing of a blubbery animal with Ali's mustachioed face superimposed on it, with the caption, "Porky the Pig."
Ali snatched the poster from Giachetti and took it out of the room so it couldn't be seen any more.
The challenger's sensitivity is being trampled further by souvenirs being sold in the pavilion where the boxers are training.
An inflated doll about four feet high, with sand in the bottom to enable it to resume an erect position after being swatted, has an image of Ali on it, suggesting a punching bag . . . or Humpty Dumpty.
The old master of hype, who used to squelch hecklers with a mere glower, had to put up with Giachetti leaning on the ring apron and taunting while he shadow boxed before hundreds of admirers.
Though one of his sparring partners said he was alerted to be ready to box, Ali ended his training after five rounds of shadow boxing and began walking around the ring with a microphone in hand.
"Tomorrow (Tuesday) you'll see me train for the last time . . . the last time . . .," he said.
Ali then called his entourage into the ring to pose for what had the finality of a graduation picture.
"I tricked Holmes," he said. "I put on extra weight. I drank a quart of milk and ate a cherry pie, and stuck my belly out. I was 254 pounds, I grew a mustache to look older, and I put some gray in my hair.
"But I don't eat pork, I don't smoke and I don't drink. I took off all that weight and today I was 219 before I worked out and now I'm about 217. Sleep on that," he advised the crowd.
Giachetti shouted from a corner for the benefit of the spectators, "You can't trick all these people that you can beat Holmes."
For answer, Ali conducted a voice vote and won by a roar of acclamation.
There was fan participation at the earlier news conference when Giachetti was asked, "How is Larry's eye?"
The manager answered sardonically, "He can see out of both eyes now." It was a reference to a report Sunday that Holmes took a thumb in the eye during training that might result in the bout being postponed.
Giachetti satirized another of the many rumors that surface at these events. "The reason Ali has not been throwing many punches in training is that his hands are hurting him," he said.
That was an allusion to a previous report that Holmes was not punching frequently with his right hand because it was injured.
Giachetti said Holmes stayed away from the news conference only to embarrass Ali. He promised an interview with Holmes later but then called it off because of "other commitments." Holmes did not train today.
Ali might be getting some more help. The New York Daily News reported that Ali's camp has called in internationally known hypnotist Jimmy Grippo in an attempt to give the challenger a "secret weapon."
The paper quoted Ali's executive assistant, Gene Kilroy, as saying Grippo would hypnotize Ali just before he enters the ring to meet Holmes.
"I can give Ali an extra 25 percent edge through hypnosis," said Grippo. "I think he can take Holmes."