Butch Lewis closed his eyes and crossed his fingers. As he stood surrounded by reporters in a downtown hotel lobby yesterday he was praying for Eddie Mustafa Muhammad to reduce and for ticket sales to swell.
Tonight's 10 o'clock light heavyweight championship bout at the D.C. Armory between Muhammad and Michael Spinks has an imperiled air about it. Muhammad, who has frequently had trouble making the 175-pound limit and has even fought as a heavyweight at 202 pounds, is once again making Lewis, the promoter, and the fighter's handlers nervous.
On the night before their first meeting two years ago, Muhammad spent a couple of hours in a steambath to cut weight. He fought well for eight rounds against Spinks, but began to fade and lost the WBA title on a 15-round decision--a result, Muhammad claimed, that was influenced as much by the steambath as by Spinks.
Yesterday both fighters were scheduled to appear at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel for a press conference. Muhammad's handlers called to say they had no time for that. Their man had to work in the gym. Lewis knew that this meant the rumors of Muhammad still weighing as much as 180 the day before the fight were likely to be true.
"As a fighter it's his obligation to make 175," said Lewis, whose loyalties are with Spinks, the undisputed champion. "Eddie shouldn't make any excuses that he's fought as a heavyweight . . . He might have been 195 when he signed the papers, but he had eight weeks to work it off."
At the gym in Hyattsville where he has been working out, Muhammad said, "I love Coca-Cola. With me it's like a cross and Dracula. But I haven't had one in five weeks. I've been drinking Gatorade."
Both fighters will be weighed at 8 a.m. today at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel ballroom. In situations such as these, it is not uncommon to hear charges of tampering with the scale. As a result, an official from the Bureau of Weights and Measures checked the scale and determined it was one-eighth of a pound high; one of Muhammad's handlers claimed the scale was four pounds high.
But assuming the weigh-in goes as planned, with both fighters making the 175-pound limit with a minimum of controversy, Lewis still has his worries. At the urging of Mayor Marion Barry, Lewis brought the fight to Washington, but he is finding so far that Barry's optimism about a full house is unfounded.
According to Lewis, ticket sales are still "somewhat shy of 4,000" for the 10,000-seat arena. Muhammad Ali defended his heavyweight title twice at Capital Centre, but the last title fight held in the District was lightweight Joe Brown's eighth-round knockout of Paolo Rossi at the old Capital Arena in 1959. Barry was hoping that a profitable venture tonight would bring more matches to Washington.
Asked if he would be reluctant to promote another title bout in the District if tonight's gate receipts are low, Lewis said, "Reluctant? It depends on how far from a sellout it is. If it's in the neighborhood of 5,000, then I'd be disappointed and reluctant to come back." The fight will be broadcast live on Home Box Office.
Barry and Lewis hope that a sizable number of "walk-ups" will bolster the gate.
"Ninety percent of the workers in this town get paid biweekly," Lewis ventured. "I'm hoping that tomorrow when they get their checks, they dash over to the ticket window."
Asked if he may lose his shirt on this promotion, Lewis said, "not my shirt, maybe my undershirt, but I hope not." Spinks is getting $1 million for the fight; Lewis claims Muhammad will receive $250,000, but the fighter himself said, "Whoever said that is a liar. It's $150,000."
When the fight does begin it should be a good one. Spinks, 27, has most of the physical advantages--reach, height, quicker hands and feet. In a unification championship bout last March, Spinks overcame the grief of losing his common-law wife Sandra Massey, who was killed in an automobile accident, and scored a unanimous 15-round decision over Dwight Braxton, who is also known as Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Braxton will fight Jimmy Smith of Wilkes Barre, Pa., on tonight's undercard, which will start at 8.
Muhammad (43-6-1, 35 knockouts) has accused Spinks (23-0, 16 knockouts) of ducking him since their first bout. Muhammad, 31, has won his last four fights. But his last fight, a 10-round decision over Jerry Celestine, serves as a contrast to Spinks. Spinks had an easy time with Celestine, knocking him out in eight rounds.
In Las Vegas, oddsmakers have made Spinks anywhere from a 2-1 to a 3-1 favorite to retain his title agaionst Muhammad. With bitterness in his voice, Muhammad says that he would never be able to win a decision over an Olympic gold-medal winner such as Spinks.
"I've gotta finish him," Muhammad said. To do that, Muhammad must get inside Spinks' long left jab. Muhammad's 84 percent knockout ratio is largely due to his strong right hand.
Spinks told UPI, "I will knock out Eddie Mustafa Muhammad for the first time in his life and end his ring career. He's been mouthing off and acting like a fool and I'm fed up and tired of it."
"These are two men who legitimately do not like each other," Lewis said, as if animosity were a drawing card.
If Spinks does win, Lewis said, he will face either middleweight champion Marvin Hagler or heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, who will attend tonight's fight. Hagler will defend his title against Roberto Duran in November and Holmes is scheduled to fight Marvis Frazier, the son of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.
"Michael's in a position to pivot either way," Lewis said. "Larry Holmes isn't here (in Washington) because he's a big fight fan. He's here to look at Mike."