Less than 24 hours after the controversial cancellation of what would have been Washington's first title fight since 1959, promoter Butch Lewis said he still wants to stage a championship bout here. And he said he hopes it will include light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, who pulled out of Friday's fight after challenger Eddie Mustafa Muhammad failed to make the weight.
"We feel we owe this city one," Lewis said yesterday as he prepared to leave town.
"I'll probably be talking to the mayor real soon," said Lewis, who hopes to get Spinks to fight either Oscar Rivadeneyra of Peru, the World Boxing Council's No. 4 contender, or Jose Maria Flores of Uruguay, the No. 7 WBC contender.
Mayor Marion Barry and Cora M. Wilds, the chairman of the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission, had lobbied actively for a title fight in Washington. Wilds said yesterday, "We'd love to have Michael Spinks and Butch Lewis back." The mayor was not available to comment yesterday.
Apparently, no one wants Muhammad back, not after the 31-year-old challenger turned what what had been billed as "Duelin' in D.C." into the District Disaster.
The fight was canceled because Muhammad weighed in 2 1/2 pounds over the 175-pound limit at 8 a.m. and because Spinks didn't want to share the D.C. Armory ring with "somebody as unprofessional . . . as Eddie Mustafa."
But in many respects the fight was in trouble almost from the day it was announced, less than a month before it was to take place. Lewis, who had been lobbied heavily by Barry to bring a title fight here, was preoccupied with a lawsuit against rival promoter Don King. Until Wednesday, aides handled much of the prefight arrangements while Lewis spent his day hours in a New York courtroom.
Barry had put the prestige of his office on the line in an effort to assure a good turnout. But the day before the fight, fewer than 4,000 tickets had been sold; the D.C. Armory had 10,000 seats for the fight.
And there were problems at the Armory. Although special air conditioning had been ordered, one official from Home Box Office, which was to telecast the fight live, said the Armory on fight night was the hottest building he'd ever been in--even without spectators.
Finally, there was Muhammad. As the top contender, he was entitled under WBC and World Boxing Association rules to a shot at Spinks' title. There had been weight problems before, and rumors persisted all along that it was still a major problem.
On Friday morning the rumors proved true. When Muhammad failed to make weight, the fight was downgraded from a 15-round championship match to a 10-round nontitle event. After being given two hours by fight officials to lose the weight, Muhammad instead returned to his hotel room and ate a hearty breakfast.
Eddie Futch, Spinks' trainer, said, "I've never seen a challenger not make the weight and then refuse to try."
All week, from a gym in Hyattsville where he was training against sparring partners who offered as much resistance as the mirrors he cursed and spat at, Muhammad had attacked Spinks and threatened to "knock out the ref cold if he (Spinks) gets the decision."
While most shrugged it off as innocuous prefight hype, Muhammad's bellicose entourage--the Assassins motorcycle gang from Brooklyn, dressed in red berets, black leather vests and Army field boots--appeared anxious to back up this claim. The chains on their boots rattled when they barreled through the lobby crowd at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Southwest Washington.
Lewis said Muhammad approached him during the week and introduced "his enforcer," a member of the New York street gang. "Mustafa told me he would win any way he could," Lewis said. "He wanted me to let all these guys in this motorcycle gang sit at ringside but I wouldn't have it. I could not take the chance of taking this gang into the arena and risking the lives of innocent bystanders . . . Muhammad started telling me what he wanted and what he was going to do. It just went too far."
Spinks, who would have received $1 million for the title fight, stripped Muhammad of his WBA title two years ago in Las Vegas. Since that fight, Muhammad has repeatedly accused Spinks of ducking him.
This week, Muhammad said he was a better fighter than Spinks because "the ghetto where I come from would have killed that fool." He vowed to do "anything it takes to get back what he took from me." Muhammad, who had bit parts in two movies about boxers, said the only thing he valued more than regaining the light heavyweight title was winning an Oscar.
Perhaps Hollywood beckons, but for now, Muhammad's boxing career appears to be in jeopardy. Wilds and the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission met yesterday morning and indefinitely suspended Muhammad, meaning he can't fight in the District. Wilds said it is likely other state athletic commissions will suspend Muhammad as well. Officials of both the WBA and WBC said Muhammad will be dropped from their rankings as a result of his actions.
Before Spinks defeated Dwight Braxton to become the first undisputed light heavyweight champion since Bob Foster retired in 1974, Muhammad sought an injunction against the unification bout. As the No. 1 WBA challenger, Muhammad contended he was owed a title shot. A New Jersey judge ruled the Spinks-Braxton fight could go on only if the winner would meet Muhammad. Spinks honored the judge's decision and Lewis brought the fight here.
But Muhammad never seemed to have brought the heart of a fighter to the city. At his workouts, he was sluggish and uninspired, spending more time in the dressing room at the Round One Boxing Club in Hyattsville arguing with reporters than sparring in the ring.
His 30- and 40-minute workouts were time enough to break a sweat but he didn't put in the grueling work Spinks did at his camp at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel ballroom. Manny Siacca, Muhammad's trainer, excused his fighter's lack of daily competitive training. "He hasn't sparred much because he knocks all his partners out," Siacca said.
Both George Kreiger, director of sports for HBO and Wilds were troubled on Tuesday, only three days before the fight, when Muhammad weighed 185 at the prefight physical. Wilds said, "It concerned me but we had no power to do anything." Kreiger said he thought that Muhammad would drop 10 pounds, considering "the stakes involved."
But he didn't. At the weigh-in, he said the scales, owned by the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission and calibrated by federal employes of the Department of Weights and Measures, were inaccurate. Muhammad said, "I told my guys before the fight was even signed that when I step on the scales I'll be 177. I know what I weighed."
"Those scales," Lewis said. "I'm tired of talking about those scales. The man was looking for excuses. He's crazy to think something's wrong with those scales. Eddie just didn't want to fight."
Muhammad was overweight the last time he fought Spinks. Back then, however, when given two hours to work off nearly two pounds, Muhammad took a steam bath and lost the weight--and the fight.
Long before the press conference announcing the decision to cancel the fight, Lewis said he was leery of the "Assassins." When Spinks called him Friday afternoon to say he wanted out, Lewis said he was already fed up. He indicated he made no attempt to talk the champion out of his decision, deciding to scrap the entire card.