Michael Spinks ignored the conspicuously vacant chair where Larry Holmes was supposed to be and delivered a polite handshake to the air, while always loquacious promoter Don King, who is used to carrying on one-sided conversations, spoke to an empty place setting.
The only thing louder around here than Holmes' angry silence is the noise of the people trying to figure him. The former heavyweight champion turned unhappy challenger took his sullen ways fishing in the desert today, leaving his place on a banquet dais blank.
At a news conference to introduce the fighters who meet in a rematch here Saturday to decide the International Boxing Federation heavyweight championship, there was only Spinks. So the man who last September won a decision that stripped Holmes of the title he held for seven years played along.
"Larry, I can't see you, but I know you're there," Spinks said. "I'm sure Larry is concentrating and thinking of nothing but what he has to do. I'm as itchy as Larry to get on with it. But I choose to look at my man. Look at him and see if he's nervous."
Holmes did send a statement through King, who apparently has become Holmes' Ouija board.
"The real Larry sent spiritual Larry over to tell you he's off drawing energy from the universe," King said. "Though he's not here in mind and body, he's here in spirit, and he asked me to convey this message: 'Spinks will fall in seven.' "
Holmes had threatened Tuesday to boycott the news conference as a result of an incident at a sparring session that day. What has been a growing feud between Holmes and some of the media became open hostility when Holmes had New York Post columnist Dick Young, 68, bodily removed from the training room by three members of his camp after an exchange of insults.
Young received a formal apology during today's news conference from Duane Ford, chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission. Holmes, however, had no apology. Instead, his representative blasted Young for inciting the exchange.
According to Charles Spaziani, Holmes' attorney, Young was making derogatory remarks to Holmes' brother Lloyd when the fighter shouted orders that Young be taken from the room. Other observers say Young was simply chatting; Young said today that he presented his version to his editors, who were considering what to do next.
"Dick was 100 percent wrong," Spaziani said.
Holmes' silence may also be tacit acknowledgement that he took his first meeting with Spinks lightly. In the weeks leading up to the bout, he remarked, among other things, that he hoped he didn't injure Spinks seriously. But in the ring Holmes appeared sluggish, and was outpointed by Spinks simply because he didn't throw enough punches.
"I expect him to be angrier this time," Spinks said. "More vicious. He might haul off and kick me. He might tackle me or something. I expect a real dirty fight."
Even defenders of Holmes acknowledge that after seven years as champion, he may have failed to prepare properly for Spinks and the attendant historical specters that loomed in their first bout. Then, Spinks was trying to become the first light heavyweight to win the heavyweight title, and Holmes was trying to tie Rocky Marciano's 49 straight victories.
"He was not right for the fight psychologically, no question," Spaziani said. This time, he said, "He's not edgy, he's as ready as he's ever been. He just took my advice and went fishing, where he belongs. Nothing's must-win about this. He just wants to win the fight, and he's going to."