The way it began for Butch Lewis, then much younger, he was working for this auto dealer and sold a car to another Philadelphian, Joe Frazier. Got friendly with his customer and got hooked on boxing. Did some public relations and other odd jobs for Frazier, then branched out for himself as a boxing person. Lewis now occupies an exalted position in the boxing business. Owns and operates Michael Spinks.
For Spinks, suddenly a world heavyweight champion, Lewis has contracted a splendid $3.5 million payday Saturday night against Larry Holmes, an old acquaintance who wants his title back.
Lewis said Holmes was quite discontent with the mere million he's getting for this fight. "He wanted more, but no dice. We reminded him he isn't champion anymore. Also, that we took the million last time while he got the big end." Another factor prompted longtime champ Holmes to compromise his pride and cave in. Lewis was just on the point of giving the next title shot to Gerry Cooney.
Lewis is calling most of the shots in the arrangements for this one and probably will wind up as the biggest winner at the pay window. Not only is he coming in for the manager's split that in the fight business often runs up to 50 percent of a purse, but he is teaming with Don King as the promoter. They'll divvy any profits.
Managing a Spinks as world heavyweight champion is not a new experience for Butch Lewis. He managed older brother Leon Spinks when that fellow stunned people by taking Muhammad Ali's title for a while. "We split when Leon got into drinking and police trouble and things. Leon went his way and I went mine," Lewis said.
For nine years, Lewis has been managing Michael Spinks, but it wasn't easy to link up with him at the beginning. "After he won the middleweight gold in the '76 Montreal Olympics, I bird-dogged Michael for six months, sat on his doorstep trying to get him to turn pro."
Trouble was, Michael was the reluctant brother who said he was through with boxing, didn't like to fight anyway, wanted a job and to go to night school, Lewis said. "Michael thought the Olympic medal would open some doors for him."
The only door it opened was for a floor-sweeping job at the Monsanto chemical plant back home in St. Louis, which also called for the side duty of cleaning out latrines. "After he said breathing in all those chemicals was no good for him, he turned pro," Lewis said.
His pro career began as a stringbean middleweight, 6-foot-2, and oddly here in Las Vegas, where 28 fights ago he stopped Eddie Benson in one. He's stayed undefeated ever since. Put on pounds to win the light heavyweight title from Dwight Braxton Qawi at 175, and put on more heft to lick Holmes last September as a 200-pounder.
He got the Holmes fight partly because, as the undefeated light heavyweight champ in a field of unspectacular heavyweight challengers, Spinks was the only gladiator around with marquee value. There was another reason, Lewis said. "Holmes was obsessed with tying Rocky Marciano's 49 straight wins and so to make sure he got the record , he wanted to jump on the little guy." It didn't work out that way.
It wasn't an exciting fight, with Spinks mostly circling and confusing Holmes with in-and- out tactics for which Holmes was unprepared. "That was our game plan and we stuck to it," Lewis said. "We wanted to break Holmes' concentration, jab him, then walk around, this way, that way. Michael wasn't there when Holmes finally threw punches. The idea, like in baseball and football, is to put one in the win column, and that's what we did."
Lewis said the two of them had watched films of all Holmes' fights since 1981 and could see the changes, could see how Holmes was slowing up here and there. "Michael said he could lick that guy."
This statement later appeared to be an example of managerial license, and permissible fight puffery, because next day Spinks said he hadn't paid any attention to Holmes' past fights, didn't look at any films. "First time I paid much attention to Holmes was the night we got in the ring," Spinks said. "But I knew I'd find a way to beat him."
There was never a greater contrast between big fight personalities. Unlike Holmes, who consistently brags of his prowess and his wealth and demands adulation, Spinks is a private sort. He even asks not to be called a fighter, says "boxer is a more respectable word."
He said, "You don't see any boxing stuff in my house. No gloves hanging from the mirror, no trophies or things like that. Boxing don't have to follow me home." About his gold medal: "I guess it's somewhere in a safe place."
He said he doesn't show up at other fights, taking bows the way other champions usually do. Says he doesn't really pay much attention to boxing except on fight night and during training. One would say that altogether he sounds, you know, very cool.