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Original Issue


It would be nearly impossible to come by a more unlikely heavyweight champion. The WBA's latest, Michael Dwayne Weaver, 27, is an ex-Marine separated from the rest of the world by a thick drop cloth of shyness. His family and closest friends say he is boring, which he chooses not to dispute, and by his own assessment he isn't mean enough to be an outstanding fighter. "All my fights are the same," says Weaver. "If nobody hits me, then I'm going to hit nobody."

As a fighter he'd rather be an artist. His Los Angeles apartment is jammed with his pencil sketches and oil paintings, mostly portraits. He neither drinks nor smokes and would rather pray than cuss. His idea of a good time is seeing Rocky for the 17th time. Or going for a long drive alone in one of his three cars. Or taking his three daughters (he is separated from his wife) to Disneyland.

No one has ever disputed that Weaver has the skills to be a world champion. Born in Gatesville, Texas, he was two when his late father. Ordain, an auto mechanic, moved the family to Southern California. His mother, Juanita, says Mike never lacked for competition: he has eight brothers and four sisters. At Ganesha High in Pomona he ran the 100 in 9.8, long-jumped 25 feet and was an outstanding fullback. At 17 he was offered a football scholarship to Mount San Antonio College. But the Marine Corps made him an offer he couldn't refuse. "Two recruiters came to the school and showed some films," he says. "Then they told us they only took the toughest, and only a few of those. I always did like a challenge."

He enlisted in 1968 and volunteered for Vietnam. "At the time it seemed like the thing to do," he says. He saw combat but skirts the subject with a shrug. It was after Vietnam, while based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that he had a fight he will talk about.

It happened in an NCO club. Weaver and another Marine arrived at the jukebox simultaneously, and there was a dispute over who would hear his song first. "He threw a punch and missed. I threw a hook and knocked him out," Weaver says. "I found out he was the camp's heavyweight champion. The next day the boxing coach looked me up."

Leaving the corps in 1971, Weaver fought briefly as an amateur. In 1972 he turned pro. He was less than a sensation, losing three of his first four fights, twice by knockout. His problem was that he believed he could knock out anyone by the third round.

He blames only himself. "In the morning, if I ran at all, I'd go one block and quit," he says. "If a fight went more than three rounds I was in trouble."

Sometimes he worked as ex-heavyweight champion Ken Norton's sparring partner. It was Norton who, after one look at Weaver's bulging muscles, nicknamed him Hercules, a name Weaver has come to hate. "Hercules was a myth," he says. "I'm not."

Three times he quit the ring and three times Norton talked him into returning. "The only guy you can't beat is yourself," Norton told him. "The power and the potential of a world champion are there. You just won't train."

Weaver was sparring at the Hoover Street Gym in Los Angeles in 1976 when his manager, Don Manuel, first heard his name. "Some guy at the gym called me up and said I'd better get there quick," Manuel says. "He said a guy named Mike Weaver had just knocked out my fighter, Bossman Jones. I said, 'Who's Mike Weaver?' "

Manuel decided he had better find out for himself since Bossman had never been knocked out. "I figured if this guy could do it in a gym, using those big gloves, he must have a whole lot of power," Manuel says. So Manuel made Weaver an offer, and he didn't refuse that one either.

Under Manuel's vigilant eye, Weaver won five bouts before losing to Stan Ward and Leroy Jones. After the Jones fight Manuel exploded. He stormed the dressing room, hit Weaver on the side of the head and cursed him. Then he turned and started to walk out. Weaver pleaded with him to come back.

There has been just one loss since, when Weaver went after Larry Holmes' WBC title and was stopped in the 12th round last June.

But last week he stunned John Tate with a series of blows in the 12th round. Nevertheless, Tate survived the round. In the 13th, to Manuel's horror. Weaver hardly threw a punch. The 14th was only a little better. By now Tate was so far ahead on points that only a knockout could pull it out for Weaver.

As the bell for the 15th rang, Manuel's last orders were explicit, "Go out there and knock him out. If you don't, don't come back."

Since the beginning of the 14th round, the deeply religious Weaver had been reciting the Twenty-third Psalm. He is a member of the International Church of God in Christ. Two years ago his pastor. Mother L. C. Neale, gave him a Star of David, telling him it would bring him happiness and good fortune. He has worn it around his neck since, permitting no one to touch it. The Star of David was tucked inside his left shoe as he fought Tate. With 55 seconds left in the bout he drilled a right hand to the body, followed with a paralyzing hook and added a grazing right as Tate fell.

As Weaver leaped into the air over the prone Tate, he thought, "My God, I'm Rocky."


Late in the 15th round, Weaver battered Big John Tate, which sent the old champion to the canvas and the new one leaping high into the air.