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Original Issue

A Friday Night With No Fight

Eddie Mustafa Muhammad entered his Washington, D.C. hotel room at 8:30 last Friday morning after having weighed in for his 15-round light heavyweight title rematch with undisputed champion Michael Spinks. On a scale of 1 to 175, the No. 1 challenger had weighed 177½, 2½ pounds over the limit. "I'm stronger, I'm hungrier," Mustafa Muhammad had been saying all week. But, as he discovered, a fighter can be too hungry.

The former champion, whom Spinks dethroned two years ago, was given two hours to make the weight. Instead he went to bed. "I just lay there laughing," he said upon emerging at 10:30. "I knew what the deal was."

The deal, as Mustafa Muhammad saw it, was that the scale had been rigged. It didn't matter that it had been calibrated that very morning by a man from the U.S. Department of Weights and Measures. Mustafa Muhammad had a scale in his bathroom that had him at 175. "Eddie's living on Fantasy Island," promoter Butch Lewis said.

Other fighters had come into a championship bout weigh-in too heavy, but none had ever refused to try to make the limit. Mustafa Muhammad had to shed 27 pounds in less than two months to fight Spinks the first time. He'd been overweight at the weigh-in for that one, too, by nearly two pounds, but sweated off the excess in a steam bath. At a price. He not only lost the poundage, he says, but his stamina as well. "I felt like a dead prune," said Mustafa Muhammad. He started strong, but tired and lost by a unanimous decision.

For the rematch, the 43-6-1 Mustafa Muhammad spent almost as much time baiting Spinks as training. He accused Spinks of having beaten him more with thumbs, laces and elbows than with fists. He threatened to punch out the ref if such dirty tricks occurred this time. A native of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, he even bragged that he'd come from a tougher ghetto than his St. Louisborn opponent. "Say 'Brownsville' to Spinks," Mustafa Muhammad said, "and he'll be scared half to death."

"Brownsville?" said Spinks, puzzled. "What's that? Something Eddie ate?"

In the gym, Mustafa Muhammad, a cuddly 185 pounds a mere week before the fight, looked as sluggish as the ticket sales. Lewis had hoped Washington's first major title bout in 42 years would draw a sellout crowd of 10,000 to the D.C. Armory. But by the day before the fight, only 4,000 tickets had been sold. When Mustafa Muhammad refused to make the weight, the bout was hurriedly downgraded to a non-title 10-rounder. "We weren't getting paid that much anyway," Mustafa Muhammad said. "You were paid what you were worth," Lewis countered. Because HBO, which was to have televised the fight, reduced its contribution considerably, Spinks's share was halved to $500,000, Mustafa Muhammad's to $75,000.

But while trying to take a pre-fight nap, Spinks, who had been counseled against the non-title arrangement by his trainer, Eddie Futch, reconsidered. An injury would jeopardize his career, and a loss would only tarnish his 23-0 record. "Why should I sacrifice my dignity for this man?" Spinks said. "He's just a bag of hot air. Lukewarm, really."

Mustafa Muhammad came to the final press conference surrounded by his buddies. The Assassin's (sic), a leather-clad motorcycle gang from Brooklyn. He and Lewis exchanged unpleasantries, and an argument broke out between them. Cops drew their nightsticks and herded Mustafa Muhammad and his Assassin's into an adjoining room. "It was as though we were all rallying around someone who was...a madman," said Lewis from the dais. His voice choked up and tears trickled down his cheeks, perhaps at the thought of the $200,000 he stood to lose on the venture.

The WBA quickly dropped Mustafa Muhammad from its rankings, and the WBC is expected to follow suit. The D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission suspended him indefinitely.

Unlike Mustafa Muhammad and Lewis, Spinks escaped with his reputation intact. He even managed to exact some small revenge. Glancing toward Mustafa Muhammad at the weigh-in, he slurped a cup of hot broth and said deliberately, "M'm! M'm! Good!"

The 31-year-old challenger had probably blown his last chance for a title bout. It wasn't worth the weight.