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Battle Of The Ballot
Pat Putnam
April 28, 1986
Michael Spinks held on to his heavyweight crown with a split decision over Larry Holmes that came in for second-guessing
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April 28, 1986

Battle Of The Ballot

Michael Spinks held on to his heavyweight crown with a split decision over Larry Holmes that came in for second-guessing

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But Holmes also wanted it known that he was getting old. Age was eroding his good intentions. He had decided that compassion would no longer be his companion in the ring. "I don't have any good intentions about letting a person survive in a fight, because nobody wants me to survive. The last time I fought Spinks I was confused, scared. I had that pinched nerve in my neck and I was afraid to get hit. Not this time. The last time I wanted to win this bad was when I won the title from Kenny Norton on June 9, 1978.I want blood pouring down my face, like in Rocky, and blood pouring down his face. I want my eyes closed. I want his eyes closed. I want to fight, man. I want to get hit in the mouth and get all my teeth knocked out. And I want to do the same thing to his ass."

"Is that the way you fought Norton?" a visitor asked.

Holmes considered the question, then laughed. "No. I didn't want to get my teeth knocked out. I just wanted to fight."

To toughen up, Holmes, who earned $1,125 million for this fight, took to soaking his face in brine. To prepare for his $2 million payday, Spinks, 29, returned to New Orleans to work with Mackie Shilstone, the nutritionist-conditioning coach who added 25 pounds of muscle to Spinks's 6'2�" frame before the first fight. Now Shilstone modified the regimen with a series of 1,320-, 880- and 440-yard runs, with one-minute breaks to simulate the rhythms of a fight; for the first fight, the runs were shorter. Shilstone also had Spinks leaping on and off plywood boxes and hurling a medicine ball at a circle of four people—exercises intended to improve his ability to throw punches from unexpected angles.

"The last time, I worked on becoming a heavyweight," said Spinks, who would come in five pounds heavier, at 205. "For this fight I started as a heavyweight and just worked on improving what beat Larry the last time. This time I should be much stronger. I have to be. I expect Larry to be a little more angry, a little more vicious. I wouldn't be surprised if he kicks me, tackles me."

There was no meanness in Spinks's soft voice. He seemed amused by it all. He fights only because that is what he does best. If he could find another way to make as lucrative a living, he would be gone. At his home in Wilmington, Del. there is nothing to indicate that he hits people for pay. His four title belts (IBF heavyweight and IBF, WBC and WBA light heavyweight) are stowed in a closet.

"I never felt like the light heavyweight champion," said the man who had watched older brother Leon win the heavyweight title from Ali in 1978 at the same Hilton hotel. "I don't feel like the heavyweight champion now. I haven't lost a fight for a long time, and I guess what I feel like is a winner."

It is a role that fits him as comfortably as his cowboy hat. "It's like I've tried to tell Larry," he said. "Let's make this a class act. It's bad enough that we have got to fight each other."

As Spinks expected, Holmes, who at 223 was just slightly heavier than for the first fight, was anything but a class act when the bell sounded. Eyes smoking, Holmes came out, fired a vicious right and then hurled Spinks to the canvas. "Get up," Holmes snarled. "It's O.K., Larry," Spinks said mildly. "It's O.K."

Under savage attack by Holmes, Spinks spent the first five rounds in strategic and nonbelligerent retreat. "I was just letting him have his fun," he said later. "I wanted to break his morale by staying cool and calm. I knew I could catch and then surpass him. I didn't start fighting until the sixth round." (Apparently, judges Burnette and Roth didn't agree—they both gave Spinks the fifth round.)

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