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Pat Putnam
March 13, 1978
Leon Spinks may fight like a building-wrecker, but he says his mama and the Good Book come before his heavyweight title
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March 13, 1978

The Iron Ball And The Bible

Leon Spinks may fight like a building-wrecker, but he says his mama and the Good Book come before his heavyweight title

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"We were living in just three rooms, all us guys," Spinks recalls. "We were sleeping in the sink, on top of the refrigerator, everywhere. I guess I just got tired of it. I felt it would be better if I got out and gave them a little more space."

Spinks stayed with Barnes until he went into the Marines. He did odd jobs around the hotel. Sometimes Barnes gave him pocket money. Two days a week Spinks worked for a Manpower-type organization. It is Barnes' contention that he spent vast sums of money on Spinks.

Spinks was paid $320,000 for the Ali fight. Barnes received $96,000, "and I'm still in the hole," he says.

"Look, the dispute is between Spinks and Barnes," says Lewis. "It's got nothing to do with me, and nothing to do with Bob Arum. But I've got to say this: the only time you ever see Mitt Barnes is when he shows up to collect his 30%."

Barnes says that this is indeed true—but only because the Top Rank people are keeping him from seeing Spinks. "I get the feeling that everybody but me is managing him," Barnes says. "They refuse to let me talk to Leon, or let Leon talk to me. They are trying to steal him from me. But the only way they are going to get him is if the Supreme Court says they can have him."

Spinks did not express concern over the Barnes contract until after Michael signed a contract with Top Rank last February. Because he doesn't have a manager, Mike keeps everything he earns. "I guess it started the first time they came in together to get paid," Lewis says. "Mike got 100% of his money. But when we paid Leon, Barnes' 30% had been deducted. He looked at Mike's pile, and then he looked at his pile, and then he said, 'Why the hell am I giving this guy all my money? He doesn't do anything.' "

There has been daily talk of a pending settlement. Barnes says that he doesn't want one. Top Rank says it hasn't offered one. On Feb. 20, Barnes told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had been offered $1.5 million by an attorney for Spinks and Top Rank to buy him out. Later, however, Barnes said he had received many offers, some of them for more than $1 million, but that none of them had come from Top Rank. The only thing that is certain is that several people want to manage the world heavyweight champion. So does Barnes. "I'll even give back my 30% just to stay with the kid," he says.

The day after he signed Spinks, Lewis appeared in the offices of Barry Frank, the head of sports at CBS. The network would be glad to telecast the Olympic champ's first pro fight in Las Vegas on Jan. 15, Frank said.

At about the same time, Spinks had returned to his Marine base in Virginia to seek an early discharge on the basis of financial hardships at home. He got the release, and disappeared.

Lewis now had a fight and no fighter. He called Barnes, who said he had no idea where Spinks might be. Lewis called CBS, offering Earnie Shavers as a substitute. Frank told him no Spinks, no show. "We want the kid with the gold medal," Frank said.

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