If they keep pulling on Leon, stretching him like he's a dummy or a doll, it doesn't matter if it's Norton or Ali, he won't be able to fight anybody."
The words seemed to hang in the air of the nearly empty St. Louis coffee house. Michael Spinks, the younger brother of Leon Spinks, the world heavyweight champion, shook his head.
"Leon is not happy now," he said. "He's confused; they are putting too much pressure on him. His wife Nova is tearing his mind to pieces. Leon's mind is a total wreck now. He doesn't have anybody around him but people who want his blood. I tried to tell him he needed to come home, to be with his own people. But it may be too late."
Too late? Nobody seemed to know. Confused and pressured, Leon Spinks was a will-o'-the-wisp last week, not talking, first seeking refuge in a motel in Des Moines, then slipping into St. Louis to meet with Michael and his mother, and later with Mitt Barnes, his embattled manager. To add to Spinks' woes, Friday night the World Boxing Council stripped him of its version of his title.
At week's end, Michael, anguished by his brother's plight, tried to explain how he and Leon had come to such a hard place.
Deciding that he needed to follow the same advice he was trying to give Leon, Michael had gone home to St. Louis to talk over his future with his mother, Mrs. Kay Frances Spinks, and to sign a contract with his new manager, Nick Miranda, a theatrical booking agent. A fast-rising light heavyweight with a 7-0 record, Michael, like Leon, had been promoted exclusively by Top Rank. It was an experience, he said, that each day became more and more distasteful. Last Wednesday night, Michael and Miranda agreed on a two-year contract, with an option for two more years.
"I realize that Michael still has a two-year contractual obligation to Top Rank, but I want to read the contract," Miranda said. "I want to see how they have treated him, if they have lied to him. If I find the leverage I think I'll find, it's going to be a new ball game."
For Leon Spinks, the past two weeks have been the old ball game. The world heavyweight championship is the cornerstone of boxing; those who control it control the sport. Since winning the title from Muhammad Ali on Feb. 15, Leon has been the center of an emotional family tug-of-war, with his mother and brother at one end, his wife at the other. He has also been buffeted about in a three-way battle for control between Top Rank, Barnes, his manager of record, and Edward Bell and Lester Hudson of Detroit, his new attorneys. The WBC's action seemed to him the crowning injustice, taking part of his title (in the eyes of the rival World Boxing Association, Spinks is still the world champion) before he had a chance to throw a punch in its defense.
The WBC's move, as disappointing as it was to Leon, came as no shock. That body had demanded that the new champ defend first against Ken Norton. Spinks had signed a letter promising to do just that before the WBC would sanction his fight last month. Despite the letter, Leon announced after the fight that he wanted to give Ali a rematch before meeting Norton. The WBC reacted with righteous indignation.
"We've been kicked around too long," said Jos� Sulaim�n, the WBC president. At the same time, however, Sulaim�n admitted that he didn't think Leon understood the contents of the letter he was forced to sign, or, for that matter, that anyone in the WBC had ever tried to explain them to him.