There was reason for following the same path, doing everything the same way: Spinks is a man of many superstitions. Cracked mirrors, black cats, walking under ladders all terrify him. "There's no way I'll let a black cat cross in front of me." he says. "Or if I'm driving and see a black cat on the other side of the road, I'll turn around and go the other way. And if I'm walking with someone and they split a pole between us. I'll ask them to come on back and do it over again right."
As for Spinks' working schedule, "People said he wasn't training, that he was out fooling around," says Solomon. "They said he's out of shape. He's only 25 and he dances all night. Now you tell me, how's he going to get out of shape? Did you ever try the dances he does? I'd drop dead."
At Kutsher's, Spinks got serious, running many miles, most of them up and down hills, training hard but sparring only 11 rounds. Solomon thought it was too soon to do a lot of sparring. Besides, just as he had for the last fight, Spinks began to lose too much weight too quickly. By the time he began working out in Upper Darby, he was down 12 pounds to 190. For the first fight he had come in strong at 197¼.
By mid-August, Spinks' weight, or lack of it, had Solomon in a near-panic. He telephoned Dr. Robert Bass in Philadelphia, who advised him to start the champion on vitamins. "The problem is the heat," Solomon says. "Leon hates the heat. He just loses all desire to eat. He's eating two meals a day, but he's not eating much."
Spinks' idea of a meal was raw eggs and two bottles of beer. "People think it's wrong for an athlete to drink beer," he says. "It's good for you. Especially a boxer. You train and lose all that salt. Two beers puts it right back in your body. It's not what you drink that hurts you, it's how much."
Six weeks before the first Ali fight, Spinks' weight also had dropped off to 190 pounds. In desperation, Chet Cummings, Spinks' personal public-relations representative, went to Reliable Caterers at 145th and Broadway in Harlem and ordered $348 worth of soul food. The next day a truck arrived at Kutsher's filled with ham hocks and collard greens, oxtails, spareribs, neck bones, black-eyed peas, candied yams, fried chicken and corn bread. "Everything a fighter shouldn't eat," says an amazed Solomon. "And his weight went right back to normal. For him, it's the right food. I guess we are just going to have to do the same thing again."
In comparison to Ali, whose staff of more than 20 at Deer Lake cost him $12,000 a month, Spinks' entourage was tiny. Besides Solomon and Cummings, there were only Assistant Trainer Art Redden, a Marine gunnery sergeant, and his wife Marsha; Billy Walker, the equipment manager; administrative aide Butch Wilfork; sparring partner Leroy Diggs; and Betty the cook.
"Ali's got me outnumbered until we get in the ring," says Spinks. "Then it's just him and me. Outside the ring, he talks a lot and I don't say much. He's still my idol. He always will be. But in the ring, when he throws a punch, I get to throw a punch back. In the ring he's just another guy between me and me doing my thing."
A 17-year Marine Corps veteran and now the boxing coach at Camp Lejeune, Redden discovered Spinks and was his first trainer. He had found Spinks punching a heavy bag in the gym at Lejeune. "He was the right size, so I talked him into fighting this guy from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. In the second round Leon jumped all over the guy and the guy quit," says Redden. "He learned a lot then, but when he turned pro, he forgot a lot. But now I watch him in the gym and I can see it all coming back. He's moving good, his jab is a lot better. He's doing a lot of things I didn't see in the first fight: shifting, changing angles, bobbing and weaving, using various combinations. Ali didn't see the fighter that Leon really is. He will see that fighter this time."
As one watches Ali work, it becomes evident that he is planning to launch a dazzling assault from the opening second of the first round. He plans to maintain the blitz until a) Spinks falls from the sustained punishment, or b) Ali crumbles from exhaustion. This time Ali, the man who gave Spinks the first six rounds the first time they met, intends to give away not even six seconds.