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The real battle began after Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks finished fighting. No sooner had the two heavyweights left the Superdome ring than the principals involved in the promotion were swinging away, and in a matter of hours it was clear that it was going to be a more eventful fight than the one that preceded it.
The first sign of trouble was the discovery of two questionable $200,000 finder's fees. Then, in stunning sequence, came a $1 million suit charging misappropriation of funds, an inexcusable diatribe delivered by Ali, charges of ancillary rip-offs, a ticket-duplicating scheme that may have netted more than $500,000 and a $15 million slander suit. By last weekend, a U.S. grand jury had been impaneled in New Orleans, Justice Department subpoenas were issued and the FBI was impounding records in New York and Louisiana. FBI agents expressed interest in two of the local promoters, Don Hubbard and Sherman Copelin, as well as in high-ranking Louisiana political figures and an official of the Teamsters Union.
The story began innocently enough. Top Rank, which held all promotional rights to the heavyweight title fight, was looking for a buyer for the live gate. Bob Arum, Top Rank's chairman of the board, thought he had South Africa locked up for $5 million. But when the moneymen in Johannesburg asked for more time, Arum, with more than $7 million already assured from ABC and international closed-circuit television, sold the live gate for $3 million to a group of investors in New Orleans who were among those who had expressed interest in staging the fight.
From that point on, the plot thickened. In quick order, a number of teams and players were involved.
Team A: Louisiana Sports, Inc., which bought the live gate rights, plus some of the ancillaries. LSI consists principally of Jake Dimaggio and Philip Ciaccio, two white men, and Hubbard and Copelin, both of whom are black.
To make the deal, LSI received $3.6 million in financial backing from...
Team B: Civic Enterprises of Louisiana, Inc., known as the Lafayette Group. It consists of six wealthy and influential men from the city of Lafayette, and is headed up by Bob Wright, the president of the Louisiana Bar Association.
It should be recorded with an asterisk that while Louisiana Governor Edwin W. Edwards is not listed on Team B's roster, his actions at this point certainly didn't hurt their cause. "I made a few phone calls," said Edwards. The result of one call was quick legislative approval for reducing the state's special sales tax on boxing promotions from 5% of the gross gate to a maximum of $5,000. At the last yet-to-be-audited count—which is at least $1 million below educated guesses—the fight had a gross gate of $4,806,675. Even using that low figure, the state's share at the former tax rates would have been $240,333.75.
And after another of the governor's calls—this one to Superdome officials—the rental charge for the fight became $100,000, plus roughly another $75,000 for costs. Normally one night's rental for the Dome is 10% of the gross after taxes. The estimated savings as a result of that call: $300,000.
Enter now Team C, Corporate Management Ltd., which, surprisingly, turns out to be Copelin and Hubbard, who are hired by Team A to handle the daily operations—for which Copelin and Hubbard were each paid $55,000, plus unlimited expenses.