It was an ambush, of sorts. Everyone thought Michael Spinks was a light heavyweight eating his way up to heavyweight. That's why there were all those gasps when Spinks weighed in at 200 pounds before his fight with heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. And that's why the assembled experts said the poor lad might just as well be packing a knapsack full of 25 pounds of rocks.
But not until Spinks had beaten Holmes, becoming the first light heavyweight champion to topple a reigning heavyweight king, was it revealed that his walking-around weight—the pounds he carries between fights—has been 187 to 192 pounds. No one suspected that all along Spinks had been a heavyweight pretending to be a light heavyweight.
Nor was there any flab in that walking-around poundage. On the contrary, Mackie Shilstone, Spinks's conditioning coach since 1982, estimates Spinks's normal body fat to be about 9%. When one considers that the average National Football League quarterback carries 11% to 12% body fat, it is easy to see that Spinks on vacation is a leaner specimen than most guys facing a Lawrence Taylor blitz. And, at 6'2�", he is just as big.
"You can't keep the guy out of the gym," Butch Lewis, the champion's promoter, adviser and close friend, says, explaining his man's trimness. "He just likes it."
When Spinks fought as a light heavy, it was Shilstone's assignment before fights to trim 20 to 25 pounds to get Spinks below the division's 175-pound limit. "Since he was already mostly muscle, that meant we had to get him down without sacrificing strength and stamina," says Shilstone.
In his next-to-last light heavyweight title defense, against David Sears on Feb. 23, Spinks came in at 170� pounds, his lowest weight since winning a gold medal as a middleweight in the 1976 Olympics. His body fat was only 4.6%, which is lower than that of most Olympic marathoners.
"He had dropped 25 pounds, and the last eight or nine were pure muscle," says Shilstone, 34, a former 143-pound wide receiver at Tulane. Shilstone holds two master's degrees: one in nutrition, the other in business administration. "The press all said Michael had dried out all night and was in trouble. What they didn't know was that we had made the weight two days before the fight; that we were eating three meals a day and training twice a day while holding the weight without sacrificing energy."
In the third round, Spinks hit Sears with a right hand that lifted his rival off the floor and dropped him. Soon after that, the referee stopped the bout.
For the Holmes fight, Shilstone was told to draw up a new blueprint for the same body. This time he had to bring out the legitimate heavyweight in Spinks. When Spinks arrived in New Orleans—where Shilstone is a consultant to the Azar Foundation, a private medical research organization—eight weeks before the fight, he weighed 193 pounds, of which 9.1% was body fat. For the fight, Shilstone projected a weight of between 198 and 203 pounds, with 7.1% body fat.
"In that range, Michael would not sacrifice any explosiveness or speed and actually would be a more efficient fighter, even more than he was as a light heavyweight," says Shilstone. "A mistake [ Holmes's camp] made was a critical one: They assumed Michael's walking-around weight was the same as his light heavyweight fighting weight. That was a major mistake."