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"People just led me the wrong way," Leon says today. "I had a hard time steering my life. But no matter what happened, I've always loved Michael."
On the night of the rematch in the Louisiana Superdome, the scene in Leon's corner was chaotic. Hangers-on screamed instructions, and part-time trainer George Benton, who couldn't get a word in, stormed away after the fifth round. In the glare of the spotlight that follows any heavyweight champion, Leon had come to be a car-crashing caricature for the nation to laugh at. Now, after he lost on a decision to Ali, the spotlight moved on. (Last Sunday, when Leon lost badly to former WBC cruiser-weight champion Carlos De Leon, he seemed very near the end of his career.)
"There was a time when people would come up to Mike and make fun of Leon," Lewis says. "Everybody had a Leon Spinks joke. Mike would want to punch those people in the mouth. He was confused. He wasn't sure if that's what happened when you became champion or if Leon was bringing it on himself."
Michael's confusion led to inactivity. By then he had a 7-0 pro record, but was too busy worrying about and chasing after Leon to train. He fought only twice in the two years after Leon won the title. His life was further complicated by a knee injury, and it was fortunate that during this slack time he could confide in Sandra Massey, a part-time model and dance instructor in Philadelphia whom he'd met through Leon.
"Everybody needs somebody, and I didn't have nobody after Leon left Philadelphia," Michael says. "I had to stumble around with a big splint on my leg. So Sandy and I had time together. We wound up caring more and more for each other. Sandy showed me things that nobody had ever shown me. Her love. Her care. Her warmth. She was my first and only love. It was pure and golden."
His relationship with Sandy and his return to the ring in February 1980 relaxed Spinks. He won five bouts that year and looked on in awe and amazement as his daughter, Michelle, came into the world in Philadelphia's Booth Maternity Center on Dec. 3.
Spinks and Braxton became well-acquainted in 1980, when Braxton, a former inmate at Rahway (N.J.) State Prison who had yet to develop a reputation, was hired in July as a sparring partner. Spinks says he loaned Braxton $45 to buy a radio and that the debt has remained unpaid for two years. Although the two have milked this angle at press conferences to hype the title unification fight—"I'll send you the money in a first-aid kit," Braxton sneers—they express respect for each other in private.
There can be no disputing Spinks's punching power. It's one thing for a boxer to have one devastating punch, but very rare for him to have knockout potential in almost every punch he throws, which is what elevates Spinks to champion class. He used a left hook to KO Marvin Johnson on March 28, 1981. When he finally got his shot at the WBA crown on July 18, 1981, he knocked down Eddie Mustafa Muhammad with an overhand right and won the title on a unanimous decision. In subsequent bouts, he used a straight right to flatten Vonzell Johnson and a right uppercut to topple Jerry Celestine. While Spinks (22-0, 16 knockouts) is the heavier hitter, Braxton (19-1-1, 12 knockouts) relies on the cumulative effects of his punches.
Braxton, the shortest light heavyweight champion ever, comes forward in a crouch, his thick arms and shoulders serving as a protective shell, and it is difficult to hit him cleanly. Spinks's lanky frame makes it hard to get inside to hit him. Braxton is a relentless mauler who will try to control the pace of the fight early. Spinks is content to wait for the appropriate time to strike.
"I will stand up to Braxton from the start," Spinks says.