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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Michael Spinks rolled out of bed, walked across the room in his suite at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City and deposited his angular frame into an easy chair next to the window. Twelve stories below and half a block away, as the Atlantic Ocean broke against the beach beyond the boardwalk, a few hardy strollers leaned into the gusts of wind and driving rain as they headed for their hotels.
Spinks glanced out into the darkness and stretched in the chair, his bare feet on the floor. He was wearing a cap bearing the inscription I'M THE BOSS above the bill. His eyes were only half open, his voice a groan. "Ohhh, I'm sore," said the new undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world, his left cheek resting in the palm of his hand. "I stayed until they closed the party down this morning; I was still dancin' going out the door. My waistline is sore from the dancin' and my neck is tired and sore from the fight. I was hiding my head and Braxton was hitting me in the neck with those roundhouse punches. I'm achin'."
It was nearing 11 last Saturday night, almost 24 hours after Spinks, the WBA's titleholder, had taken away Dwight Braxton's WBC crown, winning a unanimous 15-round decision in Atlantic City's Convention Hall. He had kept Braxton at bay with his jab and off balance by making himself a highly evasive target. Each man earned a guaranteed $1.2 million—a record purse for the division—and Spinks was now the first undisputed light heavyweight champion since Bob Foster retired in September 1974. Spinks and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the middleweight titleholder, are now the only such champions.
Spinks appeared to be recovering as much from the festivities as from the fight. He and his brother Leon, the former world heavyweight champion, hadn't left promoter Butch Lewis' party at Resorts International until 6 a.m. Michael had been mixing champagne and soft drinks with Heineken beer at the party, and later he tossed off a whiskey or two in a bar at the hotel. By then the sun was up.
"Leon fell asleep at the table so I drank his Crown Royal," Michael says. "I laughed all night, listened to arguments and told stories." The party ended up in Michael's suite, where he finally crawled into bed at 2:30 in the afternoon. By 11 p.m., when he was fully awake, the fact that he'd won the most important fight in his life had only begun to sink in.
"I was laying in bed," he said, "and I was thinking, I won more than $1 million last night! And I won the prize!' I kept saying it to myself, over and over again, i got him. I got him! I beat that bum. I beat him!' I looked at the headlines in the papers and I kept saying, I won. I won!' "
Spinks removed his hat and gave a thought to the inscription. "I psyched myself to believe I was going into a very, very hard match," he said. "I overestimated him perfectly. I respected his punching ability. When I saw something coming, I moved. He couldn't touch me. The strategy worked very easily." Spinks pointed to his hat. "I'm the boss," he said. "That I am."
Precisely who was the real light heavyweight boss had been a matter of no small debate since Braxton, a graduate of New Jersey's Rahway State Prison (armed robbery, 5½ years), had TKO'd the WBC champion, Matthew Saad Muhammad, in the 10th round of their fight in December 1981. Braxton had had no amateur experience—Spinks, of course, had won an Olympic gold in 1976—and he whipped Saad in only his 18th pro fight. Five months earlier, Spinks had seized the WBA title on a decision from Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
What made the prospective Spinks-Braxton match so attractive was their contrasting physiques and boxing styles. The 30-year-old Braxton, blocky and muscular at 5'6¾", with a 19-1-1 record, including 12 knockouts, comes in low and rolling, working off a hard jab while looking for a chance to launch his damaging, if not devastating, right hand. An elusive bobber and weaver, he's also tough to hit, but what distinguishes him is the relentlessness of his attack.
"Braxton reminds me of me," said Archie Moore, who held the light heavyweight title from 1952 to '61. "Something in his style. He carries his aggression with a defensive mechanism built in. It's called scientific locomotion. He also employs the art of escapology, which is the art of evasiveness. Are you looking at my face? Am I marked up?" asked the man who had 234 fights in a 30-year career.