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There was nothing beautiful about the heavyweight match, which was part of the package for which Home Box Office, the pay TV outfit, had forked over $3 million to show live. Saturday night NBC, which paid about 1/30th that much, will show the fights in a delayed telecast. If you like horror movies, watch the middleweights. If you are having trouble sleeping, tune in the heavies.
The heavyweight bout was ordered by the WBA after Weaver decided he'd rather fight Gerry Cooney for $2 million than Tillis for $1 million. Cooney was the No. 1 contender. No matter. When the smoke from the WBA's edict and four or five suits had cleared, there was Weaver, now making only $750,000, in with Tillis, the No. 3 contender.
Tillis, a light hitter who came under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee last January, was expected to come out dancing and jabbing. Instead, he came out in full retreat. Rather than jotting down points after each round, the officials should have recorded his splits. All he needed in his corner was starting blocks.
Weaver, a notoriously slow starter, hadn't fought since stopping Gerrie Coetzee last Oct. 25. Weaver was in good shape, but the long layoff had slowed his timing. At first he pursued his fleeing challenger at a leisurely pace. Then he slowed down. By the seventh round, which was sort of a cease-fire between truces, the crowd had begun to boo.
In the ninth, Tillis stood and fought, but then Weaver cocked his devastating left. Tillis fled at the sight of it and hit the quarter pole in 0:24 and change.
In Weaver's corner before Round 10, his manager, Don Manuel, was urging him to step up the pace. "Throw more combinations," he said. "Press him more. Step to the right and throw a right. Hell, step to the right and throw a hook."
In the 11th, Weaver came roaring out at a fast shuffle. He hooked Tillis to the body, crossed with a right and unloaded two more hooks. Stung, Tillis answered with a quick combination and was gone. Then Weaver seemed to lose interest.
The pace was beginning to tell on Tillis, the 24-year-old cowboy who came in with a 20-0 record against folks like Roughhouse Fischer and Domingo D'Elia. His mouth was open and he was sucking deep for air. Weaver began getting to him, but never with a solid shot—largely because when Tillis wasn't running, he was now grabbing. Whenever Weaver got too close, Tillis hugged him like a brother. Late in the 13th, after Tillis had wrapped Weaver in an embrace, Referee Stanley Christodoulou stepped in to break it up. Tillis hugged him, too.
Mercifully, the fight only lasted 15 rounds. All three officials favored the champion: Christodoulou, 146-142; judge Rogelio Perez, 147-142; judge Ismael Fernandez, 145-143.
Tillis thought Fernandez was closest to being correct. "I thought I had won at least 11 rounds," he said. "I outhit him three or four to one. I guess the judges couldn't see too good tonight."