But the one good deed for the entire stay was performed during this second Bourbon Street foray. Jose Torres, the former light-heavyweight champion who now punches a typewriter, was seriously considering the purchase of a T-shirt that read, "I Choked Linda Lovelace." Torres was adamant, and giggling too. His friends argued that the T-shirt wouldn't travel well and Torres finally agreed, although he muttered something about only getting to go around once in this life.
So you see, the 48 hours before the fight were taking longer than usual. Just in time, Emile Bruneau turned up. Bruneau, chairman of the Louisiana Boxing Commission, is a sensational churl with a low tolerance for the northern accent. Bruneau is the chap who, as an officer of the World Boxing Association, had a great deal to do with taking away Ali's title and sending the champ into his three-year exile. When a reporter asked Bruneau if he was responsible for that act, the chairman said, "The committee stripped him of his title." And how did you vote on that committee? "None of your business," Bruneau snapped. "That's eight, nine years ago. You wanna dig up skeletons, go to the graveyard."
The reporters were delighted. And when somebody remembered the mysterious brown bottle that Spinks had emptied in the first fight—suspected by some to contain an illegal energy booster— there was a new line of questioning. What would the fighters be allowed to carry into the ring this time? "A bucket with water and water only," Bruneau fumed. "How the hell do I know what they're carrying into the ring? I'm not Houdini."
After Mr. Bruneau, the rest was easy. The Superdome, for instance, described in the brochure this way: "Over the streets named Bourbon and Basin, St. Charles and Desire; over the river that's still sung about; over sad jazz erupting into laughter; over the glory of cuisine by masters, the Superdome rises. The Superdome is more than a building or a stadium or a hall. It is the enshrinement of Louisiana's belief in itself and a budding, exhilarating, moving certainty that tomorrow can be now."
The certainty was easier to glimpse from the $200 seats on the floor. The near trampling of Muhammad Ali as his entourage, driven wild by the $25-a-day starvation diet, flooded the aisle and carried their hero toward the ring. Spinks's inner circle wore red warm-up suits; his second rank was in green. And the angriest man in the young champion's corner was George Benton, the master trainer who devised many of the tactics that carried Spinks to the title.
On this night, Benton was reduced to a part-time adviser. He was to offer his opinion every third round, alternating with Spinks's brother Michael and Sam Solomon, the chief trainer. The arrangement bothered Benton.
"It would be a damn shame if he loses," Benton said, "and the only way he can lose it is on general bullshit. We don't need five guys in the corner, filibustering, telling him some dumb s - - t. There are a lot of things around this fellow that he doesn't need. But he's a very strong person. He takes care of the business at hand. Look at it this way: If your mamma died one day and the next day you were attacked by a wild dog, you'd stop thinking about your mamma. You've heard fighters be asked how they lose a fight, and they say they had too much on their mind. Now how the hell can you have too much on your mind when you're getting the s - - t kicked out of you?
"Straight up, this kid has no business losing this fight. No business at all. But Ali's life's been protected by some mysterious force. I'm always respectful of that. Can it happen again? Sure. You can't say he ain't gonna win again."
The "National Anthem." Spinks applauds. Ali glares across the ring at his opponent. "You're not gonna psych him," says Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer. "I don't think this guy's bothered by that. I think he's a happy warrior." The ring announcer introduces Ali. Spinks beats his gloves together.
When Ali swept through the early rounds—landing a few, grabbing, nullifying Spinks's clumsy charges, landing, grabbing—George Benton's worst fears were realized. After the fourth round, unable to take his place in front of Spinks, he turned away from the ring and cursed. "Ten guys in front of me," he said. He walked off, ignoring the shouts of the green warm-up suits: "George, George, no, no. . ."
The fight dragged on. Nothing changed. "Get tough," red and green suits begged Leon. "Bite down . . . smoke . . . be loose . . . use your gusto . . . do the hustle. . . ." The decision for Ali was mercifully unanimous.
And later, when they asked Spinks why he had been so ineffective, he said, as Benton was afraid he would, "My mind wasn't on the fight."
Ali thought he might fight again in six or eight months. Then again, he might retire. He'll let us know. Back at the Hilton bar, Alvin Cash was demonstrating the "disco hat," a visored cap with a row of battery-operated bulbs. "I'm just doing this as a favor for a friend," Cash was saying. "I'm an entertainer." He passed along a press release. "I was in The Buddy Holly Story. I'll probably be in Muhammad Ali's next movie, acting and singing. I'll be doing my new song, the 'Ali Shuffle.'"
The press release identified Muhammad Ali as a "personal friend, supporter and source of inspiration to Alvin Cash for almost 20 years. Mr. Cash recently was featured on the testimonial program 'A Night with The Greatest' which was videotaped for later presentation. . . ."