Boxing may be among the most barbaric of sports - somewhere on the violence line between the Stanley Cup and a British soccer match - but the sweet science does draw a crowd. They estimated that some 80 million people around the world watched the Michael Spinks-Mike Tyson closed-circuit fight last night, and that included a wide cross-section of pugilistic purists who filed into the Salt Palace.
Among them was Bob Hope, the comedian, who had played golf Friday afternoon in the Great American Shootout at Jeremy Ranch. He had agreed to come to Utah for the annual fund-raising golf tournament as long as they'd find him a place to take a nap afterward - and they'd wake him up in time for the fight."I used to be a fighter myself, you know," said Hope, who is almost 85. "They called me Rembrandt Hope because I was on the canvas so much."
"I'd have won my last fight," he said, "if the referee hadn't stepped on my hand."
He said he thought Spinks, though the underdog, had a chance. And that was no joke.
"He'll give him (yson) a lot better fight than people think," said Hope, who's seen a fight or two in his days. "Spinks is a good boxer, and he's a battler."
Hope's agent, Ed Barner, arranged for the comedian to see if his pugilistic prognosis was correct by getting him into a private screening room in the Salt Palace where KUTV was hosting a hundred or so of its closest friends and/or clients. Barner also got front-row seats for Johnny Miller and Steve Young, the golfer and the quarterback, who sat next to pro basketball players Pace Mannion and Adrian Just-Back-From-The-Playoffs Dantley.
This was Utah's answer to the Celebrity Corner in the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, where the fight was taking place live.
"I'm no boxer, but I'm going with Tyson," said Dantley, never a fool with his money. "I hope it goes at least seven rounds."
That's exactly what the Lakers were saying a week ago.
Mannion picked Tyson in six rounds, which made it unanimous for the basketball players.
Steve Young predicted an upset.
"I played for Tampa Bay too long," he said. "I have to go with Spinks."
Johnny Miller, an all-around sports buff and educated critic, said, "I hate to say this, because I like Spinks, but there's a good chance Tyson will beat him in the first round. That's the most likely thing to happen. Spinks won't last one round."
Pretty good handicapping for someone who's never had one.
Around the KUTV room, the thinking was generally that Spinks was in store for something he could use _ new dental work. The guards at the door both predicted Tyson in less than seven rounds. Kent Crawford, a KUTV executive and former U. of U. tennis star, said Tyson in six. Former BYU lineman Kelly Harris said Tyson in five. Advertising executive and St. Louis Cardinals zealot Bob Fotheringham said Spinks in 11 _ but only because Spinks grew up in St. Louis. Dave Fox, the KUTV sportscaster who came to Salt Lake from Las Vegas and had seen both boxers fight live several times, said, "Tyson will probably win. But Spinks will give him a heck of a bout . . . if they'd held this fight two years ago, like they should have, Spinks would have won."
How about 10 years ago, when Tyson was 11? The fight itself took less time than it took to make the above predictions.
Up in the front of the room, Young was hiding his face as Spinks went down and couldn't get back up. He felt like he was in Tampa again, with no visible means of support.
Miller shook his head, even though he'd been right. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe Spinks wanted to go down early and get it over with."
As it worked out, Spinks made $13 million in 87 seconds.
"Man, that's a lot of money," said Dantley.
Bob Hope just sat there, somewhat stunned. He had interrupted his nap for this?
The KUTV room quickly emptied. Another Fight of the Century was history. And as is often the case, the bulk of the fun had been in the anticipation.
Then again, Spinks might have won the fight if the referee hadn't stepped on his hand.