Michael Spinks Sues Butch Lewis Estate!
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Nov 2, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
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Photo: Boxing Gloves
It was no surprise to this writer when I heard former Olympic Gold medalist, light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Michael Spinks was suing the estate of his former manager/promoter Butch Lewis. Lewis died July 23rd at the age of 65 and by his funeral August 1st all funding to Spinks would be cut off. Seems there were no written provisions for Spinks in the 1999 will of Lewis.

In October Spinks finally realized Lewis still controlled him and his money from his grave. It seems to me that Lewis always kept a “short leash” on Spinks. I remember trying to interview Spinks for a story I was doing on the 1976 Olympic team that he was part of. I could not get any satisfaction from the New York office of Lewis. I was told by his teammates there was a time Lewis would take phone calls from reporters and writers and say he was Spinks and do the interview. If it was true or not, it was something I wanted none of, so I opted not to chase down the interview.

In November of 2008 the last of Lewis’ fighters one Faruq Saleem was fighting at the New Alhambra against journeyman Willie Perryman, 10-16. Whenever Saleem fought in Phiadelphia, Lewis and Spinks would be there. It was his third straight fight in Philadelphia for Saleem and the 6:07 Newark, NJ, native was in his thirty-eighth fight and twenty-eighth non-winning record opponent. I gather Lewis was “closing in” on Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record with Saleem being 37-0.

Saleem debuted in 1998 defeating James Holly, 4-49 and followed-up with Doug Davis, 8-33-1, Rocky Bentley, 11-75-1, Frankie Hines, 14-94-4 (twice) and Danny Wofford, 17-95-2. By the way, in his next fight in September of 2009 he was defeated for the first time by Shawn McLean, 3-4, by stoppage at Manchester, NH, in 4 rounds and hasn’t fought since. His unbeaten streak was stopped at 38.

Spinks was sitting behind Lewis when I approached him with a 3-ring binder with stories I had written on his 1976 teammates and one on him with numerous questions and my phone number. I never heard back from Spinks which disappointed me.

My first encounter with Lewis was in the Joe Frazier Gym when the former heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier was throwing him out of his office. “Go back to DE and sell your used cars,” said Frazier. My next experience was at the Philadelphia MLK Arena in 1981 when I approached Lewis and asked him who Robert White was? He answered “what’s it to you?” I chuckled to myself knowing how the card was set up to defeat the “white boy’s” under the main event of Spinks and Willie Taylor.

I couldn’t figure how Lewis felt by defeating the ticket sellers he was going to make any money. Future IBF light middleweight champion Buster Drayton, 7-1-1 stopped Dan Snyder, 12-13, in 3. Future WBA heavyweight champion “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 6-0, knocked out Ed Bednarik, 4-0, in the first round. Marty Capasso, 12-0, was fighting substitute White, 5-1, and having his hands full until an accidental clash of heads produced a cut to White which lead to his stoppage in the fifth and a win for Capasso. In an upset Mike “Youngblood” Williams, 15-1-2, of Philadelphia met tough Joe “TNT” Tiberi, 15-3, out of DE. Tiberi put Williams out in the sixth and into permanent retirement. Seems the “Italians” had come and conquered.

Getting back to the subject of this story it was no secret to most of us in the game Lewis was a hustler who came from a well to do family in which his father had a car business. Lewis some claim was a “Don King Wannabe”.

Serving as one of the executors of Lewis’ $8.5 million estate, is billionaire Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, and a defendant in the suit. The other is Leonard L. Williams, a Wilmington-based lawyer, and former Municipal Court judge. It’s been surmised that Spinks made $24 million in his career including $13.6 million in his last fight with Mike Tyson in which Lewis received the same amount.

Also filing a lawsuit is Louise Cummings, 31, longtime girlfriend, business associate and VP of Butch Lewis Productions in Manhattan, NY, in the 18 months before he died. Per Cummings Spinks would receive approximately 6-7k per month and half a dozen times a year get a check for 5k each time.

Spinks’ home was paid off though it has been rumored he has sold it and is moving back into the Wilmington area. Expenses such as electric and gas, property taxes, health insurance, phone, lawn care, legal and accounting services were paid on a monthly basis. He would also pay 2k per month in child support for his son. Its been reported that Lewis had custody of the 6 championship belts and hundreds of tapes of Spinks fights.

What Spinks thought would be a lifetime of monthly payments and checks upon request ended with the death of Lewis. Spinks had to go to his pension and retirement funds to start paying the bills. It seems about $3.6 million of the Lewis $8.6 million would go to his 4 children, 4 grandchildren and relatives.

Let’s hope Michael Spinks has learned from this or maybe as long as the checks were coming in and the bills were being paid he was satisfied. What he expected to receive for a lifetime ended in the lifetime of Lewis. At 57 let’s hope we don’t read in the headlines “Michael Spinks makes comeback against Faruq Saleem in Wilmington”!

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