But the parallels between Ali-Frazier I and Tyson-Spinks grew even stronger yesterday, thanks to The Ring magazine's official recognition of Spinks as the one, true heavyweight champion.
During a brief ceremony at a press conference attended by both Tyson and Spinks, Nigel Collins, editor of The Ring, presented Spinks with the first championship belt he has had since the IBF vacated his title last summer for pulling out of the Home Box Office heavyweight unification series.
"Titles should be won or lost the old-fashioned way - in the ring," Collins said, recalling that The Ring's late publisher, Nat Fleisher, for years awarded belts to champions recognized by the magazine. Collins also noted that Spinks' claim to the title is based on a genealogy that dates back to John L. Sullivan in the early 1900s.
"I've been waiting for this a long time," Spinks said as Collins cinched the belt around his waist. "But then I never did feel like anything less than the champion."
Neither did Ali, whose title was stripped in 1967 when he refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict. Ali remained inactive for three years, and portions of his heavyweight domain went to Jimmy Ellis and Frazier.
Frazier scored a fifth-round technical knockout of Ellis on Feb. 16, 1970, to unify the title. But Ali returned to action that same year, and set the wheels in motion for what generally is considered the most important heavyweight championship bout of the past quarter-century.
When they finally got together that memorable night in Madison Square Garden, Frazier had the belt and Ali no small amount of support as the self- styled "people's champion."
That is exactly what Spinks and his promoter, Butch Lewis, have been billing the former IBF titlist as ever since he dropped out of the HBO unification series in favor of a $4 million payday against Gerry Cooney.
Not unexpectedly, Tyson took a dim view of The Ring's presentation.
"I'm the best fighter in the world," he said. "There's no one on this planet who comes near to me. I'll have that belt, too, after I beat (Spinks) Monday."
If history repeats itself, Tyson will make good his prediction. Ali-Frazier I, one of the few fights of that magnitude to actually live up to its hype, ended with Frazier beating Ali on a 15-round unanimous decision.
Who's Afraid? Tyson, who acts as if Monday's outcome is a given, was angered when asked if he was "afraid" of Spinks.
"Why do you ask me if I'm afraid?" he asked, clearly irritated by the nature of the question. "Why don't you ask (Spinks) if he's afraid?"
So the questioner did just that.
"I always fear an opponent," Spinks said, adding that "it feels good to have some terror in my life . . . it's something that motivates me to get up in the morning and go to the gym."
Spinks, whose workouts with New Orleans physical fitness guru Mackie Shilstone are off-limits, later was asked if he had a "secret weapon" he could employ against Tyson.
"Yeah, it's going to be down my trunks," Spinks said, cracking up the room. "Where can you hide anything in the ring? . . . What do you mean, 'secret weapon?' I'm going in to fight the guy. That's all."
Punch Lines: The live gate for the fight is nearing $13 million, thus blasting to smithereens the old record of $6.8 million, set for the Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard fight last year in Las Vegas.
The IBF asked a federal judge in Newark, N.J., yesterday to void the ruling by New Jersey athletic Commissioner Larry Hazzard that set a 12-round limit on the Tyson-Spinks fight. The IBF's threat to drop IBF-rated fighters if they participate on Monday's undercard, an outgrowth of the 12- vs. 15-round controversy for the main event, continues to make the remainder of the show an uncertainty. But it does look like a couple of heavyweight 10-rounders are sure things, one pitting Donovan "Razor" Ruddock against Tony Morrison and the other sending James "Buster" Douglas against Mike Williams.
Shelly Finkel, who is coordinating the closed-circuit and pay-for-view telecast, said Monday's extravaganza might be one of the last hurrahs for
closed-circuit boxing. "Closed-circuit is the way of the past," Finkel said. ''Pay-for-view is the way of the future."
In an indirect reference to the supposed troubles between Tyson and his wife, TV actress Robin Givens, Trump Plaza president Mark Etess tried to establish ground rules for yesterday's press conference: Any mention of the fighters' personal lives would be off-limits. Etess' boss, Donald Trump, then took his turn at the podium and threw the ground rules out the window by closing his remarks with a personal observation about Givens. "She is one hell of a fine lady," Trump said.