Last Thoughts on the Last Fights of Muhammad Ali

09.01.06 - By Rev. Marc Axelrod: The first fight with Leon Spinks was basically supposed to be a warmup for a possible 4th bout with Ken Norton, who had just eked out a decision win over Jimmy Young. And Ali didn't take the young Olympic champion very seriously. As I recall, Ali lost the first 6 or 7 rounds of the first Spinks fight, and it is hard to win a decision when you give up that many rounds, even when you are Ali. The guy who scored it 143-142 Ali should have never been allowed to judge a fight ever again.

I remember thinking at the time that maybe Ali lost on purpose, especially when he was praising young Leon to the hilt after the fight. But the truth was that Ali took too much of a beating for it to be on purpose.

And as for the second fight, in spite of the lopsided scored for Ali, he looked terrible. His jab was merely a flicker. His power punches were more like powderpuff punches. His speed was nonexistent. His flicking jab and clinch style was probably enough to merit the decision that night, but in reality, Ali had nothing left.

Against Larry Holmes, Ali's reflexes were so diminished that he was basically a sitting duck for that Holmes jab all night long. His head was telling him what to do, but his body couldn't respond. Larry was just too young, too sharp, too fast, and too strong. And with all the drugs Ali was on for his thyroid and for weight loss, Ali was very fortunate that all that happened was that he got his face kicked in. Rounds nine and ten were almost unbearable to watch.

Against Berbick three years later, Ali tried to fight the same way he fought against Spinks the second time. But Trevor was stronger than Spinks, and he pummelled Ali to the body in the Bahamas. And even though Ali fought on even terms with Berbick for 6 or 7 rounds, he had nothing left in the climactic stanzas, where Berbick basically had his way.

I also noticed before the Berbick fight that Ali had that frozen, Parkinson's look even then. What a tragedy that this bout ever took place. And yet for Ali to compete as well as he did that night with the onset of Parkinson's shows you how great Muhammad was in his day.

As I reflect upon the heavyweight scene today, I get wistful and nostalgic. Every time I see an old Wide World of Sports clip with Ali hamming it up with Howard Cosell or with an opponent, I say to myself, "Man, I miss him. He truly was the Greatest."

And let me say something else about Ali. He had such a belief in himself that he inspired a whole generation of young people to believe in themselves. He made me believe that I could be the greatest at what I do in life.

Long live Muhammad Ali!

Article posted on 09.01.2006

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