It was awful. It has been widely referred to as the fight that never should have happened. It was a brutally one sided fight that brought grown men to tears. It was the Larry Holmes vs Muhammad Ali fight. 40 years ago it took place – October 2, 1980, Las Vegas – yet every single fan who witnessed the sad spectacle live remembers it vividly all these years later.
Never – never – has as great a fighter gone out in such utterly depressing fashion. Yet it could have been much worse for Ali. To his dying day, Ali’s former doctor, Ferdie Pacheco (having left Ali in 1977, having seen enough; the deterioration of the Champ’s kidneys, in particular, troubling the good doctor) stated that “everyone involved in the fight should have gone to jail.”
It’s been written how Ali – who had overdosed on thyroid pills before the fight, these prescribed to him by a far less honorable doctor – could have suffered anything from a stroke to bleeding in the head that awful night. Instead Ali, THE bravest and in so many ways the toughest heavyweight ever, lived on in an ever declining condition. Pacheco said the Parkinson’s Ali suffered from for so many years would still have afflicted him, but it may not have been so severe, so all consuming had Ali retired years before he actually, eventually did do.
But as badly beaten as Ali really was by Holmes, as sad as the whole unnecessary fight was, Ali the great man was still capable of cheering up the depressed and deflated fans who so loved – and still love – him.
Showing yet more of his immense character, Ali, instead of hiding away as many, many other fighters would have done in his place, agreed to appear on TV with both Holmes and Howard Cosell, to both analyse and look back on the worst fight of his life, as well as speak about his immediate future. Imagine for a moment how unpleasant a thing this must have been for as proud and as egotistical a person as Ali, sitting and watching himself take that awful ten-round beating.
Still, Ali was determined that he was “not hurt, not beat up” in the fight. And astonishingly, Ali was also talking about fighting again, stating how he was looking at taking on a “top contender” and knocking him out to prove he was worthy of a second shot at Holmes. Was Ali serious?
The sheer warmth and spirit and ability to make us howl with laughter then shone through, as Ali exchanged barbs with Cosell.
“You’re crazy, you know that,” Cosell said to Ali.
“Takes one to know one,” Ali shot back.
Then, as Cosell did his best to wrap up the show, Ali and Holmes teamed up against him, in comical fashion. Holmes threw some mock jabs at Cosell’s chin, Ali pretended to strangle Cosell. Then Ali feigned an attempt to pull Cosell’s toupee off his head. It made/makes for hysterics. Hysterics that, for while at least, took a fight fan’s mind off what transpired in the ring that tragic night in October of that year.
Even when he was down, Ali could still get his fans up. There really will never be anyone quite like him again.