Muhammad Ali fought plenty of guys twice, even three times, but he never wanted anything more to do with Jimmy Young after struggling mightily with him on April 30, 1976. The performance an overweight Ali produced in Maryland was in no way impressive, let alone great. But Ali’s reputation, his enormous influence over the sport, helped him win a wide decision on paper.
A 34 year old Ali, coming in at a career-heaviest 230 pounds (this Ali’s heaviest ever, until his final fight with Trevor Berbick, when he came in at 236), was making the sixth defence of his second reign as champion. “The Greatest” was also having his second fight since coming through the sheer hell of Joe Frazier in Manila. Young, a tricky, crafty and slippery boxer from Philly was no “Smokin’ Joe,” but he was all wrong for the ageing, overweight Ali.
Young made Ali go on the attack, easily slipping most of the sporadic work Ali put out, the champ’s punches either made to miss or blocked. But for a number of rounds, too many, Ali did almost nothing at all. Fans had seen Ali conserve energy in previous fights, but there he had woken up and come out with something special after having done so. Not on this night. It’s quite amazing, but Ali’s biggest moments of success came when Young pulled the odd move of sticking his head out of the ropes when under pressure, thus forcing a break in the action. This hurt Jimmy, on the cards and in the minds of those fans who might have otherwise made a fuss over the scores for Ali.
But it’s tough to support a fighter who appears to not want to fight. Young pulled the move six times, from round-seven to the 15th and final round. Young was given a count in the 12th when he stuck his head out, the referee ruling a knockdown. Young had boxed brilliantly throughout the fight, yet this perceived negativity cost him. Ali had never looked so technically awful, or as tired and out of shape. Yet the two judges and the scoring referee all had the champ winning wide – 72-65, 70-68, 71-64.
Never had Ali’s star power and reputation served him so well in a fight. So, did Young do enough to have deserved the decision? Many fans, experts and Ali critics say yes. Young certainly succeeded in making the greatest heavyweight champion of them all look incredibly bad.
Young was no typical Philadelphia fighter, as Ali found out. Where the legendary Philly fighters went to war, Jimmy dug into his bag of tricks and boxed, boxed, boxed. It wasn’t just Ali who couldn’t cope with Young’s style or figure him out – George Foreman, Ron Lyle and Ken Norton also had frustrating, tiring nights against Jimmy. Arguably one of the top-five best heavyweights never to have won a world title, Young was an incredibly hard man to take out. Only Earnie Shavers and, near the end of his career, Gerry Cooney ever managed to stop Young.
Ali never came close to putting a dent in a 27 year old Young on this day 44 years ago.