It Was Twenty-Eight Years Ago Today - The Tragic Ali-Holmes Fight

02.10.08 - by James Slater - Twenty-eight years ago today at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, one of the most hard-to-watch and tragic boxing matches in history took place. The legendary Muhammad Ali, already a three-time heavyweight champion of the world, made the unwise decision to come back one more time in an attempt to win the crown for an unprecedented fourth time.

Larry Holmes, Ali's one-time sparring partner, was the new man at the top of the heavyweight division. Unbeaten and having held the WBC championship since his June of 1978 win over Ken Norton, "The Easton Assassin" was some eight years younger than Ali, was at his very peak and had nowhere near the amount of wear and tear on his body that his former employer had on his.. It's easy to be wise after the event - and in the lead up to the October 1980 fight a number of well respected boxing people were actually giving the 38-year-old Ali a chance - but in reality Ali had no chance.

Released documents pertaining to Ali's health and well being came to public knowledge with the 1989 publication of Thomas Hauser's excellent book, "Muhammad Ali, His Life and Times." Now, for the first time, it was apparent just how dangerous it was for Ali to have fought again. No doubt the majority of fans will be aware of the 1980 findings of The Mayo Clinic; how they noted that Ali had "mild ataxic dysarthria," which is a problem using the muscles required to coordinate speaking, and how Ali had problems even conducting a basic finger-to-nose coordination test. Despite all this and more, however, the most beloved boxer in history was allowed to risk serious injury, perhaps even a fatality, against a primed and peaking heavyweight champion of the world.

Even now, almost thirty years later, people wonder why and how this fight was permitted to take place. But basically speaking, though there was far more to it than just this, Ali was a victim of his own incomparable fame and unparalleled status. In other words, Ali was bigger than life and the normal rules and ways of thinking were void in his case. People had such faith in the great man, that if he said he was going to do something, no matter how illogical it seemed, they believed he would do as he said. No-one was ever going to tell Ali he was a shot fighter and that he was unable to do what he said he would. Ali was bigger than life and even members of his own family were unable to stop him doing what his ego told him he still could. Putting it more succinctly, promoter Don King asked, "How are you gonna tell God he can't make thunder and lightning anymore?!"

So the fight happened, and, due in large part to Ali's seriously compromised physical condition being made even worse due to the former champ having taken thyroid pills for a few weeks before the bout, the once great boxer had absolutely nothing but his pride. It was this pride that allowed a pathetic looking and severely weakened Ali to last ten long and awful rounds. His body may have looked great having lost a lot of weight because of the taking of the thyroid pills, but, as Angelo Dundee put, "light was not right." Ali had no strength, was not perspiring at all and was, according to his former doctor Ferdie Pacheco (who, in 1977, had quit the Ali camp in protest of continued boxing on Ali's part), "a walking time bomb."

Ali went through the motions early on, trying to taunt Holmes with the old Ali magic, but after one round, two at the most, it was clear Ali was in trouble. His timing completely off and his punches lacking any snap whatsoever, Ali failed to win a single minute of a single round. Holmes even held back as the bout wore on, refusing to put full power into his hurtful punches. By the 8th and 9th rounds Ali was practically motionless and could barely hold up his hands. It was truly awful to see.

Finally, over the protest of Ali's "witchdoctor," Drew "Bundini" Brown, Dundee pulled his fighter out. "I'm the chief second, the ball game's over!," Angelo told referee Richard Greene in the interval between rounds 10 and 11. Holmes was the winner by 11th round TKO, the one and only stoppage loss of Ali's long career.

No-one benefited from the contest. Not Holmes, who later cried at having beaten up the man who gave him his start, not the fans, who were witness to one of the most harrowing and pitiful boxing matches in history, and certainly not Ali, whose health was made even worse thanks to the taking of what was his 60th pro fight.

It should never have happened, but it did; twenty-eight years ago today.

Article posted on 03.10.2008

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