Ali from I am the Greatest to Yes, you were

That’s Boxing! You go from “I am the Greatest!” to “At one time, I was pretty darn good!”

In 1965, at their annual Sports Dinner, Sport Magazine recognized Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World as their top performer in Boxing and the publication had Jim Brown, the former top NFL Running Back there to present him his plaque.

Wrapping up, Brown was asked what the athletes of today could learn from Muhammad Ali. Jim Brown, who was certainly well versed on this subject, stated: “Money is not God and Human dignity is very important. Your integrity (as a Pro Athlete and a gentleman) has to be way up there. And as a single human being, if you carry yourself in a certain way, you can defy the evil that comes at you.” That indeed was a profound message for all Pro Athletes to consider. At the outset of his Pro Boxing career, the 18-year-old, fresh off his win over Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland to win the Gold Medal at the Rome Olympics, the 18-year-old Cassius Marcellus Clay, (remember Clay didn’t change his name to Muhammad Ali until 1964), the youngster made his Pro Debut on October 29, 1960 as an 186 pound Cruiserweight against the stocky 192 pound Tunney Hunsaker, a 30-year-old police chief from Fayetteville, West Virginia, who at that time had a record of 17-9-1 and by the end of his career had an even more substantial record of 156-58-14.

One of the most dramatic fights of Muhammad Ali’s career has to be his third meeting with Joe Frazier on October 1, 1975. Just prior to that event which took place at the Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines, there was this grandiose pre-fight get-together at the Malacanang Palace in Manila which was given by the country’s President Ferdinand Marcos and his First Lady Imelda Marcos. Ali and Frazier were of course the honorees at this opulent affair. Worth noting, the Philippines President had sponsored the fighter’s purse. Imagine, all this was going on while the country was under Martial Law.

The “after fight” quotes from the boxers will be long remembered. Frazier spoke of Ali’s toughness: “Man, I hit him with punches that would normally bring down the walls of a city.” Ali also spoke fondly of Joe Frazier: “I’m gonna tell ya, that’s one helluva man, and God bless him.”

Imagine that, the third of three close fights between two rivals who always gave it everything they had and most everything in that country had come to a complete standstill in order to watch their fight.

In comparison, Ali’s road into retirement from that point was an unbelievable bumpy one. His last professional fight was an unanimous decision loss to tough guy Trevor Berbick (19-2-1) on December 11, 1981. Seen slurring his words well before that fight versus Larry Holmes more than a year earlier on October 2, 1980, Ali was literally in the early stages of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease while still fighting for the Heavyweight Title? 

There is a well known tale regarding the beloved and well respected Ferdie Pacheco sending out these five letters after Ali fought Ernie Shavers on September 29, 1977— one went to Angelo Dundee, another to Ali’s wife, another to a Herbert Muhammad, plus one to Ali himself—all stating that Muhammad Ali should not fight again. It’s believed that these close confidants were all not permitted by Ali himself to answer such a request for help and so in the end, nobody responded to Pacheco, not even Muhammad Ali.

Here’s the most shameful aspect of this travesty, why would the various Boxing Commissions allow Ali to proceed in the sport if he couldn’t pass a simple MRI Test or an even simpler test given by most any Doctor? Present day Boxing Commissions not only require, they demand these tests. Think long and hard in regards to this concern: despite having this major health issue the beloved Champion was allowed to fight for an additional four years. And surely you have to wonder about the people running the Boxing Commissions where these fights took place: the states of Nevada, Louisiana, plus which ever officials allowed Ali a license to fight that 10 rounder against Trevor Berbick at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre in Nassau in the Bahamas. The proof of malfeasance is/was everywhere. 

Here is what we learned from the various newspaper accounts:

  • At a Press Conference on April 16, 1980, Ali said he would fight Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title. His announcement came as a surprise, as the press conference had been billed as a contract-signing for a bout between Ali and Weaver, but Ali said negotiations for a Weaver fight had fallen apart the previous night when Weaver’s promoter, Bob Arum issued new demands that “were totally unacceptable.”

  • On April 28, 1980, it was officially announced that Ali and Holmes would box on July 11th in Rio de Janeiro at the 165,000-seat Maracana Stadium. Promoters Don King and Murad Muhammad said Ali would get $8 million and Holmes $4 million. However, that announcement came as a surprise to the boss of the stadium, who said, “The chances are 99.9 percent against the bout being held here.” After setting up the ring, seats and other equipment “we would be destroying our grass and this is a soccer field.” That bout was called off on May 12. Ali made $250,000 and Holmes $100,000 in forfeit money.

  • After that cancellation, Holmes then signed to fight Scott LeDoux,, the man he stopped in 7 rounds on July 7. On July 17, 1980, Ali and Holmes then signed to fight on October 2 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Promoter Don King said Ali would be paid $8 million and Holmes $6 million. The Casino then went ahead and built a temporary 24,790-seat outdoor arena for the fight. That live gate produced an amazing $6 million, a record for the time. So, as they say, money talks and bull sh.. walks.

  • Then, due to concerns for Ali’s health (right!), the Nevada State Athletic Commission then asked for the former champion to be examined at the Minnesota Mayo Clinic as a prerequisite for being granted a boxing license. Ali checked into the clinic and his neurological exam was then conducted by a Dr. Frank Howard, whose report contained the following findings: “Ali showed a slight degree of misses when he tried to touch his finger to his nose. He also had difficulty in coordinating the muscles used in speaking, and was not able to hop on one foot with expected agility.

  • However, (say what!) our Dr. Howard has determined that there are no specific findings to prohibit Ali from fighting. This Mayo Clinic report was then forwarded to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but it was not made public at that time. Based on this report, (do you believe this?) Ali was actually granted a boxing license (to fight) in the state of Nevada.

Be sure you check out the “Yuk, yuk” stats from that Ali vs Holmes fight:

Jabs thrown by Larry Holmes Muhammad Ali
Jabs that landed 205 landed 36 landed
Jabs that were thrown 444 157
Percentage of Jabs that landed 46.2% 22.9%
Power Punches thrown by Holmes Ali
Power Punches that Landed 135 landed 6 landed
Power Punches Thrown 207 41
Percentage of Power Punches that landed 65.2% 14.6%
Total of all Punches thrown by Holmes Ali
Number of Punches that landed 340 punches landed just 42 punches landed
Number of Punches that were thrown 651 198
Percentage of Punches that landed 52.2% 21.2%
Would you agree these punch stats show how extremely one-sided the match was? 
  • Surprise, surprise! Larry Holmes ended up dominating Muhammad Ali and was awarded every round by all three judges. Then, we actually saw someone in Ali’s corner show some compassion for Ali and he eventually threw in the towel but not until after 10 rounds had passed?
  • Dr. Charles Williams, a member of Ali’s medical team then diagnosed that Ali was having a thyroid imbalance and prescribed one tablet of Thyrolar per day.
  • Thomas Hauser, in his book Muhammad Ali: His Life & Times wrote: “Thyrolar is a potentially lethal drug, and no one on Thyrolar should engage in a professional fight.” To make matters worse, (it was said that) Ali had doubled his dosage because he “thought the pills would be like vitamins.”
  • Announcement that came later: Thyrolar has been known to cause fatigue, sluggishness, headache, increased blood pressure, tremor, nausea, increased heart rate, frequent urination and weight loss. The drug has also been known to interfere with a body’s self-cooling mechanism, causing it to dehydrate and then overheat. Against Larry Holmes, Ali stated he felt weak, fatigued and short of breath from round one on. His body wasn’t able to cool itself properly, and his temperature rose. “That same Dr. Williams later acknowledged, “it led to heat exhaustion that went into heat stroke with an immediate period of slight stupor and maybe delirium.” Adding, “I may have placed him in jeopardy inadvertently.” Do you think so?
  • Ali’s personal physician, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco told Thomas Hauser: “Ali was a walking time-bomb in the ring that night. He could have had anything from a heart attack to a stroke to all kinds of bleeding in the head.” Four days after losing to Holmes, Ali checked into the UCLA Medical Center. Once there, a Dr. Dennis Cope, who supervised Ali’s stay, determined “that prior to medical intervention, Muhammad Ali’s thyroid gland was functioning properly.”

Muhammad Ali’s final Boxing record now stands at 56 wins, 5 losses with 37 KOs with that one lone, out of place TKO loss to his former sparring partner and buddy Larry Holmes.  Yes, it’s much easier/plesanter to look back at the fun-filled times when Ali was that young jokester, the 18-year-old standout on the USA Amateur Boxing Team who brought home the Gold Medal for the U.S.

After returning home with his Gold Medal, the 18-year-old turned Pro and then making money for his first Management Team became his priority. Of course the job got tougher and tougher as the young Cassius Clay saw the need 1) to rile up his competition, 2) write hilarious rhymes and start his hilarious name calling. Then he changed his religion and shortly after his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammed Ali and went here, there and everywhere trying to sell himself. It’s too bad that those career moves didn’t always go as smoothly as planned. If they did, then this fun-loving gentleman would likely be still around to enjoy both his family and his much deserved retirement.

People often talked about Ali’s ability. He definitely had help there, from his trainer and cornerman Angelo Dundee, internationally known for his work, he also worked with 15 other world champions to include people like Sugar Ray Leonard and Hector Macho Camacho. Over time, Dundee’s lessening of focus on Ali, perhaps affected his focus. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s fight doctor, confidant plus cornerman was also an important cog in his success story for 15 years. He was one of the first to point out Ali’s health issues and mention they were being ignored. At one point, he actually went begging to have his dear friend quit boxing, especially after he had won that extremely difficult fight against Joe Frazier, the Thrilla in Manila in 1975. Thinking back now, that would have been six years and 10 fights before Ali actually retired.

Not many but some have been quite successful in Boxing and MMA. Miraculously, they were able to set aside enough money. How these MMA fighters, ex-boxers, bare knuckle fighters survived into retirement is plain and simple a miracle. Perhaps the Federal Government should think about issuing a Pay-Per-View Tax on those using the now lucrative Pay-Per-View access to make big-big-bucks off these Promotional Companies to insure that the athletes have the proper nest-egg to be able to retire with dignity.

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