The historic win over Leon Spinks in 1978 saw Muhammad Ali finally retire. But it was a temporary parting of the ways. In 1980 an old hired hand was now the WBC heavyweight champion of the world.
Larry Holmes unbeaten in 35 fights and in his physical prime was the target for more history. With reported dwindling finances, a few more millions no doubt added to the temptation to return.
Ali removed the excess weight he had accumulated in retirement, 256 pounds became 217, his lightest since Zaire.
Ali was showing serious signs of fatigue and sluggishness in the final weeks of training. An already severely ageing fighter suddenly got even older.
A fighter rapidly deteriorating, Ali had no business fighting anyone let alone someone anywhere near the level of Larry Holmes. No benefit of hindsight was needed. Ali said he knew in the 1st round he wouldn’t win, most of us knew far sooner, and I suspect Ali did also.
It was an awful shocking spectacle, maybe even more so now. A once-great fighter reduced to the role of a punching bag. Joe Louis losing to Rocky Marciano in 1951 was bad, this was worse, much worse.
Every punch he absorbed from Holmes, never left his body for the rest of his life. Almost certainly any chance of a normal healthy life for Ali ended in that ring. A fight that didn’t need to happen, it shouldn’t have happened. Holmes showed some degree of mercy, certainly far more than those who let Ali fight again. Too many people failed in their duty of care.
Holmes said post-fight that he did what he had to do but he simply shouldn’t have had to do it.
That should have been enough, but we had to endure more of the same. Ali returned one last time, Trevor Berbick outpointed him over 10 rounds in a farcical life-sucking spectacle in the Bahamas in 1981. Finally, at 39, Ali called time on his fabulous career.
Everyone involved in this whole sorry episode should hang their heads in shame. Everything that is wrong with boxing laid bare right before our eyes. The fight doesn’t need a commentary, no words are needed to describe what we saw in that ring. It was butchery which was camouflaged as sport. But we all saw it for what it was.