Boxing
Holmes-Ali: Thirty years of painful memories
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - I'd love to just give her the 10 bucks back.

If it were at all possible, I'd drop a crisp Alexander Hamilton in an envelope, address it to Grand Island, New York, and return the proceeds I youthfully snatched from my sister, Roberta, back on October 2, 1980.

Hell, I'd even pay whatever interest has compounded over 30 years and a couple days.

If quick financial reparation was the only real hurdle to guarantee a hero's return to 100 percent status... consider it cleared, with my compliments.

In reality, though, it's been a good deal costlier for all of us.

Though the myriad health challenges faced by Muhammad Ali over the last three decades are hardly a news flash, they're always driven home a little harder when the calendar flips to early October.

And it just so happens this year -- 2010 -- makes it a milestone anniversary.

Thirty years ago this past Saturday night, the three-time heavyweight champion met a devastating career Waterloo in Las Vegas -- taking a 10-round thrashing from an in-his-prime Larry Holmes in an ill-advised try for reign No. 4 as the division's best fighter.


Thirty years ago Muhammad Ali suffered a 10-round thrashing from Larry Holmes.
He went on to one more 10-round sleepwalk with a non-violent Trevor Berbick 14 months later, but it's the feeling of most that the beating suffered at the fists of an unbeaten Holmes is hugely responsible for worsening the post- Manila struggles "The Greatest" has faced ever since.

I won a lucky 10 dollars that night from a never-wise-wagering sister. But as a wide-eyed 11-year-old, I could hardly consider myself privy to the real goings-on that night at Caesars Palace.

Sure, I knew all about the third grueling Frazier match. And I was aware of the unnecessary shots he'd taken in eight interim stops from Puerto Rico to Landover to Munich to New Orleans.

But I can't claim to have known how truly bad things had gotten.

My bet on Holmes was simply the product of him being the first champion of my full-throttled fandom, not the result of any clue Ali had already slid as far as he had.

But an ESPN documentary released for the network's 30th birthday in 2009 shed more light on his condition even as the fight approached -- with several members of his entourage recalling that he'd already begun exhibiting signs of decline long before reaching the ring.

The documentary was replayed for the fight's 30th anniversary on Saturday.

And as angry as I was upon watching its premiere a year ago, I'm even more upset now.

Because a 60-minute revisit reminded how it simply wasn't fair.

Given the fact Ali hadn't seen a ring in two years, was not at normal lucidity even in training camp and had gotten a dubious bill of health from a pre- license exam at the Mayo Clinic, there's zero excuse for Holmes having landed anything more than a handshake.

His management shouldn't have signed it. The commission shouldn't have sanctioned it.

And when push came to shove, trusted advisers like Angelo Dundee -- who've spent the subsequent three decades professing their care for the man -- should have stopped it before it started.

No reasons they've offered before, during or since hold sufficient water.

Dundee's claim he didn't have Ali's ear rings hollow given a decades-long relationship and the admission of business manager Gene Kilroy that the fighter confided something "wasn't right" days in advance puts him alongside the veteran trainer as an accomplice to the crime.

As hard-headed as Ali might have been, it makes no difference.

As much purse money as was being offered, so what?

As difficult as it would have been to stop it all before it started, doesn't matter.

The job descriptions of Dundee, Kilroy, Wali Muhammad and others included a responsibility to prepare their man for battle, not just revel in his glow.

Or in a scenario where nearly everyone believed success was no option, their mandate was to keep him safe from an awful one-sided beating that could leave permanent scars.

Toward that end, history shows those scars were left.

And it shows each and every one on his team failed miserably.

With every interview transcribed or autobiography page they've written -- complete with glowing remembrances of their days earning a living with the 220-pound traveling circus -- another layer of hypocrisy is added to a story that should have had a better ending.

Ali should be the one on the talk-show memoirs tour, tossing out flurries at ringside pay-per-view introductions and acting as the best possible ambassador for a game badly needing one.

Instead he's dwindled away to painfully sympathetic figurehead, drawing cringing tributes from fans at public appearances and becoming the lasting symbol of the sport's brutality for the always-insistent abolitionist crowd. While his one-time caretakers present vacant rationale for failure.

It didn't have to be this way.

While I concede punishment taken against the Fraziers, Nortons and Foremans would have left anyone worse for wear, it was clear the Ali who walked away after defeating Leon Spinks in 1978 was healthier than the one who turned away from Holmes but stubbornly refused to fall.

Too brave and too sturdy for his own good.

And too good a man to have this as his final chapter.

Shame on those who let it happen... and here's to 30 years of their internal torture.

This week's title-fight schedule:

FRIDAY


WBC flyweight title -- Muang, Thailand

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (champion) vs. Suriyan Por Chokchai (No. 17 contender)

Wonjongkam (76-3-1, 40 KO): First defense, second reign; Held WBC title from 2001-07 (17 defenses)

Chokchai (14-4-1, 4 KO): First title fight; Six straight wins since an 8-4-1 start (6-0, 4 KO)

Fitzbitz says: "Challenger has a significant age advantage (21 to 33), but not nearly enough time on the top level." Wonjongkam by decision

Last week's picks: 1-0 Overall picks record: 234-81 (74.2 percent)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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