=== Early October equals annual frustration ===
By Lyle Fitzsimmons
CAPE CORAL, FL - It's just an in-between anniversary this time, but it doesn't
Whenever Oct. 2 rolls around on the calendar, as it did this week, I get
Not because I think boxing is a sissy sport or that the guys who pursue it as
a profession need to be coddled. It isn't and they don't. And anyone who's
covered it or been around it for any amount of time - whether less or more
than me - knows that's the case as well.
If a guy wants to strip down to trunks, shoes and gloves and test his best
against that of another, I'm all for it. And as long as he passes the
requisite medical tests of the commission of record, I couldn't care less if
he's black or white, young or old, champion or never-was.
That said... something about Oct. 2, 1980, goes above and beyond the call of
On that night in Las Vegas - with television cameras extending front-row
seating far beyond the Nevada desert - nothing less than a crime was committed
against the greatest heavyweight of all time, Muhammad Ali.
And rather than paying for it with the suspensions and lifetime bans
circumstantially tossed around for other infractions, its perpetrators have
both escaped punishment and been given a free pass to act magnanimous while
continuing to ride shotgun to the man who fed their families in his heyday.
Thirty-two years ago Tuesday, the three-time ex-champion met a devastating
career Waterloo at Caesars Palace - taking an unnecessary 10-round bludgeoning
from a prime Larry Holmes in an ill-advised try for reign No. 4 as the
division's best fighter.
He went on to lose a 10-round sleepwalk with a largely 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 my never-wise-wagering sister,
Roberta. But as a wide-eyed 11-year-old, I could hardly consider myself privy
to the real goings-on.
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 birthday a few years ago
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.
I watched it again over the weekend when I realized October was again upon us.
And as angry as I was upon watching its premiere back then, I'm even more
Because another 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-
licensing exam at the Mayo Clinic, there's zero excuse for Holmes having
landed anything more on him than a handshake.
His management shouldn't have signed it. The commission shouldn't have
And when push came to shove, trusted advisers like Angelo Dundee - who spent
three decades before his death professing unwavering care for the man - should
have stopped it before it started.
No reasons they offered before, during or since hold sufficient water.
Dundee's claim he didn't have Ali's ear rings hollow given their decades-long
relationship, and the taped admission of Gene Kilroy that the fighter confided
something "wasn't right" days in advance puts the business manager 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 or betting money Nevada stood to
gain... so what?
As difficult as it would have been to stop it all before it started... doesn't
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.
And, 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
History now shows how deeply those scars were left.
And it shows undisputedly that each and every team member failed miserably.
With every interview transcribed or autobiography page they've written -
featuring remembrances of earning a living with a 220-pound traveling circus -
another layer of hypocrisy is added to a story that should have had a better
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 sympathetic figurehead, drawing cringes from
fans and becoming a lasting symbol of brutality for the always-insistent
abolitionist crowd. While his ex-caretakers present vacant rationale for
failure and promote their latest books.
He'll be gone in a few more years, leaving a void it'll take 10 men to fill.
And when still-healthy subordinates return for a share of the nostalgia pie,
their slices should be accompanied by a note saying, "Eat well, 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 prolonged final chapter, no matter the
Shame on those who let it happen... and here's to 32 years, plus a few hundred
more, of their own internal torture.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week's title-fight schedule:
WBC light flyweight title - Toluca, Mexico
Kompayak Porpramook (champion) vs. Adrian Hernandez (No. 3 contender)
Porpramook (46-3, 31 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten since 2006 (24-0, 16
Hernandez (24-2-1, 15 KO): Fourth title fight (2-1); Lost WBC title to
Porpramook (KO 10) in 2011
Fitzbitz says: "Mexican went on the road to lose the belt to a Thai challenger
10 months ago, but he'll recover and set up the trilogy by getting it back on
home turf." Hernandez in 10
WBO light middleweight title - Kiev, Ukraine
Zaurbek Baysangurov (champion) vs. Lukas Konecny (unranked)
Baysangurov (27-1, 20 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (8-0, 6
Konecny (48-3, 23 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Unbeaten since 2008 (12-0, 5
Fitzbitz says: "Neither fighter can truly make a claim to be the division's
best, but the slugging incumbent looks more likely to hold onto his status in
a grinding title defense." Baysangurov by decision
Last week's picks: 0-0
Overall picks record: 429-147 (74.4 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
firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.
10/05 23:59:20 ET