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                === Early October equals annual frustration ===
 
 By Lyle Fitzsimmons
 
 CAPE CORAL, FL - It's just an in-between anniversary this time, but it doesn't
 much matter.
 
 Whenever  Oct.  2 rolls  around on  the calendar, as  it did  this week, I get
 angry.
 
 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
 disgust.
 
 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
 upset now.
 
 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
 sanctioned it.
 
 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
 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.
 
 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
 permanent scars.
 
 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
 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 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
 inconvenience.
 
 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:
 
 SATURDAY
 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
 KO)
 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
 KO)
 Konecny (48-3, 23 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Unbeaten since 2008 (12-0, 5
 KO)
 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
 fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.
 
 
 10/05 23:59:20 ET


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