Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15, 1978: One more time

NEW ORLEANS - Nearly everybody thought he should be done. Even people in Muhammad Ali's team, the people training and representing him, said that his career should be over, that he should retire while he still could. But Ali didn't listen. He felt like he could still fight. He felt like he still had something to prove.

Gone was the young, brash Ali, the man who danced gracefully around the ring and wore down his opponents with superior speed. That man left after the Rumble in the Jungle. In its place was an old, powerful Ali, the man who won by simply taking punches until his opponent could punch no more.

The Rope-a-Dope method had taken its toll on Ali. He spoke less clearly now, moved a little slower. The effects were noticeable enough that people wanted Ali to retire before permanent damage happened. In February of 1978, at the age of 36, when he lost the heavyweight title in a grueling 15-round lossto Leon Spinks, people around Ali increased their calls for him to hang up the gloves.

He didn't listen, and Spinks gave Ali another shot at the title. The rematch came September 15, 1978, in the Superdome. Once again, it was Ali, winning a 15-round decision of his own. In beating Spinks, Ali became the first man to win the heavyweight championship three different times. He improved his professional record to 55-3, and gave himself the distiction of later beating all three men who had beaten him.

And then it was over, or at least it should have been. Ali finally gave in to common sense, retiring as champion in 1979. But the retirement didn't stick, and he came back for two fights in the 80s, losing both. Meanwhile, the loss to Ali represented the end of Spinks' relevance in professional boxing. He lost his next fight in the first round, and though he fought his way back to fight in two more championship fights, he was never again considered a great heavyweight.

Spinks forever holds one distinction, though. He remains the last man to lose to Muhammad Ali.

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