If you fight a
good left hooker, sooner or later he will knock you on your deletion. He will
get the left out where you can't see it, and in it comes like a brick. Life is
the greatest left hooker so far, although many say it was Charley White of
When Ali got hit
in the 15th round with Joe Frazier's big left hook, the best contemporary punch
in the business, his assistant trainer, Bundini, referred to by many as the
ex-champ's alter ego, reached in one instinctive motion for his water bucket
and sent an arc of spray in the direction of his fighter—an act for which he
was subsequently suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission.
"Trying to revive my soldier," he explained later. "My, you'd think
I'd climbed into the ring to get Frazier with a baseball bat."
immediate consequence of the left hook was that Bundini knew Ali was going to
lose the fight. "That punch blew out all the candles on the cake," he
remembered thinking, and when the round was over, he hurried to the side of his
fighter to help shepherd him through his first defeat.
announcement of Frazier's victory, Bundini, whose emotions ride just beneath
the surface, burst into tears, and he grabbed for Ali. "Don't worry,
champ," he yelled over the crowd noise. "You fought like a champ. You
got nothing to be ashamed of."
Ali twisted away
from him warily. "Don't hold me, Bundini, damn. I'm sore. I'm sore in the
neck. I'm sore in the ribs."
Bundini kept at
it: "Don't feel down! Look at Frazier! He's more messed! He's sitting on
his stool! He looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame!"
go," the fighter said. Bundini could barely hear him in the storm of
shouts. "Let's get out of here. Let's go home."
moving for the corner steps. Behind them, Bundini and Ali heard Joe Frazier's
voice saying, "Good fight. You're a real tough man." Ali turned and
said: "You are, too. You're the champ." He turned back. Bundini heard
him say, half whispering, "Come on, let's go on home," and dutifully he
began to push again toward the corner and the steps leading down to the arena
The press of
people in the ring was considerable, with more coming up the steps trying to
get to the fighters. Among them was the Rev. Ralph Abernathy in his familiar
worker's coveralls, an Ali supporter, tears streaming down his cheeks, and in
his grief, reaching arms outstretched for Ali on the steps, creating such a
weird, demented figure that one of Ali's bodyguards, a tall ex-Muslim, hit him
with a left hook and toppled him backward off the steps into the lap of Edward
Bennett Williams, the famous Washington trial lawyer. There were those watching
at ringside acute enough, even in the turmoil of the moment, to recognize that
if the reverend wished to initiate a lawsuit, certainly he was in the proper
Ali, his right
jaw swollen to enormous proportions from the left hook he had received in the
11th round, was hardly aware of the heaving and pushing; he let himself be
buoyed back and forth by his supporters, half carried down the steps, and once
on the arena floor he was hurried along, his hips now beginning to stiffen on
him, through the tunnel of faces toward his dressing room. His mind, terribly
tired, was just barely ticking over. "The world's still going on," he
remembers thinking. "I got things to do. I got a family to raise. I got
money to collect. Let's go home."