SI Vault
George Plimpton
April 05, 1971
The fight, the dressing room, the hospital are all behind him. Now Muhammad Ali guides strangers through his new house, toys with its sparkling chandeliers and shows nothing has really changed
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 05, 1971

No Requiem For A Heavyweight

The fight, the dressing room, the hospital are all behind him. Now Muhammad Ali guides strangers through his new house, toys with its sparkling chandeliers and shows nothing has really changed

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

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 Chicago....
Ernest Hemingway

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."

The more 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.

At the 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!"

"Let's go," the fighter said. Bundini could barely hear him in the storm of shouts. "Let's get out of here. Let's go home."

They started 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 floor.

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 hands.

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."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12