If you have counted out Muhammad Ali (see cover) as the next heavyweight champion of the entire universe, forget it. In the next couple of years he will knock out Ken Norton in four rounds, Joe Frazier in six and win his championship back from George Foreman by a technical knockout in 13. If you don't believe that, ask Ali.
His mouth is wired shut to mend the broken jaw Norton dealt him in the fight in San Diego, but to a talker of Ali's championship caliber, this is no handicap. His voice comes through clenched teeth loud and clear and confident, as always.
Last week, sitting behind a desk in a small, crowded room in the headquarters of Major Coxson, a black multimillionaire who is running for mayor of Camden, N.J., Ali discoursed at considerable length on past errors, his present condition and his brilliant future. He was dressed in a conservative blue suit and glistening black patent-leather shoes. There were no exterior signs of the badly broken jaw that probably cost him the Norton fight, except that he had to talk between his teeth. Oddly, he did this with none of the sibilance one might expect, his voice coming through as precisely as a ventriloquist's.
Going into the Norton fight, Ali explained, he missed almost all of his final week of training because of a sprained ankle. "I was playin' golf one day," he said. "Revolutionizin' the game. If I had not of been the greatest fighter the world ever seen, I could of been the greatest golfer. I don't stand there an' look at the bail and wiggle the club like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and them cats. I was walkin' up to the ball and hittin' it while I was walkin' and knocking it 300, 350 yards."
He got up from behind the desk to demonstrate. He walked across the room and turned to show his approach, then walked crabwise toward the desk, taking three quick steps and swinging an imaginary golf club. Watching him, it seemed plausible that he could hit a ball 300 yards that way. In which direction was less certain.
"Then I figured I'm gonna do even better," he said. "I was gonna run up and hit the ball. First time, I hit the grass, second time I lost my balance and swung all the way round and fell down and twisted my ankle. Man, I laid out there on the grass for 30 minutes, my ankle hurtin', then the doctor for the San Diego Chargers come to see me and I had to spend the rest of that day restin'. Couldn't run no more at all before the fight, couldn't train right, nothin'." He sat down at the desk again and sipped from a cup of pureed navy bean soup.
Back in San Diego, where he came into the ring too heavy at 221 pounds, he had looked sluggish, probably because of the ankle, but even with that injury he felt he would have won. It was the jaw that did him in. He broke it in the second round, he said, not in the first as reported earlier. "I felt it go. Didn't know it was a broke jaw, but I felt it. Got hit with a right cross over a left jab. When I got back to my corner, there was dark red, bluish blood comin' out of my mouth, but I didn't want to quit because there was too many people involved, all them people paid to get in to see me and all them people on television everywhere."
The broken jaw ruined Ali's style for the rest of the fight. "I was fearful," he said. "Fearful of goin' in on the attack."
He got up again to demonstrate what he meant. "I'm fightin' a cat and he ducks," he said, shadowboxing, throwing quick, hard punches. "When he ducks, I can go whoomp, whoomp, whoomp, like this, throwin' uppercuts, crosses, both hands. But now I can't, I got to protect that jaw. I got to back off and cover up like this in case he throw a wild punch and hit me there."
He cowered away from his imaginary opponent, covering his face with his hands.