Of course, it may
be that Frazier was done in by a single lucky punch landed near the start of
the fight. Whatever, he took a terrible beating as Foreman swarmed all over
him. Frazier has now been badly hurt twice—in this fight and in his winning
bout against Ali, although the extent of the injuries in the latter probably
has been blown far out of proportion by—who else—Ali. His return bout with Ali
on Jan. 28 will help tell the story.
For Ali, this
year was twilight. He still packed crowds into the arenas and the
closed-circuit TV theaters (except in the Orient, where his exhibition tour had
to be called off for lack of cash customers, or customers with cash). His
legion of fans may have been more vociferous than ever. Yet it was obvious, in
his two fights with Norton, that he had seen his better days; the Ali of '73
could hardly have lasted five rounds with the Ali of 1964.
Indeed, to those
who have seen Ali fight over the years, his '73 matches were notable chiefly as
a bittersweet reminder of how superb he once was. Virtually all knowledgeable
boxing people rank Ali among the top fighters of all time, and many consider
him the best. So after his Norton fights the memories were savored like vintage
Oh, for that
February night in Miami Beach in 1964 when Ali challenged Liston for the title.
There was Liston, the big bear of the ring, so powerful, so intent on
destruction that he scared spectators almost as much as he did his early
opponents. A man undefeated for nine years and seemingly getting better all the
time. Fresh from knocking out Floyd Patterson twice in the first round. And
there was Ali, looking frail (at 210�) and boyish by comparison, the 8-to-1
underdog. Yet Ali picked Liston to pieces.
Though Liston was
as relentless as a locomotive, Ali deftly kept switching him onto side tracks,
moving around him, keeping him off balance, putting him in a spin and hitting
him from the side. Ali's legs and arms operated like a cunning series of
levers, multiplying his strength to a kind of irresistible infinity. A
championship wrestler at ringside exclaimed in awe, "My God, this fellow
has studied karate—or physics."
At his peak—in
the period after he became champion and acquired a genuine inner confidence and
before he quit boxing for three years during the draft dispute—Ali was a
wizard. His footwork and his quick hands dazzled his opponents into bewildered
frustration. He was also a marvelous defensive fighter; he had the uncanny
ability, which he did not mind telling the world about, to pull away from a
punch that he may not have known he had seen. For a long time the world could
only guess how well Ali could take a punch, because nobody ever really hit
His brain worked
even faster than his hands. Zora Folley, one of the forgotten fighters he met
in his prime, was convinced that he could outthink Ali. Folley was a serious
student of boxing who believed himself capable of designing a countermove for
every move made against him. He had memorized all of Ali's fight films and he
felt prepared for anything Ali could do. After being knocked out in the seventh
round, the much-chastened Folley explained what had gone wrong. Ali did not do
the expected. Instead he baffled and confounded Folley by starting with a new
style, changing it from round to round—and sometimes even improvising new
tactics two and three times within the same round.
Though Ali was
only a shadow of himself in his '73 bouts—no longer able to escape everything
thrown at him, no longer able to shoot that lightning left from any angle—he
remains a very good fighter. He has turned 31 and his era is over, but there
still remains the interesting question of how far he has gone back and how much
he has left.
What about the
One man to watch
is Jerry Quarry; he has been beaten by the best but he has also won a lot,
sometimes against the best. Always a superb counterpuncher, he showed against
Lyle that he may have at last curbed his worst instinct—to put up the wrong
fight against the wrong boxer. As Matchmaker Brenner says, "He's simply
outlasted everybody else and he's still young."