The first non-believer in line was Ron Lyle. With nothing to do while waiting to fight Muhammad Ali for the title on May 16, 1975, he decided to use Young as a tune-up in Honolulu. "Some tune-up," says Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer. "I knew Lyle had goofed. I'd seen Jimmy work before; I knew who was going to get tuned up." Young won impressively.
Too impressively: no other top heavyweight wanted any part of him. While waiting for the big-money offers to pour in, he went back to work on the docks. Young is married, with four children, and until he fought Ali last April in Landover, Md. he hadn't earned enough from 23 fights to buy an automobile. After every fight it was back to the docks.
"People ask me why I didn't quit, why I didn't get discouraged," he says. "I wasn't making any money boxing; there were no paydays. After I beat Lyle I had a couple of small fights, and the purses were so small I'm too embarrassed to say how much they were. But think of quitting? Never. Not when the only alternative was to spend the rest of my life breaking my back for $4.30 an hour on the docks. Every time I picked up one of those sacks of cocoa beans I knew I was going to make it."
Fortunately, Ali ran out of opponents before Young ran out of determination. The night Ali fought Jean-Pierre Coopman in San Juan, Young won a very unimpressive decision over Joe (King) Roman in a preliminary. In fact, he was just unimpressive enough to impress Ali's people into giving him the title shot last April.
You remember that fight: the Blob against the Ostrich. Ali was a waddling 230 pounds. Young, when not piling up powder-puff points, kept ducking his head out of the ropes. Three guys thought Ali had won that night; everyone else in the crowd leaned toward Young. The problem, as Young saw it, was that the three guys who liked Ali were the referee and the two judges.
"I learned one very important thing from that fight," says Young.
What was that?
"To keep my head inside the ropes.
"It was just another of my tricks for Ali, something I thought would throw him off." Young says. "I figured the way to beat Ali was to upset his mental state. So I did it on purpose, not because I was scared or nervous. And it cost me points. I still think the referee should have warned me it was costing me points. He warned me about everything else, while letting Ali get away with murder. Next time I'll know better. Next time I'll have a different bag of tricks."
After Ali, Young went back to proving himself once more against boxing's biggest cannons. First came another decision over Lyle, then a stunning 12-round decision over George Foreman. And now he faces Ken Norton. Despite his record, many people still refuse to believe Young is for real. Always he is the underdog. Patiently, he explains why he will win. As he said before Lyle and before Foreman and as he was saying last week, "I've fought a lot of big hitters, but none of them were smart. None of them could think. Take this fight with Norton: I know I'm going to get out of the way of all that dumb stuff he is going to throw.