Every morning at seven, after running between three and five miles, Ali stretched out on the table while trainer Luis Sarria held his ankles with powerful hands, and he went through 12 groups of varying sit-ups, doing 30 or so in each group. The last 40 days before the fight he did 8,014 sit-ups, a number logged by one of his many aides.
On the fourth day before the fight, after Ali had complained of unnatural weariness after a workout, a local doctor discovered that his blood was low in salt, iron and potassium. After that, each morning with his breakfast of two trout, scrambled eggs and two slices of unbuttered whole-wheat toast, Ali swallowed 11 pills to make up the deficiencies.
"God, I have suffered and suffered and suffered. It really hurts," Ali said one morning from the table. He lay face down staring at a green flowered rug, his arms dangling almost to the floor as Sarria's fingers worked on his body. "The last fight. It's time for a new life. I'm going to put on a three-piece suit, carry a briefcase and fly around the world working for human rights and dignity. I'm going to form my own United Nations with a headquarters in Washington and the flags of the world flying from the top. I'm going to have a big warehouse in Cleveland filled with food and clothes, and when there is a disaster anywhere in the world I'm going to fly there in my Lear-jet and help the people. I don't want to fight no more. I've been doing it for 25 years and you can only do so much wear to the body. It changes a man. It has changed me. I can see it. I can feel it."
"I think this time he is ready," said Dundee, who had been watching Ali get massaged. "He has been cruel to himself. The bricks are all there, but he is 36 and they can tilt and fall. Nobody knows what's inside. What I'm counting on is how badly he wants to win it for the third time, to be the only man ever to do it. He has a sense of history. And, let's face it, Ali is not like other men."
A day later Benton was saying pretty much the same thing. Despite his nocturnal adventures, Spinks had trained hard. He was in excellent shape. Benton could see no way he could lose. Yet... ?
"Forget all the nonsense that has been going on around him," Benton said. "This kid has no business losing this fight. No business at all. I can't see anything the other guy can do to beat him. Ali can't win this fight. The only way he can win is if Leon falls on his face. Or if he lets what is inside his head beat him. But I've said that so many times about Ali before. Liston. Foreman. Frazier. The draft thing. Ali always comes up on his feet. It's like there is a mystical force guiding his life, making him not like other men. When I think of that—and when I think of the fight—it's scary."
Then came the fight, and Benton's scary feeling turned to outrage. After leaving the corner he watched a few more rounds on a TV monitor in the dressing room. After the 12th round he picked up his equipment bag and left.
Back in the ring, Spinks was looking to his corner again.
"Wiggle," Michael shouted at him. "Wiggle."
"Give him the old gusto," Solomon yelled.