An hour later Ali, idle these past 18 months, took the first step in what he knew would become three months of agony, self-imposed torture, as he pushed himself to sculpt his 38-year-old body into fighting trim.
"So he's really gone back to the mountain," said Angelo Dundee, the little trainer Ali will soon beckon from his home in Miami. "I never thought he'd do it. I really believed that before he fought again the mountain would have to come to him."
His boxing trunks tugged high as he sought to cover the jiggling jelly roll, Ali came into the gym for his first workout at Deer Lake. He walked past the speed bag. The heavy bag remained unused. Instead he pointed toward Henry Clark, a used-up journeyman, and climbed gracelessly into the ring, where, like beached whales, the two floundered through a couple of rounds.
"Just warming up," said Ali, panting heavily as Ellis toweled sweat from his face. "You next," Ali growled, pointing toward a slender youth, who eagerly reached for a battered head guard.
As he had for his historic second fight with Leon Spinks, Ali has once more imported light and fast sparring partners from the amateur ranks. "He needs those little guys," Dundee explained. "He is going to look slow as hell but they'll bring out all the speed and reflexes he's got left. He won't look like much for five weeks, but then watch him."
The youth Ali had beckoned was Charles Carter, a 21-year-old welterweight from Yakima, Wash, with an 84-14 record and cobras for hands. "I'm going to put a real whuppin' on you, boy," Ali threatened.
"What you're going to do is learn my name," the unawed Carter responded.
Even when he was young and trim, which was about three Presidents ago, sparring was never one of Ali's more ardent pursuits. He can get in more loafing during 10 rounds of ring work than most people could manage in the same time while stretched across a bed.
Midway through the second round Carter began to challenge him: "Come on, old man, let's see you fight." Later Carter would explain, "I wasn't trying to be a wise guy. I was just trying to get him to work. He was loafing. I was trying to get him up on his toes."
As penalty for his rashness, Ali made Carter work six full rounds. "You know my name now?" Carter gasped when it was over.