His young wife Veronica wasn't all that ecstatic. "If you are going to do it, do it," she told her husband. "But I don't like it."
Ali was so excited about the prospect of winning the title for a fourth time that last November he went to the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles and sparred with Eddie (The Animal) Lopez, a vicious gym fighter who had once knocked out Bernardo Mercado during a workout.
Ali went in looking like a balloon. Time and again Lopez berated him as a fat old man. As the first round ended, Ali ripped off his headgear and snarled, "You want to fight. Then let's fight."
For the next two rounds it was the old Ali fighting inside a fat man's body. Firing dazzling combinations, he assaulted the stunned Lopez with controlled fury. And when he was done, Lopez told him, almost reverently, "Hey, man, I was only kidding."
Not until March did Ali return to a gym. He worked several days at the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach. On the fourth day he received a cut in a corner of his upper lip. It required six stitches outside, four inside, but Ali insists he didn't grow the mustache to hide them.
Dundee sees the split lip as a blessing: "After the cut he went to work. In just that short period he got down to 242 pounds."
At camp last Friday, Ali said he weighed 248. It may be the truth or he may have forgotten to weigh one of his legs. Dundee says it doesn't matter.
"The weight is no problem," says the man who has trained Ali since his third pro fight. "The pounds will come off. If he stays in camp, if he runs and eats properly and exercises, then he'll get into shape. But he won't want to run. You've got to push him. You say, 'O.K., go get knocked out.' Then he'll run. He's got to force himself to stay in camp. In the past he always found nine million excuses to go somewhere. That's bad. But if he stays in camp he can do it. Nobody else could at his age, but he can. But will he do it? That's the question."
Pacheco forecasts only disaster. In 1977, after 12 years with Ali, he quit when Ali refused to retire. Nothing that has happened since has changed the doctor's mind.
"Eight million is hard for anybody to turn down," Dr. Pacheco says. "But his wife, his mother, me, even Don King are telling him not to fight. He trained in Miami and didn't look good. That cut. Ali never cut. He's like us all; he's getting old. There is a loss of muscle tone, of elasticity of the skin. As happens to all of us, his face is falling. The tissues of his face are sagging. It's a time in life when plastic surgeons reap the benefits and old fighters begin to cut."