Floyd Patterson, the former heavyweight champion, who fought until age 37, echoes Pacheco. "I've been hit when I was young and when I was old," he says, "and the punch that didn't leave a scratch when I was younger left a gash when I was older. He's taking a hell of a gamble at an age when the reflexes slow and the legs aren't what they used to be. But Ali is extraordinary. He brainwashes himself into believing he can do something, and it usually ends up that he does it. But you can't brainwash yourself into being young again."
For his part, Weaver isn't thinking of Ali's sagging facial features, or of his slowing reflexes, or of the legs that seemed to have been robbed of their extraordinary lightness. Ali is Weaver's idol. He has been ever since he first won the title in 1964, the year Weaver was 11.
"I like him and I love him," Weaver says. "I don't want to fight him, but I will if I have to. I won't like it before the fight and I'll hate it after the fight, but during the fight when I'm beating up on him I won't think about it."
If the fight comes off, Ali gives Weaver no chance.
"He got beat nine times by a bunch of bums," says Ali. "And he was losing big to Tate until he got lucky with one punch. I see him as my tune-up for Holmes. Weaver would give me my timing back. I want Holmes bad. He told me to stay in my rocking chair. Well, I'm going to get out of my rocking chair and beat his butt bad. Hell, Holmes is 30. That's too old to be a serious threat to me."
Ali's eyes take on a dreamy quality. "I beat Weaver and win the title for the fourth time. Then say Holmes gets lucky and beats me. Then I come back and beat him and win the title for the fifth time. The five-time heavyweight champion. Tell me what ever happened in the world that was greater than that?"
"Well," says a friend, "this is Easter and...."
"I'm talking about sports," Ali said.