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Pat Putnam
September 29, 1980
The Holmes-Ali title bout once figured to be a grotesque mismatch. It'll be anything but
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September 29, 1980

Better Not Sell The Old Man Short

The Holmes-Ali title bout once figured to be a grotesque mismatch. It'll be anything but

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On the floor, his feet stuck under one end of the curved couch, is Jake Holmes, the champion's older brother, who is sweating through 35 situps. A short, powerful man, Jake has a weight problem, which leads to training camp bets with his brother. So far during training for the Ali fight Jake has dropped 28 pounds, putting him at a trim 198 and leaving him $200 heavier in the wallet. Another 18 pounds would earn him a $10,000 bonus. "Only way I can get that low," Jake moans, "would be to cut off a leg."

"Might not be enough," observes the champion. He winks at Giachetti.

A knock at the door cuts short the repartee. It's room service. A liveried waiter, in obvious awe, wheels in a cart carrying Holmes' breakfast: scrambled eggs, three slices of ham, toast and a couple of carafes of fruit juice.

"What's that stuff on top of the juice?" Jake asks suspiciously.

"Pulp," says the waiter, who is busy getting two autographs from the champion. "It is fresh squeezed."

Holmes shifts to a sitting position and begins to eat, not as if he's hungry but as if he's performing an act dictated by the time of day. There is growing concern that he will enter the ring in the same mood. For certain, Holmes wants to beat Ali, to beat him badly, and to that end he has trained long and arduously. But the fierce compulsion that drove him to become the heavyweight champion may have become diluted, not so much by his success as by his maturation from a tough junior high dropout to a respected businessman-benefactor in his hometown of Easton, Pa. Additional fame and fortune have little appeal for Holmes. The change has clearly left him more of a man, but perhaps less of a fighter.

Since winning the championship from Ken Norton in June of 1978, Holmes hasn't been in against anyone who came within a long ton of his class. Yet, both Weaver and Earnie Shavers—one no more than a muscular journeyman, the other well past his prime—almost toppled him from his hard-won throne. In each instance only Holmes' great courage and pride brought him back from defeat: a rally after Shavers dropped him in the seventh round that resulted in an 11th round TKO of Shavers and a return from lethargy against Weaver that had the same result in the 12th round.

"There's something very wrong with Holmes," says Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer for 19 years. "It's physiological. I don't know what it is, but after seven or eight rounds he runs out of gas. He has nothing left. It's the George Foreman thing. But then, like Foreman, he's only an earthling. People fail to understand that: Muhammad Ali is Muhammad Ali, and compared to him all other men are mere earthlings."

But in confronting mere earthlings Ali can call upon only three weapons: a stinging left jab, a righthand counter over the top of his opponent's jab and the mystique of being Ali. The last is the most powerful weapon in this limited arsenal.

"Bull," growls Holmes, almost spilling his orange juice. "To me Ali is not God, but godless. Not Superman. Not a miracle worker. He's a human being, just like you and me. He got his weight down, and he thinks that will make him young again. Well, it won't. Ali can't turn back the clock; no one can. And look at who he beat. Frazier was a midget. Foreman a robot. [Floyd] Patterson a rabbit. [Archie] Moore was old. [ Cleveland] Williams old. [Sonny] Liston old. Just about everybody he fought was old. Now he's going to find out how it feels to be an old man fighting a good, fast young man. I really believe I'll knock him out. I have a great deal of respect for myself. I know what I can do. And I know what he will do—and I'm ready for it."

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