"As long as I'm on my toes, poppin' and movin', I'll win—right?"
"Every round," said a voice from the back of the room.
A few minutes later a parade of visiting children came by to say hello, and just before they left Ali asked them, "Hey, kids, can I show you some magic?"
As it turned out, there were moments when the whole promotion needed some magic. Berbick persisted in his demands for the balance of his guarantee—$250,000—and through the entire afternoon of the fight held out for it. When the promotion was floundering a few weeks before, it was apparently saved by the appearance of another enigmatic figure, Victor Sayyah, a Denver businessman who carried a briefcase wherever he went. At 5:40 p.m. Friday, a few minutes after Berbick's trainer, Lee Black, had announced that Berbick would fight—more TV money had materialized, he said—the bespectacled Sayyah strode into Berbick's room in the Harbour Cove Hotel. Berbick clapped his hands when Sayyah appeared with whatever it was he had in his magic case. With barely five hours remaining to the bell, the fighter had finally agreed to fight.
Fighters, fans and press made off across town to the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre to witness "The Drama in Bahama," as the promoters called it, or "The Trauma in the Bahamas," as the press had lately dubbed it. The scene there was no less chaotic. Ali, Berbick and Hearns had their own dressing rooms, but the rest of the fighters—including Scott LeDoux, Page, Shavers and former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad—were assigned to a sweltering locker room in which they shadowboxed side by side.
"Now I know what the gladiators felt like in Rome," said LeDoux, who was to fight Page. "Ever see the movie Spartacus? The gladiators all waited together in one pit. This is unbelievable." The promoters had forgotten to supply equipment, and judge Jay Edson dashed about looking for trainers. "There are two pairs of gloves for the whole show," he said. "I'm trying to grab the trainers to tell them not to cut off the laces."
There was no official timepiece, so a hasty search was made and someone came up with a stopwatch. Then it was discovered that they had forgotten to bring a bell, but television promoter Sheldon Saltman dug through his sound truck and uncovered a cowbell.
When the fights began, Mustafa dispatched his opponent, Mike Hardin, in eight rounds; Hearns, fighting now as a middleweight after losing the welterweight title to Sugar Ray Leonard three months ago, bloodied and beat Ernie Singletary; and old Shavers got off the deck to knock out Sims. LeDoux had provoked Page in the days before their fight and got into a fight with Page's brother in the hotel elevator, so Page punished him for it in the ring. In a frightful show of malice, the superior Page rolled his hips, made faces and faked swoons, taunting LeDoux to no purpose but to humiliate him publicly. Finally, belatedly and mercifully, Page knocked LeDoux out in the fourth round.
It was in the wake of this appalling scene, in the middle of a tired baseball field on a small island in the Atlantic, that Muhammad Ali, who had fought so much of his career with such style and grace, made his last fight. Looking paunchy at 236¼ pounds to Berbick's 218, the master of illusion revealed himself as the quintessential victim of self-delusion: The truth is, Ali had never really learned how to fight. What elevated him and sustained him in his most creative years were his surpassing hand and foot speed, his remarkable reflexes and strength and what someone called his "dazzling unorthodoxy." Without the natural gifts, only the unorthodoxy remained, and against Berbick he appeared too often like an unschooled amateur.
"The timing wasn't there and the reflexes weren't there," he said afterward. "I could tell I was 40." And so could everyone else.