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Not With A Bang But A Whisper
William Nack
December 21, 1981
After losing to Trevor Berbick, a subdued Muhammad Ali softly admitted that his illustrious career had come to an end
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December 21, 1981

Not With A Bang But A Whisper

After losing to Trevor Berbick, a subdued Muhammad Ali softly admitted that his illustrious career had come to an end

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Ali jabbed, and there were phantom flashes of the jab that used to snap. Now and again he shot out the right as of old, but more often he flailed weakly with his arms, pushing and patty-caking and failing to turn his punches. When they landed, they struck without voltage. "His punches had nothing," said Edson. "It was like a pillow fight." Berbick never hurt Ali, but he was the aggressor, scoring most heavily with windmill body attacks that had Ali wincing and covering up against the ropes. These assaults were fitful, and Berbick had little else to offer.

Ali drew cheers when he danced for a few moments in the eighth round, but the cheering was as brief as the roadwork behind him. He was tired by the seventh round, when he figured he was beat, and there was nothing left to dance with. And he lost the last two rounds, retreating as Berbick flailed away. "I think I'm too old," he said. "I was slow. I was weak. Nothing but Father Time."

The eyes saw the openings and they conveyed the message. But the body couldn't react. "The things I wanted to do, I couldn't do," Ali said. "I was doing my best. I did good for a 39-year-old." But his best wasn't good enough. Judges Alanza Butler and Clyde Gray scored it 97-94 and 99-94, while Edson made it 99-94. All for Berbick.

Ali has retired more than once before, but now he says this is the end. "I think I'm finished," he said. "I know it's the end. I'm not crazy. After Holmes, I had excuses. I was too light. Didn't breathe right. No excuses this time. I'm happy. I'm still pretty. I could have a black eye. Broken teeth. Split lips. I think I came out all right for an old man."

An hour later he was back in his villa doing magic tricks, the only ones he still had left in his bag. As the guests got ready to leave, he said softly, "I didn't get knocked out. Didn't get knocked down. I lost, but not like other fighters, like George Foreman and Ken Norton. '7...8...9...10.' I lost, but I lost honorably." He was sitting on the couch now, with his head back. He had fought professionally for 21 years, won the title three times and beaten the best fighters of his day with uncommon talent, courage and cunning.

"I'm tired," he said. And he closed his eyes.

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