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Together they lurched around the ring, swinging, missing, gasping. With less than a minute to go, Ali's body was screaming at him: no more, no more. Shuddering, the champion called once again on his tremendous willpower, and he launched perhaps his greatest offensive. Fury replacing fatigue, he swarmed over Shavers, pounding him without pause.
In Ali's corner Dundee watched with awe. "I don't know how you do it, you son of a bitch," he thought, "but I love you for it."
Stunned by the sudden storm. Shavers sagged. But not his spirit. A will almost the match of Ali's kept the challenger on his feet. This was the man some had called a dog. Watching Shavers, Cus D'Amato said, "It takes some people a long time to grow up. Tonight Shavers became a man."
The priceless moments ended with the final bell. Ali won, of course. And as he stood in his corner listening for the verdict he said in a voice that could scarcely be heard, "I'm tired. I'm so damn tired."
Later in his dimly lit dressing room Ali lay on a dressing table and moaned softly. Agony made prisoners of his legs; his swollen hands hurt him so badly that he tried not to move his fingers. The terrible body punishment Shavers had inflicted had left Ali's kidneys swollen, sore. He had demanded much more than his body was prepared to give, and now he was paying. "I'm through," he mumbled. "I don't need anyone else to tell me."
Earlier in the week he had spoken of one or two more small $4 million fights against less imposing opponents than Jimmy Young or Kenny Norton, who will fight Nov. 5 to be first on line for Ali's crown. For certain, Ali doesn't want to fight either one. They have seen his magic and they are not fooled by it. "Two lesser fights," Ali had said before the Shavers bout, "and then retirement, still the champ. Just give me 12 more months."
But after Shavers, he was no longer sure he wants even 12 more minutes. His manager, Herbert Muhammad, has long wanted him to retire. Herbert didn't even attend the Shavers fight. He watched it on TV at his New York apartment. Recently Sulaiman of the WBC. who is more fan than expert, urged Ali to quit. After the fight he added muscle to the plea. "If he doesn't retire," said Sulaiman, "he'll fight the winner of Norton-Young within a specified time or we'll vacate the title. "Ali is bigger than the WBC," he added. "But we have our dignity."
Thinking more, perhaps, of Ali's dignity, Teddy Brenner, the Garden's boxing boss, added his vote for retirement. "As long as I'm around," Brenner said, "the Garden will never make another offer to Ali to fight."
Dundee said he had his own thoughts, but they were private, and he would only reveal them to Ali if asked. "He has to make up his own mind," Dundee said.
Ali's career has spanned 18 years, and he has earned from boxing alone more than $44 million. He has a few of those bucks left, plus a grim determination to retire as champion. Still, future opponents like Alfio Righetti, the Italian marshmallow, or Leon Spinks, he of just five pro fights, have been mentioned along with Gerrie Coetzee, the unbeaten South African, who was at the Shavers fight.