"They never come back"

The rematch against Ken Norton took place on September 10, 1973 in Los Angeles. Ali had trained longer and harder for this fight than for their first encounter. Nonetheless, it was a very close bout again. After round eleven the judges saw it even and the winner of the last round was to be the overall winner. This time, Ali won and took revenge successfully.
After an unimportant victory against Rudi Lubbers in Jakarta, Ali faced his steady rival Joe Frazier the second time. Frazier, however, wasnít champ anymore. He had been dethroned in Jamaica in 1973 by a young, unknown fighter who had knocked the champion down six times in two rounds before the referee stopped the bout. The name of the newcomer: George Foreman who proved his immense strength one year later by also knocking out Ken Norton in two.
It was not about more than Aliís honor that he wanted to restore when he fought Frazier in 1974. As before their first fight. both boxers - especially Ali - tried to make each other nervous in the weeks leading to the fight. Five days before the bout, the situation escalated when an appearance at a TV show almost turned into disaster. Ali had called Frazier ignorant after had made a remark about Ali having to check into hospital after the first fight, and they were not far from getting it on in the studio. The bout itself was not as brutal as the first one and Ali won an unanimous decision.

Thus, a fight Ali versus Foreman was unavoidable. It was to be held in Zaire, a country in the "heart of darkness", in central Africa. Zaire had been a Belgian colony for long, and was trying to get international attention, now that it was freed. Zaireís dictator Mobutu provided for five million dollars for each fighter which was twice as much Ali and Frazier had gotten for their first fight.
While Ali was feeling well in the land of his ancestors and collected sympathies from the Africans whenever he could, Foreman couldnít show his disrespect more obviously. He lived in the Kinshasa Inter-Continental and always had German shepherd police dogs around to prevent strangers from coming closer. At press conferences, Ali was funny, witty and smart in opposite to the mute Foreman.

When the two heavyweights entered the ring on October 30, out of sixty thousand African throats came the slogan "Ali, boma ye!", meaning "Ali, kill him!". Foreman held little to no sympathies.
The strategy Ali used that night was the exact opposite to the one he had won the title with against Sonny Liston ten years before. Back then, it had been Aliís goal to prevent from being hit by moving all the time. In Kinshasa, from the second round on, Ali didnít show any footwork at all and intentionally took all the haymakers Foreman delivered with his savage strength. Ali leaned way back out of the ring, protecting his face with the gloves, his kidneys and belly with his arms and elbows. Foreman pounded on Ali's body as hard as he could. Ali didnít go down.
He took the bombs like a living heavy bag and then, at the end of each round, made a furious comeback by hitting Foreman with stinging combinations that got the champion closer and closer to a knockout. In the last thirty seconds of the eighth round, Foreman was ready. Ali attacked with all the strength he had left and provided for Foremanís first career knockout. The audience went crazy.
Muhammad Ali was the first boxer after Floyd Patterson to break the rule ĄThey never come back" and win back the heavyweight title that had been taken from him seven years before.

Aliís next opponent was 35-year-old Chuck Wepner who held out against Aliís attacks for almost fifteen rounds until the fight was stopped. Sylvester Stalloneís Rocky movies are based on Wepnerís courageous fighting.
After Wepner, Ali defeated Ron Lyle in Las Vegas by knockout and seven weeks later Joe Bugner in Malaysia on points. There were people of Aliís camp who wanted him to quit but Ali couldnít yet give up the sport that had been the center of his life for more than twenty years.
Instead, the third fight against Joe Frazier was coming up. It was to be the third and last time the two rivals would face each other in the ring. This last fight was far more brutal and dramatic than the first two Frazier fights and is one of the three big fights of Muhammad Aliís career together with Liston I and the Rumble in the Jungle.
Before the fight, Ali mocked his opponent by calling him gorilla. He always had a plastic gorilla in his pocket that he would take out and punch. Ali also imitated Frazierís ghetto slang which led to Frazier seriously hating Ali.

Ali vs. Frazier III took place on October 1, 1975 in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. 25,000 spectators see a dominating Ali in the early rounds. Then he tires and Frazier takes the lead in the middle rounds. Round twelve and thirteen are all Ali again who in six minutes delivers 43 (!) punches to Frazierís head "Smokin' Joe" doesnít fall, though. Round fourteen is the same, Frazier staggers but stays on his feet. After round fourteen, Frazierís face is one huge swelling, his left eye is completely shut and he can hardly see. Frazierís coach Eddie Futch stops the fight.

Shortly after his victory was announced, Ali fainted in his corner. He would later say that this fight had been the closest to dying he knew of. Maybe the illness Ali suffers from today would be less heavy if Ali had retired after the Thrilla in Manila but one canít tell.
Ali, however, continued his career and fought three times in the first half of 1976 - against Jean-Pierre Coopman (k.o. in round five), Jimmy Young who he defeated although he weighed 230 pounds and Englandís Richard Dunn (k.o. 5).
Then, one of the most embarrassing events of Aliís career took place. For two million dollars he fought the Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in Tokyo. What was planned to be a show event, almost turned into tragedy. The referee announced a draw after fifteen rounds - Inoki had tried to kick Aliís legs the whole time while Ali had thrown just six punches.
But the boring fight had consequences on Aliís health. Inoki had ruptured blood vessels in Aliís legs with his constant kicks. Because he didnít treat it right, Ali almost had to end his career.

On September 9, 1976, Ali fought Ken Norton for the third time. Despite being in pretty good shape, he won only because of a mistake in Nortonís corner. Before the last round, the fight was scored even but Nortonís coaches advised him to stay away from Ali because they thought Norton had a comfortable lead. Norton did as he was told and gave away the victory although he could have easily won the last round. Ali admitted after the fight that he felt he had lost.
Seven months later, although not much of Ali's "magic" was left which helped him win against Foreman and Frazier, Ali entered the ring again and defeated the Spaniard Alfredo Evangelista.
In the meantime, Aliís second marriage came to an end. He had had a relationship with Veronica Porche since the Foreman-bout. She was one of four poster girls who had promoted the Rumble in the Jungle. This relationship led to Belinda filing for divorce in 1976. One year later, Ali married Veronica.
In September 1977, Ali defended his title against Earnie Shavers at sold-out Madison Square Garden. After being in heavy trouble in the second round, Ali recovered and won the fight. One week after this fight, Aliís long-time doctor Ferdie Pacheco wasnít willing to be responsible for Aliís deteriorating health any more and left the champís entourage.

Aliís next opponent was Leon Spinks, a no-name with a record of seven professional bouts. There were no doubts that the great Ali would easily defeat him.

Copyright 2000 by Johannes Ehrmann
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