Classic Columns: Boxing will survive Ali’s retirement
Muhammad Ali would fight two more times — including a fight against Larry Holmes, for which he trains here — after indicating in 1979 that he was finished with boxing. Photo / THE RING
Classic Columns by magazine founder Nat Fleischer and other RING magazine writers over the past 86 years are posted Tuesdays. Today's column, by Nat Loubet, is posted with Oscar De La Hoya's retirement announcement on Tuesday in mind. Loubet wrote in April 1979 that boxing would survive the departure of another star, Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali, boxing’s super salesman from the first day he turned pro in 1960 right up to the present, has just reached age 37 and, despite no official announcement, has been mouthing around — on and off television — that it was time to call it quits. “I’m dead but too tired to fall, and there’s nothing more to prove, nothing more to gain, and perhaps it’s best to get out now as the champion, as the greatest. I think it means a lot to black people, and it means a lot to history,” he states.
Is this another ploy on Ali’s part to gain a little more publicity for a $10-million shot against Larry Holmes? Is he attempting to open up the purses of promoters with the threat of his retiring?
My answer is that I am inclined, despite the lack of a press conference announcement, to believe that Ali is really going to hang up his gloves this time. He has repeatedly given THE RING to believe he was calling it a day, but has always come back when sufficient dough was on the line. But this time, I think it is different.
He is very much overweight and is doing no, or almost no, physical conditioning. My sources indicate that, back a few weeks, he was offered seven million to fight Mike Rossman, owner of half the light heavyweight crown, and torpedoed the fight before it could get off the ground. If it is money he wants, then why not take Rossman for what Ali would consider a “soft touch”? The money was right. If it isn’t money, then the only reason for Ali continuing would be for his own self-esteem.
Is it possible that Ali doesn’t recognize the ebbing of his abilities — that he no longer is the greatest? From his own comments in recent weeks, there is no doubt that Ali is cognizant of the change in tide of his fistic fortunes. He must be aware that, as the only man in boxing history to win the heavyweight title on three occasions, if he quits undefeated, his future, money wise, is much better than if he goes on until he meets defeat. He also knows that his prestige, the image he cherishes as “The Greatest,” is important to his people and any of his future endeavors.
Ali has just set up a gym in Santa Monica, California, where he is training prospects for the Olympic Games under the very capable Jimmy Ellis, a one-time top heavyweight. He has his own Muhammad Ali Invitational “Celebrity Relay,” which is two years old, and he is in constant demand on television shows, for movies, and the written word.
I was told that he may represent several U.S. manufacturing firms for their exports to Islamic countries. This could make him more kopecs than he made in the ring. He probably has greater acceptance in the oil countries than any other living American.
But what of boxing, if Ali doesn’t change his mind and stays out of the ring? Are dark days coming to the gloved square? The answer is, emphatically, no! Ali may be a top salesman and publicist for boxing, and no one is going to take his place. But then that is not necessary. When Jack Dempsey quit, when Rocky Marciano quit, when Joe Louis quit, among a few, questions were raised, primarily, “Will boxing survive without the champ?” It did, didn’t it?
Boxing will survive, Ali or no Ali. A knight on a horse will gallop onto the stage, a new young face to capture the imagination of boxing buffs — and the heavyweight handicaps will be off and running again. The new heavyweight champ will do it his way: no two men are alike, but there are different ways of being successful and colorful.
Another facet is that of the lighter divisions, which, with the help of television, will become more popular again and, perhaps, bring more fighters into the fold and a wider spectrum of video viewers as well as those who pay to be at ringside.
Never fear, boxing is here to stay!
Note: Ali fought two more times after this column was written. He retired after the 10th round of a one-sided fight against Holmes on Oct. 2, 1980, and lost a unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick on Dec. 11, 1981.