Sunday, March 26, 2023  |


From the Archive: ‘I’ve solved the Spinks riddle’ says Ali

Leon Spinks and Muhammad Ali at a press conference announcing their rematch. Photo by THE RING

On February 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali lost his heavyweight championship to Leon Spinks in Las Vegas. With only seven professional fights under his belt, Spinks built up a commanding lead over the 36-year-old legend and survived a late-round Ali charge to claim a shockwave 15-round split decision.

Spinks would immediately agree to give Ali a return fight, which would take place at the Superdome in New Orleans on September 15, 1978. “The Greatest” took his revenge, reclaiming THE RING and WBA titles on a 15-round unanimous decision. To this day, Ali remains the only heavyweight to win the linear championship three times.

The following is a pre-fight piece, which was written by Ali himself shortly before he entered training camp ahead of the Spinks rematch.


Note: The feature originally appeared in the September 1978 issue of THE RING magazine. It is being represented to readers by Tom Gray.


Almost eighteen years after I started my professional boxing career in my hometown of Louisville, I’m the challenger for the heavyweight championship once again.

But this time is different from the others. A lot of things have changed over those years. I was only twenty-two years old when I beat Sonny Liston for the championship in Miami Beach. I was a young, hungry fighter.

Now I’m thirty-six years old and I have to take the title away from another young, hungry fighter who has only had a few months to find out what being the heavyweight champion of the world is all about.

The “Battle of New Orleans” can prove to be one of the most historic of all heavyweight championship fights. I can become the first man in the history of boxing to win the heavyweight title three times.

But to accomplish that feat, I have to change the strategy I employed in my first meeting with Leon Spinks. I’m goin’ to have to train different, take a more serious attitude toward getting in the best possible shape and be prepared this time to fight for fifteen rounds.

And more important, I’m goin’ to have to eliminate all the mistakes that I made in the first fight. That’s the important thing about losing a fight. You have to learn from the mistakes you made both inside and outside the ring and prepare your mind and body for the best possible effort.

I’m goin’ back to my private training camp in Deer Lake to get ready for this fight. I know now that trainin’ in Miami last February was a mistake. I thought that the weather would be good. No snow. No bad weather that would prevent from runnin’ every morning and getting my legs in shape. But there were no hills where I stayed. I couldn’t get excited about runnin’ on the flat ground. My heart wasn’t in it every morning.

Another thing that was wrong was my weight. I was way too heavy for a man as young and fast as Spinks. I weighed 224 ½ at the weigh-in, maybe 230 by the time I got in the ring. That was way too heavy.

Ali preparing for the Spinks rematch at Deer Lake. Photo by THE RING

This time, at Deer Lake, I’m gonna get my weight down to about 215 in the middle of July. That means I’ll be trainin’ for about six weeks in my camp at the proper weight level that I will need for the fifteen rounds. I may even go into the ring at 210 pounds. At that weight, I’ll be dancin’ all night.

I made a mistake in Miami last winter by thinkin’ that I was gettin’ in top shape just by losin’ weight. I didn’t have much sparrin’ and I wasn’t in condition to go fifteen rounds.

This summer, at my private camp, I’ll have the right sparring partner to work with every day. Somebody who can give me a target to shoot at all the time. Get my hand speed and my reflexes just right to be able to pop, pop, pop Spinks all night.

And the final thing that will have to be changed will be my tactics in the ring. I can’t use the Rope-A-Dope in this fight.  The Rope-A-Dope was good against a man like George Foreman, but it won’t work with Spinks.

I can’t afford to give away too many rounds at the beginning of the fight to such a young man.  If you look at the scorecards for the first fight, one judge gave Spinks seven out of the first eight rounds while another gave him six out of the first seven.

You can’t hope to win a fight by givin’ your opponent that big a head start. If you start to put on the pressure and try to catch up, you wind up tirin’ yourself out and havin’ nothin’ left for those last important rounds.

I looked up the scorin’ cards the other day and not one of the three judges gave me one of the last three rounds. And don’t forget it was a split decision. One judge voted for me.

Ali (left) looking to get in an early shot on Spinks. Photo by THE RING

I must also admit that I underestimated Leon Spinks quite a bit in our first fight. I couldn’t seem to get myself up for the fight. When I was trainin’ in Miami I kept thinkin’ “What will they say if I knock him out in the first round? Or the second round?”

They’ll say that he was just a young fighter with six or seven fights. Not a real contender like Ken Norton or Jimmy Young. Just a little bitty fellow with a few fights, and one was a draw.

Remember for that fight I wasn’t talkin’. All the press said it was another gimmick, another trick to sell tickets. The truth was that I had nuthin’ to say.

But now I’m ready. I have all the films and cassettes of my fights over the last six or seven years up at Deer Lake, and I watch them every night while I’m relaxin’. I can see what I have to do and then I can go down to my private gym and work on whatever I see on the films.

I’m glad that this fight is in September. I have the best three months of the year to get in shape and I’ll be at my own camp trainin’ in the way I know best. Ringin’ the bell every mornin’ to wake everybody up. Runnin’ in the hills. Eating breakfast in my own kitchen with Lana, my own cook. No hotels, no runnin’ in a park. But workin’ where I feel good and where I can chop trees if I want. Get my wrists in shape.

If you get a chance, come and visit the camp. There’s no charge at any time. Just think about that. Do you think you could just walk up and watch John Wayne work? Or Johnny Carson?

It may be the last time you’ll ever have the chance to see Muhammad Ali in action.




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