I think most of us would agree that the infamous 1980 heavyweight fight between Larry Holmes and a profoundly faded Muhammad Ali should never have taken place. Even the then WBC champion, Holmes, was reluctant to beat up the ageing three time title holder. For the first time in his career, Ali suffered a TKO loss when he was retired in his corner after the 10th round came to an end. Ali had one more fight, which he again lost, against Trevor Berbick in 1981. That finally convinced him to call it a day for good.
Holmes went on to almost equal Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0 but Michael Spinks threw a spanner in the works. Two years later, in 1988, Mike Tyson crushed him in 4 rounds. Holmes would never become a world champion again although he would campaign until 2002 with a final victory over Eric “Butterbean” Esch.
While I would not go as far as thinking about it in terms of being a “Fantasy Fight,” I kind of wonder how the 1978 version of Muhammad Ali would have fared against the 1980 version of Holmes. Most will remember that Ali unexpectedly lost his championship to former gold medalist Leon Spinks and then regained it all that same year.
Against Spinks in his September 15th, Ali looked fresher than he appeared seven months earlier. I said fresh-ER! That doesn’t really say much. While Spinks fought a better version, if you watch that fight back you might notice that Ali clinched Leon whenever the younger man attempted to turn up the tempo. “The Greatest” was also sent reeling a few times from the pressure that Spinks put on him. His hand speed was still quite rapid. But it was also evident that was also in decline. Ali’s jab was also less effective.
If you did watch the Holmes vs Ali fight in 1980 then you know what Larry had then. He was in his prime, utilising fast reflexes to feint opponents and land counter punches, danced around the ring with ease, threw a spearing jab that many experts now say was the best jab in history and he had a pretty good chin that only the hardest of punchers could shatter.
If you are not taken in by the whole “Ali magic” that was claimed to have gotten into the consciousness of boxing fans across the world back in the 1970’s and analyze this topic a little more objectively then surely we can only come to the conclusion that Muhammad Ali was fortunate not to have ran into Holmes in 1978. The intensity that he would have bought would have been too much for him, even back then.
And unlike with what happened when we saw a rematch between Spinks and Ali, I think Holmes would have convinced Muhammad enough that, that would not have been a wise idea.