October 1st, 2013 By Pedro Fernandez

Ali Before The Bell

Ali Before The Bell


San Francisco, CA- In Part I, I took you through the maze of bull s*it that led up to the October 2, 1980 match between unbeaten heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali. The morning of the fight, the Godfather of all boxing writers, Jack Fiske is milling about the lobby of Caesars Palace. Also working the circular bar in the lobby (fight headquarters in those days) was press legend Dick Young when Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis (and two very unassuming bodyguards) approached the Big Apple columnist.


Although the bar was open to the public, the ambiance was such that it made like a private setting. For some reason, only the most fanatical of fans would unknowingly breach the invisible circle of privacy that surrounds celebrities. Joe Frazier was there, as was Ken Norton, Joe Louis in a wheelchair, (all three have now passed) this less than six months away from the April 1981 death of the “Brown Bomber.


If you had any objectivity, Muhammad Ali had no chance against Larry Holmes. Even if Ali could roll back the clock to his last win, a UD 15 over Leon Spinks in 1978, that wouldn’t be nearly enough to beat Holmes. The native of Easton, PA was the “heel” in this promotion. Although not drawing the amount of negativity that George Foreman received prior to fighting Ali, Holmes was facing a legend in Ali, and that was not an easy spot to be in.


In interviews leading up to the fight, Holmes was cool, calm and yet very much on edge. On occasion, he would scream about his being in a “no-win” situation. When Larry popped off and tried to add some humor to his spiel, the media would say he was trying to mimic Ali. There were two occasions in Larry’s career where he got less than fair treatment from the media. This first time against Ali, and if Larry thought he got it rough then, when he faced the “Great White Hope” Gerry Cooney, the press turned on him in Pontius Pilate like manner.


While the wise guys bet Holmes big, the squares, outnumbering the wise guys 100-1, all bet Ali. I recall one man betting Ali to the tune of $50 K. It was 6:30 PM, both men were in their dressing rooms. In the Ali’s quarters, the late Bundini Brown, corner man and motivator had come out and was running his mouth. Angelo Dundee emerged and tried to put his best spin on things, but deep down Angie knew Ali had no chance.


For some reason people remember the Leon Spinks-Bernardo Mercardo fight underneath. Being a jr. welterweight, I recall the “Termite” Watkins-Saoul Mamby WBC title fight because it was so bad that it did nearly the impossible as it stunk out an outdoor arena!


After far too many rounds of boxing prior to a main event, a Don King trademark, Larry Holmes walked to the outdoor ring with the intention of exorcising himself of Muhammad Ali. Clowning around when he hit the squared circle, Ali looked old when they took off his robe. Although he had pulled off the biggest stare down in boxing history prior to massacring Leon Spinks, Holmes just wanted to get it over with!


The first round began and Ali looked a lot like Shane Mosley did a couple of years ago against Floyd Mayweather. I mean there was some “zip” in Ali getting off the stool for the first couple of rounds, but the writing was on the wall in both cases as one guy was far superior to the other. Using his piston-like jab to score easily and often, Larry would on occasion throw a right hand. But he soon realized that like a detailed vintage car with no motor under the hood, Ali wasn’t going anywhere.


In the eighth round, after losing seven straight sans any offense or real resistance, Ali got up on his toes and did the best Muhammad Ali impression he could at 38. On the move the majority of the three-minute session, Ali brought the crowd to their feet for the first time since the introductions some 30 minutes earlier from the late ring announcer Chuck Hull. But it was for naught as Holmes went on to tattoo Ali until Angelo Dundee had seen enough and stopped the fight before the start of the 11th round.

Ali At the End

Ali At the End


There’s a feeling of sadness involved any time you watch a pugilistic crucifixion, especially involving an iconic figure in Muhammad Ali. Afterwards, you’d think there would be joy and ecstasy from the Holmes camp, but there wasn’t. Larry was dammed if he looked good, dammed if he didn’t.


Although the “Easton Assassin” beat Ali, in the process destroying the myth that Ali was in 1980 at 38. History has been unkind to Holmes in some regards, this because he followed the one and only Muhammad Ali.


At the press conference of the following morning, Ali wearing sunglasses and a black shirt, sat there a beaten man. I approached him teary eyed, “I don’t want anybody to cry for me, I’m a grown man.” Then he looked at Holmes and said, “Man, why did you have to whip me so bad?” Truth be told, Larry Holmes took it easy on Ali. Had Larry not pulled his punches, the ending might have indeed been tragic.




Pedro Fernandez


  1. […] Click for Ali Killed In Vegas Part II Pedro Fernandez […]

    ALI DIES ON COLDEST DAY IN BOXING HISTORY! on September 14th, 2010 at 12:57 PM
  2. More great stuff from Pedro.

    ironhammer on September 14th, 2010 at 3:19 PM
  3. Pedro, I’m the absolute biggest Ali fan there is. I have several of his books and I’ve seen all of his fights. For me, this fight was the toughest for me to watch, in fact, I’ve only seen it once. I was 10 when the fight went down and I bet 5 bucks that Holmes would beat Ali. I knew that the weight loss was a mirage, and that Larry Holmes was in his prime and I couldn’t forget how Ali struggled against Spinks in their first fight. That was one time that I hated to win a bet, seeing Ali get beat up like that. And your 100% correct Pedro, Holmes did pull punches, and if he really wanted to, he could have ended that fight by about the 6th round because Ali had nothing that night. Father time was in the ring fighting against Ali and he was standing in the neutral corner looking at his watch while Holmes did what he had to do against his idol, Ali.

    Great job Pedro with your article. You sure know how to paint a great picture with how you write.

    Ron on September 14th, 2010 at 4:57 PM
  4. Great article Pedro! These multipart series always keeps me on edge, wanting see how it ends…Ali set the bar pretty high for ANY heavyweight…

    1200 Techs on September 14th, 2010 at 6:02 PM
  5. I saw the fight on the screen at the St. Paul Civic Center in St. Paul, MN with a couple pals. We were very excited. There was a big crowd and no one knew of Ali’s sad condition. There was great anticipation and excitment during the introductions with Ali carrying on. Everyone like me were in denial the first several rounds, but then it became apparent that Ali was getting his butt kicked badly. I remember sort of gasps from the crowd, and some screams from ladies there as Ali got pummled. There was cheering and hope when Ali danced the one round, but after that, a lot of moaning and groaning of sadness in what we were witnessing. There was no booing. It was kind of a sound of anguish. Very sad night, and I am a big Larry Holmes fan.

    There were several times in the fight where Ali was getting hurt so back he kind of turned, covered up in agony, and the ref should have stopped the fight. Ali was defenseless and wasn’t firing back. Dundee surely should have stopped it before he did. Pedro you might know more why he didn’t and it would be interesting to know.

    Reminds me when Holmes was pummeling Cooney and Conney’s guys just pushed Mills Lane out of the way to embrace and protect their fighter. Dundee should have done that. I like Dundee, but the beating went on way too long.

    Silencio on September 14th, 2010 at 7:03 PM
  6. I saw a tape of the fight once… Howard Cosell did a great job announcing… It was like an obituary. He was going through all the ups and downs of ali’s career. It was sad and poetic.

    jeff b. on September 15th, 2010 at 7:52 AM
  7. I saw Ali at Deer Lake camp when he was preparing and he was simply “fat” and I asked him “why are you taking this fight?” Holmes beat him in the head and not the body. He did the same to Marvis Frazier due to the ass whipping Joe Frazier gave him in the Philly gym. Holmes is still jealous of Ali and Foreman because they are so well liked by the people. Holmes is the most arrogant boxer I have ever met and I wrote about it. He got his from Carl “The Truth” Williams, “Terrible Tim” Witherspoon and of course Mike Tyson. He couldn’t make a good pimple on Ali’s ass as a boxer or let alone a person!

    Ken Hissner on September 16th, 2010 at 5:37 AM
  8. Thank you for that uncensored piece of boxing history. I wasn’t around during those days so it was a great read.

    Great work!

    Alex on September 16th, 2010 at 6:55 AM
  9. Awesome story as well as Part I. This happened before my time so there are details I wasn’t aware of such as the thyroid drug and Ali’s weight problem.

    Fight Aficionado on September 18th, 2010 at 12:57 PM
  10. Pedro, these historical pieces are killer. I remember the Holmes – Ali fight occurred around the same time as the Leonard – Duran “no mas” debacle. It was a very tough time to be a fight fan.
    As to the comments evaluating Ali and Holmes in their prime, I tend to the opinion that comparisons are ludicrous. Holmes was serviceable, nothing more, carefully managed to avoid Michael Dokes, Gerrie Coetzee, Greg Page and anyone else who would have beaten him. Unfortunately Tim Witherspoon fought Holmes after a long layoff. The admiration of Holmes is puzzling given the abject mediocrity of his opposition.
    The question of the greatest heavyweight of all time was answered in the heat of the Philippines that glorious morning in 1975…

    KPK on September 18th, 2010 at 7:55 PM
  11. Some fights are better forgotten. THis was one of them.

    terrible ted on April 13th, 2013 at 11:10 AM
  12. again, great stuff. great story about the caesar’s bar.

    hw has changed a lot since the great white hope days.

    Guest on October 1st, 2013 at 11:52 PM
  13. Great, great article Pedro! Having lived through those great 80’s boxing days, this one was a dark day for sure. Holmes should be considered one of the best heavyweight champs in history. Not for the Ali fight but because of his long record of defenses. Not his fault he followed “The Greatest”. Ali followed the money and as a result the typical happened as do all to most faded champs.

    cfletch on October 3rd, 2014 at 3:24 PM
  14. Muhammad Ali vs Trevor Berbick. 1981 12 11

    Rob Hernandez on October 5th, 2014 at 1:05 PM
  15. I feel he was “dead” as a fighter after Holmes.

    Pedro Fernandez on October 5th, 2014 at 4:11 PM

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