San Francisco, CA– History has proven that even the great ones get a “free pass” now and then. Muhammad Ali, fighting on “Brains & Guts” after his 3 1/2 year layoff, the Ali that blitzed Cleveland Williams was no more. Ali, now in his 30s, was still a great fighter, but the Greatest in my opinion, he peaked out during that 3.5 year period of mandated unemployment brought about by Ali’s refusal to enter the US Army for the Vietnam war.


The match against Jimmy Young in 1976 took place in Landover, MD. With Ali looking “old & fleshy” before the first bell had even clanged, you knew were witnessing the aging of an icon. After 15 rounds, there was more than one person claiming Young had won. The following day, pundits around the world were all saying, “Ali Is done!”


Ali was looking old, slow and fat at 230 lbs, while Young, a punchless type of pug who was awkward and could box, seemed to be doing more in a lot of rounds. At the end of the day, Ali prevailed with scores 72-65, 70-68, & 71-64. Like Carl Williams with Larry Holmes, Young would never be afforded a much deserved rematch. He would face Gerry Cooney in an ill advised fight in 1980, and be pummeled into early submission.


Some folks feel Ali never really beat Ken Norton in their three fights. The second fight, a rematch after Ali’s loss to Norton, an unknown robotic type of sparring partner who broke Ali’s jaw, took place at the L.A. Forum in 1973. After 12 frames, Ali was a one point split decision winner on two cards. The third judge had Kenny in front by a point.


A month after the Young fight, Ali stopped Richard Dunn in Germany on May 24, 1976. Next up, Ali’s achilles heel, Ken Norton and Ali would pack Yankee Stadium for third and final encounter. Rocked more than once by Norton, again we were looking at the aging of a great athlete, for Ali was so close to done you could stick a fork in him.


At the end of 45 minutes, 15 rounds, Ali would squeak out a win with referee Arthur Mercante Sr’s. score of 8-6-1 in rounds, while Harold Lederman and Barney Smith, they both gave it to Ali 8-7 in rounds. The fuss that came about in the media amounted to calls of retirement from writers all across the globe. If you talk to the hardcore fan on this decision, they are all of the opinion that it was close, with a majority thinking Norton did enough to win in the Bronx.


Two fights later, Ali tangles with the concrete block throwing Earnie Shavers in late 1977 in New York at Madison Square Garden. Ali would win that fight, but Shavers, said to be the hardest puncher in boxing history, he extracted his pound of flesh from Ali.


Although most people disagree with the sub title above, I’m not so sure. Ali would lose to Leon Spinks in February 1978, then rematch and beat “Neon Leon” seven months later. The rematch saw a trimmer Ali (221 lbs. compared to 229 the first time) do enough to confuse Spinks and escape with a points win. Ali would retire, comeback to face Larry Holmes, who almost killed him in October 1980, this before losing to Trevor Berbick in his ring finale one year later in Jamaica.


The Doug Jones fight, the cut glove with Henry Cooper, which I did not discuss, the Norton trilogy, Jimmy Young, Ali may have been the Greatest, but not in these fights.

Pedro Fernandez


  • Pete, Sometimes listening to fights on the radio is more exciting than the fight itself–you imagine the effort, the sweat, the shift in advantage. Like reading Homer!

  • Dick, Antonio and Mr. Cameron, great stuff. Thanks for sharing. Your recollections, comments and insights are just as informative and intriguing as Mr. Fernandez’s Ali articles, which are pretty damn good. I too had a soft spot for Jimmy Young and you are correct, as the list of fighters he fought (and fought competively) were a who’s who of the best heavyweights back in the day (what a concept, fighting the best in your division, imagine that). I remember I couldn’t afford to go to the Ali/Norton fight live at Yankee Stadium, but I do remember a bunch of us (Bronx, NY boys) listening to the radio round by round recap in the schoolyard. It was touch and go there for a while when the decison was announced, but we were all thrilled when we heard Ali got the decision. Afte finally seeing the fight on tape, I did think Ali pulled it, albeit just barely. Anyway, great stuff guys and please keep it coming.

  • Dick, I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy. Not only for his skills, but for all the raw deals he got and the fact that he was born on the same day I was. He ended badly–dementia pugilistica.

  • My most vivid recollection of the scene of the Ali-Norton fight was the numerous fights between spectators. To tell the truth Antonio, some of the battles in the stands were better than the fight itself. There was one brawl about two aisles from us that had about eight guys involved. Many spectators in that area were vacating as fast as possible. In addition, there were many objects thrown around that area. You are correct in saying that the fight was not as well attended as expected. Ringside was fairly full but the elevated areas(the stands) were not at all. One more Jimmy Young fact is that he lost a fifteen round split decision to Norton a few months later, as I recall. Just think of all the greats he fought : Ali, Norton, Foreman, Lyle and I think Shavers. He fought them tough even though he couldn’t punch at all. The sad thing is he is forgotten except for a few old time fans.

  • The roles of Ferdie Pacheco and Angelo Dundee were interesting in all of this–and very ambiguous. Ferdie is an egotist and self-promoter, but he was absolutely right to demand Ali’s retirement and was ignored. Angelo remained loyal to Ali, but as Brando said, loosely, “you coulda looked out for me a little.” Maybe he could have pressured Ali more to retire, but Ali generally only listened to himself. But taking big paydays while watching your guy get his brains scrambled puts Angelo in a bad light, I’m sorry to say.

  • Pedro, I totally agree with you about Ali peaking during those 3 1/2 years of exile. Angelo Dundee said many times that we would have saw the very best of Ali in those 3 1/2 years, and Ali was flawless in his fights Cleveland Williams and Zora Foley, which was his last fight before exile.

    Now getting back to the Ali’s close fights, the Jimmy Young fight was a TERRIBLE fight to watch, I have to start there. Ali was in the worst condition I’ve ever seen him in up to that point, and he fought in spurts. As for Young, he fought well, but what bothered me about Young in that fight, is that he didn’t do enough to TAKE the fight from Ali. Young put his head under the ropes to avoid Ali’s punches several times and he didn’t do quite enough to win it in my view. Ken Norton, who was in line to fight Ali months later, was doing commentary with Howard Cosell and he yelled at Ali right before the 15th round, “Don’t blow my shot, Ali!!!” Norton wanted to fight Ali for the third time and he wanted that huge payday that came with it because Ali was the cash cow back then. Ali won the fight and it was close, and the two judges that had Ali way ahead need to have had their licence revoked on the spot.

    And the Shavers fight was another tough fight for Ali. Shavers hurt Ali REAL bad in the second round with his vaunted right hand, and Ali wobbled badly, and his eyes were glazed over, but Ali fooled Shavers into thinking he wasn’t really hurt, and he survived that round. Ali won the last few rounds and actually almost dropped Shavers in the last round and secured the decision. This particular fight had open scoring, meaning they revealed the judges scorecards to everyone who was watching on TV. Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee had someone in the dressing room who was watching the fight on TV, report back to him after each round who was winning the fight on the judges scorecards. One sidenote: Ali’s long-time fight doctor, Freddie Pacheco quit working for Ali right after the Shavers fight because of all of the damage Ali was taking, and the effect it started to have on his body.

    And as for the Spinks fights, I don’t agree that Ali threw that first fight. That fight went similar to how Ali-Norton 3 went in terms of the scorecard, very close going into the 15 round, but Ali pulled it out by winning the last round. But this time, Leon had more left than Ali, he went out in the 15th round and tried to take it from Ali, and he did just that. Spinks clearly won that round, and he won the fight because of it. Now as for the rematch, Ali got in the best shape he possibly could have, and Leon, well, he was partying his butt off, enjoying his success, not training, and he got arrested for not having a license, and having a small amount of coke and weed in his possession. Leon lived it up in those 7 months of being champion, and he only had 8 pro fights up to that point, and even though Ali was washed up, he still had enough that night to expose Spinks and easily out-box him and win the title for the third time.

    It’s true, Ali had many close fights, and a few fights were some would question whether he won or not. Ali won almost all of his close fights, but doesn’t that speak to his greatness? While some may point to the fact that because Ali was such an icon, he always got the nod in close fights. I point to the fact that in just about all of Ali’s close fights which were dead even on the scorecards, Ali would almost always step it up and win the last round. That’s what great champions do, and to me, no Heavyweight champion was greater than Muhammad Ali.

  • Pedro–check the wire: Suleiman and King both announced their retirements, shocking WBC conventioneers. Some kind of lovers’ quarrel?????

  • Yes, Norton got shafted in #3. The stadium wasn’t packed, though, and I wonder if Dick has any memories about the “scene.” I recall there was a police strike, and the place was pretty hairy in terms of fan (mis)behavior.

    Ali earned the Shavers win, but it was gruesome. Too old to slip punches effectively, Ali took monster shots flush. A neurological disaster.

  • The Young fight was, in my opinion a loss for Ali. He really did nothing with Jimmie who was a complete non-puncher. I only saw that fight on TV, but I still think he lost. I was at the Stadium for the Norton fight and I was totally convinced Aki lost. I don;t know how Lederman and Mercante had him winning so many rounds. I had a bet on Ali with my cousin and I almost felt guilty taking the money(Not guilty enough to not take it, though). By the way, the vast majority of the fans I talked to at the fight felt that Norton got the shaft by the officials.

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