This is an easy one to call. Larry Holmes is the champion, Muhammad Ali the challenger. Larry Holmes has fought seven times in the past two years, Ali hasn't fought once in that time. Larry Holmes, 30, is in his prime; Muhammad Ali, 38, passed his prime years ago. Yes, it's obvious. Tonight, at about 11:30 EST, Muhammad Ali will win the heavyweight championship for the fourth time.
The fighters weighed in yesterday at ten in the morning. The champion checked in at a little over 211 pounds. That's a good, solid weight for Holmes, who fought at 209 when he won the title from Ken Norton and at 215 in his last defense against Scott Ledoux.
The challenger tipped the scales at 217. That's an amazingly low weight for Ali, who entered the ring at 225 pounds in his third fight with Joe Frazier, and 230 pounds in his mistake against Jimmy Young. Not since 1974, when he defeated George Foreman in Zaire weighting 216 1/2 pounds, has Ali been so light.
The parallels between Ali's fight with Foreman and his challenge to Holmes go far beyond his excellent condition, however. Foreman, like Holmes, was undefeated when Ali maneuvered him to a humiliating eighth round knock out. At 32 Ali was considered too old to defeat the man who had destroyed the same Joe Frazier who had given Ali two tough battles. Nearing 39, Ali is again marked as a strong underdog to the much younger Holmes, who twice easily defeated Earnie Shavers after Shavers had given Ali a real scare in September of 1977.
Holmes and Foreman have one other thing in common: just as Foreman wilted after seven rounds against Ali, Holmes has wilted in his longer battles. When Holmes won the title from Norton in 1978 he carried the opening eight rounds--and then collapsed to lose the remaining seven, barely eeking out a split decision. In his second fight against Shavers Holmes could hardly lift his arms after the 10th round, and won only because Shavers had even less energy left.
Ali has never had a stamina problem; he actually seems to get stronger in the later rounds. In the "Thrilla in Manilla" against Joe Frazier, he took a terrible beating in the middle rounds, only to pull himself together and score a 14th round TKO. Against Shavers, too, he entered the last third of the fight behind in the scoring and "went down to the well," as he says, for that extra reserve.
The only hope for Holmes, then, is an early knock out. That's just what he and many experts predict. But Ali has been hit by far harder punchers than Holmes--Frazier, Liston, Foreman, Shavers--and while he's been down, he's never been in danger of being knocked out. I don't think he can be knocked out--not even at 38. Ali's greatest strength is his ability to take a punch; Holmes's blows will pose no problem.
Holmes also thinks he'll win because he worked with Ali--he was Ali's main sparring partner for three years. Holmes recently said, "Near the end I was holding back--I knew I could beat him and so did he." Jimmy Ellis, another Ali sparring partner turned challenger, said nearly the same thing as he prepared for his bout with Muhammad in 1971. He even claimed to have knocked Ali down a few times. "And he never hurt me once," Ellis added.
Ali knocked Ellis out in the 12th round.
And that's when I think Holmes will go too, somewhere around the 12th or 13th. The first few rounds will be close, with Ali fighting hard to show Holmes that he won't be a pushover. Holmes has a history of missing a lot of his punches--he's gotten away with it because he hasn't fought any top quality fighters. But Ali will throw whenever Holmes throws, and a greater percentage of his punches will land.
The middle rounds will go to Holmes, as Ali rests up and lets the champ do all the work. Against the ropes, Ali will continue to throw punches and thus force Holmes to earn each round. By the 10th round the fight will be about even.
The 10th round is when Ali goes to work. Back on his toes, Ali will present a moving target and Holmes will miss more and more. Once he decides that Holmes is exhausted, say the 11th or 12th round, Muhammad will start to plant himself and put some weight behind his blows. Somewhere in the next two rounds the fight will be stopped, with Holmes failing to answer any of Ali's flurries.
Near midnight tonight, the Greatest will once again be champ. Where he'll go from there is hard to predict. I know I'll go off and celebrate.