They aren't billing this fight as the "Fight of the Eighties." They aren't even advertising this match as a meeting of two boxing technicians.
Instead, they're calling tomorrow night's Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes fight "The Last Hurrah", the culmination of two careers, as one fighter seeks to confirm his greatness, and the other tries to assert his.
It's champion against champion, yet simultaneoussly both are underdogs--an ex-champion, 38, who hasn't fought for two years, and the current half-champ who has never gained a champion's respect.
Larry Holmes, the favorite, is up against his idol, or as Ali says, his "master." As Ali grows older, his student may have surpassed him in skill and practices (as Rocky Marciano passed Joe Louis). But Holmes will never surpass Ali in one thing: drive.
Ready to settle into a comfortable retirement, Holmes admits that he does not need any more money, and that he has had his fill of the limelight. He is not a killer-fighter and has been known to beg an opponent to give up rather than get hurt. This gentleness, which some call a flaw, will eventually be the deciding factor in his leaving the ring.
Muhammad Ali has been the underdog before, but never like this. Even as he boasts, some of the innate confidence of Cassius Clay is gone. Ali believes he has performed a "miracle" by losing 30 pounds. What he may discover, however, is that this fat was covering up an untoned body. The flab has disappeared, but that does not mean that the strength and reflexes have returned. Ali says he is in the best shape of his career. At 38, this simply cannot be.
Even that shouldn't matter much, at least not to this champion. The Greatest will keep talking throughout the fight, bullying his opponent with taunts and teasers. Ali will talk, but Holmes, as his former sparring partner, is used to it. It won't faze him. Holmes himself has learned the psych game and may offer a few words of his own before the night is through.
The exchange of insults before and during the fight is nothing new. But neither fighter shows the hatred that punctuated the Leonard-Duran brawl. Instead, there is a serious but friendly rivalry between two very different men.
The odds for tomorrow's fight are floating around 2-1. The truth is that these fighters--one no longer great, one never great--are evenly matched. In this fight there is not favorite: each is the underdog.
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