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Jonathan Eig’s Biography of Muhammad Ali Distorts Ali’s Post–Exile Fights

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BOOK REVIEW BY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT MIKE CAHILL — I just finished reading Jonathan Eig’s “Ali: A Life.” Although I enjoyed the first half of the book, after finishing the second half I was greatly troubled. Two things gnawed at me: his view of Ali the man and his opinion of Ali the boxer.

Thomas Hauser in his review of Eig’s book for The Ring addressed both of these deficiencies. “There are times when Eig doesn’t give Ali full credit for his ring skills when he was near his peak,” wrote Hauser. What I would add is that much of what Eig wrote about Ali’s post-exile fights was also off base.

Correcting this matters a great deal because often the last word in biography becomes the standard by which a public figure is judged. If Eig can falsely diminish Ali on his platform – boxing — it makes his social, political, and spiritual legacy easier to diminish, as well. So let’s set the record straight.

The best place to start is with a critique of what evidence Eig chooses to use — and, more importantly, not to use — in judging Ali’s fights. As Hauser noted, Eig is enthralled with CompuBox. Even if one concedes that the CompuBox punch counts are accurate (which they often are not), Eig consistently uses the total number of punches landed as proof of which fighter was superior. But boxing matches aren’t scored by punches landed across the entire spectrum of a fight; they are scored by round. A fighter could conceivably give away a couple rounds (as Ali, maddeningly, sometimes did) and thus get hit more often than his opponent. But if that fighter won eight rounds or more of a 15-round fight, the grand total of punches is irrelevant.

This is obvious to all true fight fans, but what about other readers of Eig’s book, less familiar with the scoring of boxing, who are now left with a false impression?

Let’s examine one group of fights and then five individual fights to make the point.

In 1972 Ali fought six times, winning by KO or TKO four times and twice by one-sided decisions, including his second fight against George Chuvalo that was widely regarded as his best fight since 1967. Ali’s weight was coming down for most of the 1972 fights compared to his 1971 bouts, and he was finding most of his old skills returning, if not his speed.

Eig devotes one paragraph to these fights while later noting that they helped him recover some of his finesse as a boxer. Well, yes — enough that The Ring named him their Fighter of the Year! Yet, in a supreme irony, Eig ends his chapter on this period quoting Bob Foster, who was knocked out in the eighth and was down seven times in all, saying Ali never hurt him.

Ali’s second fight with Joe Frazier in 1974 produced a unanimous decision. The scores of the three officials were 8-4, 7-4-1, and 6-5-1. In addition, the following scorecards are public record:

  • Associated Press: 8-4 for Ali
  • United Press International: 7-4-1 for Ali
  • World Boxing: 6-5-1 for Ali
  • International Boxing: 7-4-1 for Ali

Despite this, Eig chooses to tell his readers that Red Smith, who despised Ali, once comparing him to “unwashed punks,” had scored the fight for Frazier. (Who cares?) He then paraphrases Smith who suggested that judges were giving Ali rounds. Eig concludes his section on this fight by saying, “Whether the judges were biased or not,” they named Ali the winner. Here begins a pattern, seen at least three more times, of Eig associating Ali’s wins with biased judges.

Eig also gets mostly wrong his description of the famous 1974 Rumble in the Jungle. He claims Ali’s Rope-a-Dope was “a feat of masochism” and, quoting boxing writer Mike Silver, “a non-strategy.” And he wrote that “Ali lacked the speed to escape and lacked the power and stamina to fight back for more than a fraction of each round.”

He may have lacked speed, but certainly not power, not in this fight. Did Eig see Foreman’s battered face? And no one had more stamina than Ali. In fact, in this fight, the man lacking speed, power, and stamina was George Foreman, not Ali.

Ali’s strategy involved laying against the ropes, yes, but it was brilliant. What Eig misses here is that Ali was not just resting; he was counterpunching like crazy – from the ropes – and then coming off those ropes to pummel Foreman even more. The official cards had Ali comfortably ahead through the completed rounds: 4-2-1, 4-1-2, and 3-0-4.

Boxing author Michael Ezra wrote: “You very well may hear that Ali scored a dramatic victory by backing against the ropes, weathering a brutal battering, and then delivering a sudden knockout. They’d be wrong, though, because what really happened was that Ali whipped Foreman comprehensively from start to finish.” Eig seems only partially to grasp this. At the end of the year, The Ring once again named Ali its Fighter of the Year on the strength of his two strong victories against the two best heavyweights around other than himself. He had won back his title. Reading Eig, you’d never know it.

Now we come to Ali’s 1976 defense against Jimmy Young. In this instance, Eig was correct in that the judges seemed biased for Ali, at least the two that had Ali winning by the scores of 11-4 and 10-3-2. (The third judge also scored it for Ali, but more reasonably at 7-5-3.)

Ali may well have lost that fight; I’m not arguing it either way. Young clearly won the first three rounds and he finished strong. But in the middle rounds, in the eyes of many, Ali had the best of it. “Most ringside writers seemed to agree with the verdict,” wrote Ron Rapoport in the Los Angeles Times. Sports Illustrated’s Mark Kram, noting that Young ducked his head out of the ropes on six occasions, said the decision was correct.

The point is that when Eig states that “everyone but the judges thought Ali had lost,” that simply is not true. A journalist or a historian shouldn’t change facts to fit a narrative.

On page 442 of his book, Eig describes the Ali-Norton rubber match. “Norton was doing most of the punching. He was the busier fighter, the more aggressive fighter, the more artful fighter.” He then claims Ali finished strong in the last minute of the final round.

Ironically, it was actually Norton who opened up in the final 20 seconds of the fight. Eig’s description of Round 15 makes me wonder if he actually watched the round.

If we accept the CompuBox stats of which Eig is so fond (which I do here solely for the sake of argument) they show that Ali landed and threw more punches in Rounds 1, 3, 7, 9, and 13. Norton did so in rounds 2, 5, 6, and 8. Not surprisingly, those rounds were scored unanimously for Ali and Norton respectively, with the exception that one of the supposedly biased judges scored the third round for Norton. In the remaining six rounds, according to CompuBox, Ali threw 404 punches to Norton’s 280, more than 20 more punches per round. CompuBox records Norton as out-landing Ali 108 to 80, a mere 4 punches per round.

Even assuming those numbers are correct, (which is highly doubtful; watch the fight and draw your own conclusion), one can see why Eig — who considers the percentage of punches landed to be the overriding factor in judging a fight — gravitated to those who thought Norton was robbed.

One thing is clear: Ali was busier and more aggressive. In fact, in the last six rounds, Ali out-threw Norton by almost 25 punches per round, while Norton supposedly out-landed Ali by less than three punches per round. I don’t claim Ali definitively won Ali/Norton III (for example AP scored it 9-6 Ali, while UPI had it 8-7 Norton). What I’m arguing is that Eig has ignored the clear evidence that this was a close fight and no one was robbed.

As to the charge that judges in this and other fights were loath to score rounds against Ali, the reality is different. Other than the Young fight, there is no reason to support this theory. At the end of six rounds, the Ali/Norton III fight was scored 5-1, 4-2, and 4-2 in favor of Norton. Had Norton continued to out-box Ali, nothing suggests that the judges wouldn’t have continued to score rounds for him.

It’s important to remember that Ali had by this time already lost decisions to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. As for the argument that things changed when he became champion, the 1975 Ali-Lyle fight is instructive. Before the fight was stopped in the 11th round, Ali was tied on one scorecard, behind one round on another card and behind 49-43 on another. The 49-43 card gave Ali only one of the 10 completed rounds while scoring two rounds even.

Finally, let’s look at Ali’s 1977 fight with Earnie Shavers. Once again, Eig skews the evidence to support his theory of a fading fighter being carried by the judges. He again writes about percentages of punches landed and thrown, and about how hard Ali was hit in this fight, which he was. But except for acknowledging Ali’s “astonishing” final round, he has nothing positive to say about Ali’s performance. “Once again, perhaps not surprisingly, the judges gave Ali the win,” says Eig.

Where is the evidence? Eleven of the 15 rounds had unanimous scoring, seven of those going to Ali, four to Shavers. In other words, very few rounds were in doubt and the doubtful rounds were split pretty evenly. The official scoring was 9-5-1, 9-6, 9-6. Both wire services, AP and UPI, had it for Ali, respectively 10-5 and 8-6-1. Earnie Shavers himself, in his biography, said Ali was deservedly victorious.

Muhammad Ali won this fight. As Michael Ezra wrote, “In that 15 round struggle, Ali’s ability, confidence, character and intelligence were all on display.”

As mentioned in my opening paragraph, I was also troubled by Eig’s depiction of Ali the man. I was gratified to read Hauser’s comments in his review of Eig’s book that Ali was not only a genuinely nice man, but a spiritual man, perhaps especially in his later, so-called diminishing years. My wife, Cathy, and I have an adult son and daughter who we raised to try to live a spiritual life based on love, service, acceptance of others, learning to rise above adversity, and standing up for what you believe. Although we are Catholic (and white), one of the prime examples of the kind of life worth living that I held up to them was the very imperfect, but yet very beautiful life of Muhammad Ali.

Editor’s note: Author Mike Cahill resides in Chicago.

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Fast Results From Latvia: Mairis Briedis and the KO Doctor advance in the WBSS

Arne K. Lang

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briedis vs glowacki

The semifinal round of the Wold Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament played out today in Riga, Latvia, the hometown of Mairis Briedis who was matched against Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki. Both fighters had only one blemish on their ledger and in both cases their lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk.

The fans left happily after Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs) knocked out Glowacki (34-2) in the third frame. But it was messy fight that invites a lot of second-guessing and likely a challenge from the Glowacki camp.

After a feeling-out first round, Briedis cranked up the juice. An errant elbow landed behind Glowacki’s head, putting him on the canvas. For this discretion, Briedis was docked a point. A legitimate knockdown followed — Glowacki was hurt — and then another knockdown after the bell had sounded. The referee could not hear the bell in the din. It was a wild scene.

The fight was allowed to continue, but didn’t last much longer. Coming out for round three, Glowacki wasn’t right and Briedis pounced on him, scoring another knockdown, leading referee Robert Byrd to waive the fight off at the 27 second mark. It wasn’t Byrd’s finest hour.

The tournament organizers anticipated the complication of a draw and assigned extra judges to eliminate this possibility. They did not anticipate the complication of a “no-contest.” If the outcome isn’t overturned, Briedis, a former WBC cruiserweight champ, is the new WBO title-holder.

Dorticos-Tabiti

In the co-feature, Miami-based Cuban defector Yunier Dorticos, nicknamed the KO Doctor, lived up to his nickname with a smashing one punch knockout of previously undefeated Andrew Tabiti. The end for Tabiti came with no warning in round 10. An overhand right left him flat on his back, unconscious. Referee Eddie Claudio didn’t bother to count. The official time was 2:33.

It was easy to build case for Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs). He was three inches taller than Tabiti, packed a harder punch, and had fought stronger opposition. But it was understood that Tabiti, now 17-1, had a more well-rounded game. Moreover, there were concerns about Dorticos’ defense and stamina.

Dorticos was ahead on the scorecards after nine frames. He rarely took a backward step and let his hands go more freely. And it didn’t help Tabiti’s cause that he was docked a point for holding in the sixth frame. Earlier in that round, an accidental clash of heads left Dorticos with a cut over his right eye. The ringside physician was called into the ring to examine it and let the bout continue.

With the victory, Dorticos became the IBF world cruiserweight champion and moved one step closer to acquiring the coveted Muhammad Ali trophy in what will be, win or lose, the most lucrative fight of his career.

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Angel Ruiz Scores 93 Second KO in Ontario, CA

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Angel Ruiz

(Ringside Report by Special Correspondent Tarrah Zeal) ONTARIO, CA – “Path to Glory” featured some of Southern California’s hottest prospects carving their image into the boxing world through the Thompson Boxing Promotions platform at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, CA Friday night.

Undefeated welterweight prospect Angel Ruiz (14-0, 11 KO) of Maywood, CA finished veteran Miguel Zamudio (43-13-1, 27 KO) from Los Mochis, Mexico with an impressive stoppage at 1:33 in the first round scheduled for eight.

At 21 years young, Ruiz (pictured) came into the night with four KO wins in his last four bouts and looking to continue his streak. A second-round body shot win over Gerald Avila (8-17-3) on May 10th and first round KO win against Roberto Almazan (8-9) just this year.

Ruiz was just getting started in the ring using his long distance and power punches to punish Zamudio.

Twenty seconds into the opening round, Ruiz’ mouthpiece went flying out and a timeout was called. Once the mouthpiece was placed back in, Ruiz administered a quick flurry of punches but with no exchange from Zamudio, referee Raul Caiz stepped in and stopped the main event fight.

After the fight interview Ruiz was asked about what he saw in the fight, “I see this guy. He wants to fight. He was trying to fight but I’m too hard. I got you.” Ruiz said. “I feel ready. I want to fight with the best.”

With 89 amateur bouts under his belt, although not signed with any promoters, Ruiz is verbally challenging Vergil Ortiz, “Vergil if you see this video, remember me”.

Brewart

In he co-main event, a six round junior middleweight bout, Richard “Cool Breeze” Brewart (6-0, 2 KO) of Rancho Cucamonga, CA won a unanimous decision over Antonio “El Tigre” Duarte (2-1) of Tijuana, Mexico.

Brewart was coming into the fight looking like the faster, more technical fighter of the two. Duarte over-telegraphed all of his punches, allowing Brewart to use his overhand right and awesome agility to angle out of reach.

Even after Duarte checked Brewart on the chin with a strong punch, Brewart’s power punches always ended the rounds. The judges scored the bout 60-54 twice and 59-55 for Brewart.

Other Bouts

A victorious unanimous decision at the end of a six-round toe-to- toe bantamweight fight was given to Mario “Mighty” Hernandez, (8-1-1, 3 KO) of Santa Cruz, CA over lefty Victor “Lobo” Trejo Garcia (16-11-1, 8 KO) from Mexico City, Mexico.

Continuous hard punches were exchanged from both brawlers starting at the bell of round one. Fans were excited after a flurry of punches and then a clear push from Hernandez sent Trejo to the floor at the end of round three, giving the crowd excitement for the coming rounds.

It deemed to be a bit of a challenge for both, as orthodox Hernandez managed to match southpaw Trejo’s overhand right punches with his own in response. After six rounds of continuous action two judges scored the bout 57-56 and one 59-54 for Hernandez.

In what would be an exciting and entertaining four-round heavyweight bout, Oscar Torrez (6-0, 3 KO) from Riverside, CA took on Allen Ruiz (0-2) of Ensenada, Mexico.

A surprising uppercut from Ruiz, in the beginning of round one, put Torrez on the canvas and every eye in the room were all fixated on both brawlers. The look in Torrez’ eyes were more calculated, as he was careful from then on.

Wild punches were being thrown from Ruiz without fear of repercussion, but then a quick liver shot from Torrez sent him to his knees. After a couple of seconds to adjust back into the bout, Ruiz was then checked again by left hook to the chin knocking out his mouthpiece. There were 20 seconds left in round two and the round ended with no mouthpiece.

Torrez showed he was stronger and the more technical fighter and finally ended the bout by KO with a right hook to Ruiz’s body at 1:08 in the third round.

Jose “Tito” Sanchez, a rising featherweight prospect with two knockouts in his first two fights and training under star trainer Joel Diaz, out of Indio, CA, took on veteran Pedro “Pedroito” Melo (17-20-2, 8 KO). Even with his low experience in the professional boxing world, Sanchez showed his maturity in the ring by controlling the fight when following Melo around the ring and landing clean left hooks and powerful body shots. After four rounds Sanchez won by 40-36 on all three cards.

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Is the UFC Purchasing Premier Boxing Champions?

Miguel Iturrate

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UFC Purchasing PBC?

Several news outlets are reporting that the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s parent company Endeavor is in talks with Al Haymon to purchase the Premier Boxing Champions. The deal is far from happening and will be complicated if it is completed. Let’s look at some of the details.

Dana White has been the face of the UFC since the brand was purchased by Zuffa in 2001 and over the years he has repeatedly hinted about invading the world of boxing. In his early days as the UFC’s head honcho, White even challenged his biggest star, Tito Ortiz, to a boxing match. The match never happened but to this day White will tell you he would have beaten Ortiz in a fight under Queensberry rules.

In more recent years the UFC co-promoted the Conor McGregor versus Floyd Mayweather Jr match and White, although he would vehemently deny it, also had to have at least tacitly approved of Oscar De LaHoya’s promotion of the third bout between Ortiz and his rival Chuck Liddell. That match-up was likely assessed by White this way: “If Oscar wants to promote MMA let him lose his money,” but he didn’t stand in the way of De La Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions.

White’s name has also come up in connection with Anthony Joshua. White is said to have had a huge offer ready for the then heavyweight champion, but he backed off when the realization hit that he could not make matches for Joshua in the way he is accustomed because he had no roster of potential opponents. However, White has been insistent that the UFC will “100 percent get into boxing.”

Under new owners Endeavor, White cannot operate like he did under old owners Zuffa, but if the deal goes down it is likely because White crafted some type of long term vision that he sold to Endeavor co-founder and CEO Ari Emanuel (pictured).

When Endeavor purchased the UFC in July of 2016 for a reported $4.05 billion, White agreed to guide the company for at least five more years, of which roughly two are up.

On the flipside, it is difficult to see Al Haymon relinquishing control of PBC. More than likely Haymon would stay in charge of the PBC wing and Endeavor would serve as a cash cow to keep what he has built going.

Haymon must stay aboard for another reason, though few will say it. The reason is ethnicity. If Haymon is left out, that would basically leave Leonard Ellerbe and his boss Floyd Mayweather Jr as the only prominent African-American promoters in boxing and that would not be a healthy situation.

Premier Boxing Champions has a diverse group of fighters among the over 200 pugilists under contract. Some are African-American as are many of Haymon’s key employees and associates. Frankly, at least a portion of those fighters and employees would not feel the same comfort level they have with Haymon if Emanuel, a member of an influential Jewish family (his brother is former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel) and Vegas power broker White were abruptly substituted.

Another effect on the PBC model is on the promotional end. Haymon has cobbled together a group of promoters that operate regionally under his PBC umbrella. The model that Endeavor brings with the UFC will have a more centralized approach to promotion. How will the new owners deal with Lou DiBella in NY, James Leija and Mike Battah in Texas, and Tom Brown in California? Throw in the aforementioned Ellerbe and Mayweather, who operate primarily in Vegas but also in the Washington DC and Baltimore area. How will the promoters who work with the PBC see their relationship change if Haymon left and Dana White was in charge?

Haymon has built the PBC over the years into a big business. He has the PBC on FOX and Showtime whereas the UFC, which previously partnered with FOX, now has a long-term deal with ESPN. This suggests that if a deal is made, PBC and the UFC will have to operate as completely separate entities under the same umbrella, at least for the foreseeable future. And even that might be further away from happening than most people realize.

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