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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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Avila Perspective, Chap. 76: Welterweights Vergil, Terence and More

David A. Avila

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In the words of many boxing journalists, fighters, trainers and promoters “styles make fights,” and those differences can lead to unpredictable outcomes. The weekend brings a few stylish welterweights on display from California to New York.

Welterweight ingénue Vergil Ortiz Jr. (14-0, 14 KOs) enters the world of unpredictability when he meets Brad Solomon (28-1, 9 KOs) a swift-moving veteran on Friday, Dec. 13, at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. DAZN will show the loaded Golden Boy Promotions fight card.

It’s Ortiz’s third year as a professional and fifth time performing at the Indio casino. It’s also where he made his pro debut back in July 2016 when he began his remarkable string of 14 consecutive knockout wins.

Solomon, 36, has made a career of fighting pressure fighters and making them miss or defusing their power. Only Russia’s Konstantin Ponomarev, who was trained at the time by Abel Sanchez, was able to hang a loss on the Georgia fighter’s ledger.

Can Ortiz handle the style difference?

“Vergil can do more than people think,” said Vergil Ortiz Sr., father of the lanky welterweight slugger. “He can box any style.”

As a professional, Ortiz has yet to fight someone like Solomon with his juke and move style of fighting. As an amateur he did face speedsters like Ryan Garcia. As a pro, this will mark his first in the prize ring. It should be interesting.

Power Packed Support

Knockout artist Ortiz leads a power packed-boxing card that includes a number of Golden Boy’s best knockout punchers like Bektemir Melikuziev, Alberto Machado and Luis Feliciano. All of these guys can punch and are looking to put the cap on 2019.

That’s a lot of firepower.

But also on the card is someone fighting for 360 Promotions named Serhii Bohachuk, otherwise known as “El Flaco.” Just like Ortiz, Bohachuk has never allowed the final bell to be rung against 16 foes so far. He is going for 17 when he fights Carlos Galvan (17-9-1) in a super welterweight fight set for eight rounds. Don’t expect to hear the final bell whenever the Ukrainian trained by Mexican style coach Abel Sanchez gets in the ring.

Bohachuk could be following in the footsteps of another guy formerly trained by Abel Sanchez named Gennady Golovkin. It’s still too early, but he looks pretty good so far.

New York City

Top welterweight Terence Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) defends the WBO welterweight title against Lithuania’s Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs) on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. ESPN will televise the Top Rank card.

In the crowded and talented world of the welterweights, Crawford could very well be the best of them all. If only he could prove it. The Omaha-Nebraska prizefighter has tried every enticement possible to lure Errol Spence Jr., Danny “Swift” Garcia, Shawn Porter and Manny Pacquiao. Nothing works.

What does work for Crawford has been a reputation as one of the best prizefighters in the world pound for pound. Some tab him as the very best especially when it comes to speed, agility and the ability to innovate on the spot. He has few peers.

Facing Crawford will be Kavaliauskas who trains in Oxnard with a number of Eastern Europeans including Vasyl Lomachenko. They share the same management. He’s never faced anyone close in talent to Crawford. Except, maybe inside of his own gym.

“I’m not focused on no other opponent besides the opponent that’s in front of me. My goal is to make sure I get the victory come this weekend, and that’s the only person I’m focused on now,” said Crawford. “Anyone else is talk. It goes in one ear and out the other. He’s young, hungry and I’m not taking him lightly.”

Crawford has been chasing stardom for a number of years. What better place than New York City’s Madison Square Garden to showcase his skills to the public. At age 32, Crawford is running out of sand.

Lightweight Title Fight

The co-main event on Saturday at Madison Square Garden features IBF lightweight titlist Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) defending against wunderkind Teofimo Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs).

But this weekend truly belongs to the welterweights.

Next Week

Southern California will be packed with boxing. It’s a last gasp before the end of 2019.

Ontario, California will be hosting a very large Premier Boxing Champions fight card at the Toyota Center on Saturday Dec. 21.

WBC super welterweight titlist Tony Harrison finally defends against Jermall Charlo in a rematch and it won’t be friendly. These guys hate each other.

“He’s fake,” said Harrison when they last met in Los Angeles for a press conference.

It won’t be pretty when they meet next week.

Tickets are on sale. Go to this link for more information: https://www.toyota-arena.com/events/detail/premier-boxing-champions

Fights to Watch

Fri. DAZN 4:30 p.m. Vergil Ortiz (14-0) vs Brad Solomon (28-1); Serhii Bohachuk (16-0) vs Carlos Galvan (17-9-1).

Sat. Facebook 5 p.m. Diego De La Hoya (21-1) vs Renson Robles (16-6).

Sat. ESPN 6 p.m. Terence Crawford (35-0) vs Egidijus Kaviliauskas (21-0-1); Teofimo Lopez (14-0) vs Richard Commey (29-2).

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A Toast to Busy Bee Emanuel Navarrete, a Fighter from the Old School

Ted Sares

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In the last 12 months, super bantamweight Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete has fought five times. That’s close to Old School-type activity.

No one in Mexico gave Navarette much notice until he stopped Luis Bedolla Orozco (18-2) in Guadalajara in 2017. He turned more heads when he KO’d Filipino veteran Glenn Porras in January 2018 and fans outside Mexico began to take serious note of this no-nonsense youngster (now just 24) when he stopped Columbia’s “El General” Jose Sanmartin (26-4-1) five months later.

That win, his eighth straight by stoppage, earned him an interim belt and opened the door to a world title shot. It came on Dec. 8, 2018 at Madison Square Garden against undefeated (20-0) WBO world super bantamweight champion Isaac “Royal Storm” Dogboe.

Navarrete, five inches taller at 5’7”, shocked the hard-punching Brit (by way of Ghana) to win a decision and become the new champion. The scores were 115-113, 116-112, and 116-112, but more to the point, Dogboe’s post-fight face looked like it had gone through the proverbial meat grinder. The tall Mexican had fought tall and picked the much smaller Dogboe apart with precise and pinpoint punching.

The rematch proved that Emanuel’s first win was no fluke as he showed late round power in stopping Dogboe in the 12th. He again used his height advantage, showed great stamina and strength, was accurate with his punches, and once again the too-short Dogboe’s face looked like he was on the wrong end of a big city mugging.

His first title defense came against Francisco De Vaca (20-0) who is a fixture at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, Arizona. This one lasted three rounds as Vaquero (“cowboy” in English) used a neat uppercut to stun De Vaca in the second and then rendered a terrible beating in the third to end the fight—one that should have been halted earlier by referee Raul Caiz Sr. who seemed far more “brave” than the fighters.

On September 14, 2019, Navarrete used his signature wide left hooks and uppercuts to end matters in the middle of the third round against Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1). Juan Miguel, the grandson of Filipino boxing legend Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, made the mistake of engaging Navarrete in a firefight and lost. This one took place at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and boxing fans now knew who this tall super bantamweight was.

In his most recent fight — this one in Mexico — Navarrete put on another display of accurate power punching to stop Francisco Horta (20-3-1) at 2.09 of round 4. After a somewhat typical slow start, Navarrete found his groove and began serious stalking, using looping combinations at strange angles inside and outside, finally catching Horta on the ropes in the fourth, ending matters with stunning closure. It was his 25th straight win dating back to 2012 when he was defeated by one Daniel Argueta by a 4-round decision.

Navarrete, one of seven current Mexican world title-holders, is now looking to unify at 122. He also might be interested in fighting Naoya Inoue if “Monster” moves up in weight, and given Inoue’s recent fight with Nonito Donaire in which he showed that he is human after all, this one could be a sizzler.

As to his chances for “Fighter of the Year,” they are probably slim, but that has nothing to do with whether he deserves it and everything to do with poor public relations. Yes, a solid case can be made for Josh Warrington, but enough with the Canelo, Loma, Usyk types who fight twice a year.

Emanuel Navarrete is more active than any other title-holder or top contender and has a KO percentage of 84% despite the fact that his last five opponents had a combined record of 108-5-1 coming in. And he has a fan-friendly style, stalking, stunning, and closing his opponents with controlled violence. In many respects, he fights like a pre-scandal and prime Antonio Margarito, except he is more technically sound. The fact is, Vaquero, the pride of San Juan Zitlaltepec, is super exciting and doesn’t seem to have any noticeable weaknesses.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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NEWS FLASH: Leon Spinks Hospitalized; Reportedly Fighting for His Life

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The gossip site TMZ is reporting that Leon Spinks is hospitalized in Las Vegas and is fighting for his life. TMZ acquired this information from Spinks’ wife Brenda Glur Spinks after spying her social media post. “It’s been a tough year for us,” she wrote. “Leon has endured a lot of medical problems. I’m reaching to ask that you pray for my Beautiful Husband Leon. So that he may overcome the obstacles that crossed his path.”

Her sentiment was echoed by Leon’s son Leon Spinks III who posted this message on his facebook page: “My Dad isn’t doing so good now and his wife Brenda Glur Spinks and I ask that u pray that he weather’s this storm. My dad is all I have left and I really appreciate it if yall let God know that he is not in this battle alone.”

A gold medal winner at the 1976 Olympics, Spinks, 66, is best remembered for upsetting Muhammad Ali in 1978 to win the world heavyweight title. He lost the title back to Ali in his next fight.

This is a developing story. As new details emerge, we will share them with you.

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