After Muhammad Ali revenged his loss against Leon Spinks in 1978 to become the first three-rime heavy weight boxing champion, many of his fans wanted him to quit the game. He had seen it all.
His performance had deteriorated due to age and bad health but fight had refused to leave him. He thought he could do more.
Unfortunately he lost two fights consecutively against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick in the same year 1981. Both guys fought against an old, sick Ali who was a shadow of himself in the ring.
His bad health was obvious. He could hardly raise his hands. Ali could not fly like butterfly nor sting like bee anymore, Parkinson had set in, yet he needed money to take care of himself.
In his bad state of health, fans around the world wanted to see Ali in the ring, the only man that is greater than his art. Holmes shed tears for beating his idol, Berbick showed mercy in the ring against Ali.
Both of them knew they wouldn’t have beaten Ali in his prime. Against Berbick in round 10, Ali could only struggle on his feet, he never fell. Even at 78 on his sick bed when all his organs had failed him, Ali’s heart beat for more than 30 minutes before he finally gave up the ghost. That was Ali, he fought till death.
So I laughed when Anthony Joshua, a former heavyweight champion said he thought he was Ali in his fight against Olesandr Usyk.
Unlike Joshua who quit against Ruiz in their first match, Ali stayed in “Thriller in Manilla” and refused to quit until he defeated “smoking”Joe Frazier.
Both men were worn out. Ali could not rise from his corner as he did in early rounds. In round 14, Frazier could not see anymore due to swollen eyes, while the bell of round 15 was set to sound.
It was Frazier’s corner that threw in the towel and Ali won their third fight via technical knockout. The fight was the make of a champion and it sealed the greatness of Ali above all fighters. He brought in art, strength, power and long-suffering to the game.
This August, Joshua is seeking a second comeback to become a third-time champion just like Ali.
Joshua may not get it because he has no fight in him. Boxing at the heavyweight goes beyond tactics but heart. One punch can decide victory and defeat at this level and for a boxer like Joshua who has week legs and chin, Usyk may retain his unified belts.
Of course Joshua, I learnt is training hard to beat Usyk, he will have to take boxing beyond sport to decide his future in this game. Legend Mike Tyson once said that no one should call him an athlete but a warrior.
A boxer only trains hard and learn new tactics from coaches, he gets into the ring to implement it alone against an opponent whom himself had got tactics.
At this point things usually change when an opponent had got better tactics. It is a time a boxer must improvise either through the determination to win against all odds or quit when the heat is too much.
I have seen Joshua quit against Andy Ruiz junior because he had no answer to what the Mexican brought to the ring after three rounds. Of course he won a rematch because Ruiz also had no answer to what Joshua brought.
For me, both boxers couldn’t come up with their own ideas when tactics failed them and they lost. Joshua in the first, Ruiz in the second.
Joshua will be fighting an athlete, a fighter and one of most tactical boxers at this period, Usyk. This Ukranian can adapt, he can improvise and it is going to take a special talent to beat him.
Joshua is not special but he can be if he allows fight to live in him. Does he want to become a three-time champion? Yes I think so. Has he got the quality, yes I think so. Does he have the fights to do so? I don’t think so.
Unlike Ali, Joshua is so afraid to get hit. He is so mindful of his beautiful face. Ali was more handsome because he protected his face and allowed his body to suffer. Joshua did not want both his body and face to suffer. A champion doesn’t act that way. Something must give way for Joshua to rule again.