Not the Greatest Way for His Career to End


Like so many athletes before him, Muhammad Ali wouldn’t listen when told his time was gone, that his reign was over.

His last victory was in 1978, when he regained the heavyweight championship he had lost to Leon Spinks seven months earlier.

He announced his retirement in 1979, but found Hancock Park too confining, too quiet.

He came back to challenge the new champion, Larry Holmes, in a 1980 match at Las Vegas. The old champion absorbed a terrible beating, throwing few punches, his cornermen stopping it as the exhausted Ali sat on his stool.


Now here he was in Nassau, the Bahamas, 14 months later, for one final stab at summoning up the magic that had carried him to the great victories over Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Earnie Shavers and Spinks.

Five weeks short of his 40th birthday and weighing a career-high 236 1/2 pounds, it was an unseemly setting. For one thing, the fight was in the Bahamas because most U.S. state commissions had barred Ali from fighting.

For another, he was even money against Trevor Berbick, a plodder he would have beaten with one hand a decade earlier. The $50 ringside seats were discounted to $10.

Ali was not in condition to box, and he left everyone wondering why he had even bothered. Reporters who watched him do road work one morning reported he’d run 50 yards, walked three miles, and was picked up by a limo.

Berbick won a unanimous decision.

And this time, it really was the final act.

Also on this date: In 1983, John Henry became the first $4-million horse by winning the Hollywood Turf Cup at Hollywood Park, his 24th stakes victory. . . . In 1940, the NFL’s request to use the Coliseum for an exhibition game for charity matching the champion Chicago Bears and an NFL all-star team was denied by the Pacific Coast Conference. The universities barred Coliseum use for pro sports until the Cleveland Rams moved west in 1946. . . . In 1949, the final All-America Conference football game was played, a 21-7 title win by the Cleveland Browns over the San Francisco 49ers. Two days earlier, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell had announced that three AAFC teams--the Browns, 49ers and Baltimore Colts--would join the NFL for the next season.