Muhammad Ali's farewell to boxing was marked by tragedy, exploitation, and a painful descent from his former glory. Despite having achieved a historic third heavyweight title by defeating Leon Spinks in 1978, Ali's career should have concluded much earlier, perhaps even after his iconic battle with Joe Frazier in Manila. The toll of his relentless pursuit of greatness was becoming evident.
In 1980, Ali returned to face Larry Holmes, but it was a mismatch. Holmes pummeled the aging Ali, and the damage absorbed that night was substantial. Ali needed protection from himself, but many failed to intervene when he needed them most.
Instead of calling it quits, Ali returned in 1981 for a fight in Nassau, Bahamas, against Trevor Berbick. Berbick was not a top-tier heavyweight, and the fight was seen by many as a final money grab. The promotion was chaotic, and the fight itself lacked any resemblance to Ali's prime.
Although Ali showed some glimpses of his old skills, it was clear that the magic had long faded. The fight was more tragic than dramatic, and Ali endured punishment in a bout that should never have happened.
In the ninth round, Ali looked like he was about to collapse, but he bravely continued. The fight was a sad reflection of Ali's stubborn refusal to accept that his time in boxing was over.
After ten rounds, Berbick won, but he didn't relish the victory. He described the experience as beating his "father and hero at the same time." Ali himself admitted, "I feel used up."
Despite the evidence of his declining health, some tried to convince Ali that he had done well in the fight or had even won. They seemed more interested in the continued financial benefits of Ali's name than in his well-being.
The consequences of Ali's prolonged career were evident, with pre-fight medical reports showing signs of neurological issues. Ali's battles outside the ring with Parkinson's disease were a painful reminder of the price he paid for refusing to let go.
Muhammad Ali was a legendary fighter who provided unforgettable memories. However, his career's sad and drawn-out conclusion serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of not knowing when to retire and the exploitative nature of the boxing world. Ali's legacy will always be marked by his greatness, but it's also a reminder of the importance of protecting fighters from themselves.