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Muhammad And Larry

If I get whooped, play it back, because I’ll be a fool.

Back in the mid-80s, we had HBO and I was able to watch many of Larry Holmes’ heavyweight fights. Because I saw Larry most, he became my favorite fighter. When he lost to Michael Spinks, I was heartbroken, and when he lost again to Spinks in the rematch, I was bummed out again. This was before Mike Tyson came on the scene and took Larry’s spot on my list.

Before Holmes lost to Spinks, I learned that he actually fought the legendary Muhammad Ali. My dad would tell me stories about Ali and I pretty much knew Ali’s career. My next-door neighbor was also a big boxing fan and had a few of Ali’s later fights on video cassette tape.

I asked my dad how come the fight wasn’t legendary and spoken about. He said that it was the worst fight he’d ever seen in his life and that it should’ve never happened. To me, this fight was a mystery. It was a fight I wouldn’t want to see because a heroic figure in boxing was on his last legs getting beaten by the hungry tiger. My dad said it also hurt Holmes and even though he was in Ali’s shadow and should’ve come out of his shadow by beating him, what actually happened was that he became disrespected and even less popular. No one wanted him to beat Ali. It was a no win situation for Holmes.

After all these years, thanks to Albert Maysles and ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, I now know why my dad hated that fight so much. The documentary was filmed before their fight, which was titled “The Last Hurrah”, but after the fight was over, no one wanted to see the footage and the film went on the shelf. Twenty nine years later, enough time has passed to where a fight that was not to be mentioned again as if it was stricken from the record book is now the subject of a great sports documentary.

Muhammad And Larry isn’t just a good documentary. It’s great. The footage is classic as you see an aging Ali try to become magical again and beat the world champion who didn’t quite have everyone’s respect. Ali moves much slower and looks heavier than you’re used to seeing him and his mustache just throws you off. That’s not how you remember him. And when he’s sparring and hitting the bags, he just doesn’t look like the dynamic fighter he was.

On the other hand, Holmes looked like a world beater. He was quick, threw a jab that was like a ticking time bomb and was supremely confident, but unlike Ali, he meant it. Ali was still all show, but he couldn’t go. And you got the idea that he knew it. His prize was 8 million dollars and that seemed to be the reason that he came out of retirement, more so than actually wanting to be the heavyweight champ once again.

There are many reasons why this documentary was so good, but in my opinion, the main reason is that the footage doesn’t lie. There’s no agenda to it. It tells the story, even without any dialogue. If you knew nothing about Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali, based on the footage, you could figure out what the documentary was about. It’s transparent.

There is new footage of Holmes and with major Ali players like Ferdie Pacheco and Angelo Dundee, where they are able to reflect back on the happenings. In their words, it wasn’t up to them to whether or not Ali should’ve fought. It was Ali’s decision and his decision only. There are also new interviews with boxing writers and historians and they reflect back on what they remembered about the time and how the fight fans truly believed Ali had one last big one in him.

What great documentaries do for me is make me feel like I was there when everything was happening. They make me feel like I wish I would’ve been a fly on the wall when everything was going on. This film is no different.

If you get the chance, go out of your way to find out when it is on again. It’s that good.

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2 thoughts on “Muhammad And Larry

  1. The footage of Ali was disturbing – you could see the inevitable decline had already begun. That wasn’t nearly as disturbing as the revelation he had gone to the Mayo Clinic for a thorough checkup, they noted his reflexes were not there and his short term memory was already shot, and yet the NSAC +still+ cleared Ali to fight. I’m sure this is a case where money talks so they were bound and determined to not blow a big payday, but it makes you wonder if Chuck Liddell isn’t going to be the next one to get Parkinson’s. He won’t know when to quit, he’ll try to come back for one more big payday, he’ll get cleared to fight even if he’s not +really+ alright, and he’ll take one knockout too many. Don’t do it Chuck.

  2. Ya, I hope Chuck saw this movie, as well as other fighters who are past their prime.

    Ferdie was right. Ali should’ve lived a great life until he was 100. He may still live to 100, but I’m not sure it’s the way he envisioned.

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