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article imageOp-Ed: Muhammad Ali — 5 foes who got in the way of his boxing career

By Leo Reyes     Oct 7, 2015 in Sports
In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Ali-Frazier fight more popularly known as the "Thrilla in Manila," I wish to share an article I wrote four years ago on Bleacher Report about five foes that came in the way of Muhammad Ali's boxing career.
Forty years ago this month, heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier in Manila in a brutal clash dubbed "Thrilla in Manila" which Ali later described "as the closest thing to dying" as the fight ended in RTD in the penultimate round.
The third Ali-Frazier bout in 1975 was one of the most brutal 15-rounder fights in boxing history and it may have influenced regulators and sanctioning bodies to reduce the number of rounds from 15 to 12.
Here are five heavyweight boxers who came in the way of Ali's boxing career.
Joe Frazier,UD 1971
Joe Frazier handed Ali's first loss in 1971 via a unanimous decision. Ali's loss came after winning all of his 32 fights since he turned pro in 1960.
Frazier, who is from Beaufort, North Carolina, was a former world heavyweight champion whose professional career started from 1965 to 1976 with a brief comeback in 1981.
In the early rounds, Ali dominated Frazier with solid left and right combinations but Frazier took all the punishments without backing down.
In the middle to the later rounds Frazier took advantage of Ali's early sign of fatigue and continued with his unrelenting assault to the head and body that mostly landed on targets.
While Ali made a last minute effort to reverse the scorecards in round 11, it was clear that Frazier was ahead on points. Judges ruled a unanimous decision in favor of Frazier.
Immediately after the fight, Ali was brought to a hospital to have his swollen jaw examined.
At the time of the fight, Frasier was 27 years old while Ali was 29.
Ken Norton, SD 1973
Ali and Ken Norton fought for the first time in March 1973 in San Diego, California. Norton won the fight via a split decision after breaking Ali's jaw.
In a rematch later in 1973, Ali won the fight. This was followed by the Ali-Frazier ll in 1974 which Ali won via a unanimous decision.
Three years after Norton broke Ali's jaw, they faced each other again in Inglewood, California. Ali prevailed over Norton in a unanimous decision.
Ali won the last of their three-part series and retained his WBA/WBC heavyweight titles, which he took from George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire via eighth-round KO.
Leon Spinks, SD 1978
Ali's third tormentor was Leon Spinks, who hails from St. Louis Missouri and was only on his eight pro fight when he stripped Ali of his world titles.
Spinks earned a 15-round split decision in 1978 against Ali in fight held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ali's loss to Spinks cost him his WBA and WBC heavyweight titles.
Ali was expecting an easy fight but it turned out that Spinks was in top condition during their fight and Ali was simply outfought in the later rounds.
With his victory, Spinks became the only man to ever take a title belt from Ali since his other losses were contests in which no official world title belt that he was in possession of was on the line.
Spinks' iconic gap-toothed grin was featured on the cover of the Feb. 19, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated. He never again fought as efficiently.
In Sept. 1978, Ali and Spinks faced each other again in New Orleans. Ali won via a unanimous decision and took the WBA heavyweight title.
Larry Holmes, TKO 1980
In 1980, Ali fought Larry Holmes, a fellow American boxer from Pennsylvania, who was the reigning Ring Magazine heavyweight champion from 1980-85.
The fight took place in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ali was well past his prime and coming out of retirement when he faced Holmes, who was at his absolute best for this fight. It was Ali's last attempt to become a four-time world heavyweight champion.
Holmes actually held back after the middle rounds because he could also see that Ali was definitely not the same man who had taught him to box when he served as Ali's sparring partner.
At the end of the 10th round, Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee stopped the fight.
Ali blamed his poor performance on thyroid medication that he had been taking, claiming that it helped him lose weight (he weighed 217.5 lbs., his lowest weight since he fought George Foreman in 1974, but it also left him drained for the fight.
Trevor Berbick, UD 1981
Muhammad Ali's last professional fight before retiring was against Trevor Berbick, a Jamaican-Canadian heavyweight boxer who briefly held the WBC heavyweight title in 1986.
Ali lost to Berbick via a unanimous decision in Nassau, Bahamas in 1981.
At the height of his boxing career, Berbick had trouble with the law despite his religious background.
Berbick had been arrested a number of times and was sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting his children's baby sitter in 1992. He was subsequently deported from the US.
Berbick, who was once a preacher at the Moments of Miracles Pentecostal Church in Las Vegas, was murdered by his nephew over a land dispute in his native Jamaica in 2006.
Berbick has three sons who live in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada.
After his retirement fight against Berbick, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's Syndrome in 1984, a disease for which those subject to severe head trauma, such as boxers, are many times more susceptible.
As a legally-sanctioned sports, boxing has been identified as one of the causes of Parkinson's disease. A good number of boxers have died because of severe head injuries and some have contracted Parkinson's disease.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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