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PAGE 16 , , , , BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, FEBRUARY 26, 2016 HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss f f ALl: A Great Fighter Who Stayed on Too Long All vs. Bonavena. When boxing fans think back on the career of Muhammad Aft, they remember a fighter so fast it was nearly impossible to hit him. The image a lot of people have is of Ali stopping Cleveland Williams. He looked incredible that night, danc- ing and moving with unmatched speed, his hands by his sides, using the Ali Shuffle while dropping the hard-hitting Williams repeatedly before finishing him off in the 3rd round. Many have called this Ali's greatest night. He certainly did look unbeatable against the aging Williams. More importantly, I don't think the champion got hit with a single solid punch. Muhammad cemented his reputation as a boxer who was nearly impossible to hit during the first half of his career. Masterful performances against Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Ter- rell, and Brian London certainly gave validity to him calling himseK "The Greatest." His blinding speed and uncanny reflexes made him look like poetry in motion when the bell rang. Sure, he had been dropped in earlier bouts, but as he matured he continued to improve immensely. In 1967, Ali was exiled from boxing for refusing to be inducted into the military. At the height of his career, he was no longer permitted to practice his profession. For three years he was idle and did not enter the ring again until 1970, when he took on Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia. In that fight, the public looked forward to seeing if the champion still retained his great skills. The Quarry fight did not answer the question, as it lasted only three rounds with Quarry losing because of a cut eye. Next up for Ali was Oscar Bonavena. This fight would tell us more about Aft. Bonavena was a tough and awkward opponent who had twice fought Joe Frazier, dropping Joe twice in their first bout and taking the champion fifteen rounds in a rematch. Oscar was no fancy boxer, but he was tough and very strong. In this fight, Ali was dancing and his hands were fast, but his South American opponent was able to connect on him. Had something changed with Muhammad, or was he now facing an opponent who was younger and faster than those he dealt with before his exile? As great as he looked against Cleveland Williams, it has to be remembered that Williams' best days were long past when they met. Looking at the Bonavena fight, I see a still fine athlete in Ali. He is still fast with great reflexes. However, it has to be noted his foot speed has slowed up just a bit. This, coupled with the fact he is in there with a young and confident opponent, mad this Ali's most difficult fight in years. He did ~ mw solid punching power in decking Oscar thre times in the fifteenth and final round, win- nint i~e fight by a TKO. I do have to mention here thai -i was given an assist by the referee who did not force the rules by making Muhammad go to a eutral corner and by not giving Bonavena an e ht count after the knockdowns. A1 vould go on from here to fight Joe Frazier in t_~ epic Fight of the Century, where we would see t~zm for the first time employ his Rope-a-Dope. This would be the beginning of a new tactic used by The Greatest, where he would lean on the ropes with his hands by his face while his oppo- nent would just pound on him. He would appear impervious to pain while this was going on. He would lose a decision to Frazier after being floored by a tremendous left hook in the last round. In his fights with Bonavena and Frazier, Ali got hit by more punches than in all of his pre-exile fights combined. Was it because his skills had eroded over the three-year layoff, or was he just meeting a higher caliber of opponent now? In the time he was off, a young crop of heavyweights had matured to replace the old guard. But it. has to be noted that the Ali of 1970 and after was not the same man as earlier in his career. He was still fast and agile, but his speed had slowed just enough that it was now possible to catch him with shots that never would have landed in the past. Also, even though still a young man, Ali's legs had aged a bit. He no longer could sustain the constant foot movement round after round. In order to compensate, he would lie on the ropes. He called this a tactic, but in reality he had no choice. In his fight against George Foreman it was insanity to do this. Ali realized early on in that bout he was not going to be able to outrun Big George, who was a master at cutting offthe ring. I believe Muhammad had gone into that fight planning on repeating his performance in the first Liston fight, but soon found he could not keep up the pace against George. So instead, he did the only thing he could do. He allowed the champion to punish him on the ropes in the hope he would tire himself out, which is exactly what happened. While fight fans have come to think of this as an ingenious tactic, it was actually the beginning of the end for Ali. By this I don't mean the end of his career, but rather the end of his career as a great boxer. From here on out, Ali would absorb tremendous punishment in many of his fights. This punishment would lead to his being a physical wreck by the end of his career. The fact is, All was never a great technical boxer along the fines of a Jersey Joe Walcott or Archie Moore. His greatness during the first half of his career was because of his amazing physical attri- butes. He had the uncanny ability to see punches with almost a sixth sense. He was a heavyweight who could move like a middleweight. He did many things wrong in the ring, but because of these abilities he got away with those mistakes. He had invented his own unique style that was almost totally dependent on his physical gifts. Once he lost his speed, he was not able to compensate with shrewd boxing ability. Look at his bouts with Shavers, Frazier, Spinks, and Norton and you will see him taking tremendous punishment. Even in training, he would let sparring partners pound on him. It was almost as if he thought he could toughen himself up by being hit. It is ironic that one of the most artful and beautiful boxers of all time would end up proving he could also absorb more punishment than almost any of his predecessors. He would go on to participate in many exciting fights, but it came at a cost to him both physically and mentally. He did something he had vowed as a young man never to do. He stayed on too long. By the time he stepped into the ring against Larry Holmes, he was already slurring his speech. It was a sad end to a great athlete. Ali vs. Shavers WRITING ON THE WALL, Brad Marchand has trouble WOES ON THE HOME ICE -- putting his finger on the Just like in the Bible, there's remedy. writing on the wall in the "If we could pinpoint it, Bruins' locker room at the then we could fix it," he stated. Garden. The actual location "We seem to play our system is an important distinction, and really stick to our script because the B's this year often on the road," he noted. "At have not played as well in front home, we kind of deviate from of the home folks as they have that and it ends up costing on the road. us." In fact, one gets the feeling Defenseman Joe Morrow had that the team would rather another take. Asked by media play on the road this year than members if there is a mental be in the building where they block to playing at home this face the displeasure of the fans season, he feels there isn't. "I who seem to be vocal about don't think that has anything the team's underwhelming to do with it. We have a lot of performances on Causeway mentally strong players here-- Street this winter, really mature guys -- that have Where the players gather been playing here a long time. before games, between periods I don't feel that anyone thinks and after games with Head %ve're playing at home, we're Coach Claude Julien and his going to be at a disadvantage.' assistants, there are these I think we've just got to focus words adorning one wall: alittle more, bear down a little PASSION. MOTIVATION. more. It's not turning around as VISION. PARTNERSHIP. PER- fast as we want it to. That has SERVERANCE. With all due to change." respect, we feel that there And substitute goalie Jonas have been a number of nights Gustavsson, who got pinned on Causeway Street where with the loss against Columbus, the B's have fallen short of had this comment about the the words written on that team's subpar performance at wail. How else to describe the home: "If I had the answer, then latest of those occasions (as obviously we would fix that. I of press time} when the Black think it's about small details. and Gold lost a home contest We have it [the winning way] in against Columbus, the second this group. We show it especially worst team in the Eastern on the road. Obviously we want Conference, by a 6-4 score. It to figure it out and be a strong was an encounter that featured team at home." many of the polar opposites of And despite it all, the Bruins the characteristics expressed are still in active contention for in those five words written over a playoff berth, just a point out the wall. of third place in the Atlantic The setback was the 15th Division (the top three teams loss at home for the Bruins in each division gain automatic with their supposed home ice berths} in late February and advantage to go with only a clinging to seventh place in the dozen victories. By contrast, the conference as a whole. B's have won 20 games on the After coming back from an road with only seven setbacks extensive road trip, the B's are coming in other buildings, in the midst of a fortnight that "It's tough," said B's winger sees them play six home games Loui Eriksson after the loss to with only one on the road. Columbus. "We definitely want Then there's another stretch to win when we come home featuring a flock of road games. and play in front of the fans. After a home game against But we're not playing like we the Washington Capitals on should. I think we play a much March 5th, the Bruins face a 12- better game style when we're on game stretch that will see them theroad. Wejust keep it simple play 10 games on the road and we're playing hard and not and only two at home. While giving up that many chances to in many years one would see other teams. I think no one is this closing aspect (mostly happy about how we're playing road games} of the season at home. That's just something as a possible negative, that we need to address and get might not be so for this year's better as we go along here. We Bruins. need to make our fans proud. Given the way the B's have We need to come out and play played this year, that might hard." just be the proper way to set "It's hard to understand why them up for the playoffs. With it's happening," chimed in so few games on Causeway Bruins forward Matt Beleskey Street down the stretch, that concerning the team's lack of could be the B's best path to success at home in the Hub. the playoffs this year. "I think we're playing hard in And just think -- if they front of the fans here. Maybe manage to qualify for one of we're just not as focused. It's the lower berths in the Eastern no excuse. We need to be better Conference -- then their first at home for our fans. I don't two games in the opening feel less confident coming in round will be on the road. That here [the Garden]. It just seems might be just another thing to to be the way things are going, consider in one strange season I think we just have to bear both on Causeway Street and down. We have to stay there away from it. mentally. You know as a The Bruins looklike a playoff professional this is where you team this season. Right now, want to play -- at home. I that's the team you see on just think we need to get that television when they're on groove going and start rolling the road. The team that has with it." been playing at home writes a Even hard-playing forward different tale.