September 15, 1978 was a Friday. That evening it pained me not being in front of the television. I was a senior in high school and was a statistician for the football team. There was a game that night. I couldn’t see the title match between Heavyweight Champion Leon Spinks and The Greatest Of All Times- Muhammad Ali.
Back on February 15, 1978 in a televised bout after only eight professional fights- the 10-1 underdog Leon Spinks- the 1976 Olympic Heavyweight Gold Medalist- upset a sluggish aging Ali. Usually to beat the champion the rule is you have to knock him out but in this case Spinks didn’t have to knock Ali out- he just dominated the fight. Ali was 36 and reportedly didn’t train that hard for the fight. He overlooked Spinks and lost the title.
Leon Spinks gave Muhammad Ali a rematch- and that re-match took place in the Superdome in New Orleans. Over 63,000 would be in attendance making it the largest indoor boxing match ever at the time. An estimated 2 billion viewers world wide would be watching. Ali the challenger entered the fight as a 2 1/2 to 1 favorite. Ali would dominate the fight and won an easy unanimous decision. Ali was the first three time World Heavyweight Champion. It was at the end when I got home and rushed in to see the end of the show- with Bob Dylan’s song playing over scenes of Ali. My dad had watched the fight and having run in to the house breathless hoping to find out what happened I didn’t have to say anything my dad just said “Ali won.”
Ali would announce his retirement and if he had only stayed retired. He would come back in late 1980 to fight a young and hungry Larry Holmes. It was sad to watch. Holmes would destroy Ali in that fight. Ali was too old. Father time is undefeated. Still he wouldn’t retire- another fight in late 1981 against an also ran Trevor Berbick also ended in defeat and that was the end of his career. If only he had stayed retired after regaining the title that night in New Orleans.
There are two versions of “Forever Young” on Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves album- a slow and fast version- the best version is the slow version which was played that night on television after the fight. I think it is the best song on that under rated Dylan album-and every time I hear it I think of The Greatest- Muhammad Ali. Dylan and Ali- two of the great icons of the 1960’s- and the 20th Century.