ESPN 30 FOR 30 #4 : MUHAMMAD AND LARRY

Muhammad and Larry Poster

ESPN 30 FOR 30 SERIES: MUHAMMAD AND LARRY

  • Directed by Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplin
  • 51 minutes
  • Premier Date: October 27, 2009
  • Grade: B
  • I have been following sports for 55 years now and I can’t think of a sadder sporting event than the October 2, 1980 Heavyweight Boxing Championship between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. Ali is my all time sports hero. I know what happened in this fight and 40 years later I still haven’t watched the video of it and I never will.. As Ferdie Pacheco said this was a tragedy. The fight was a crime.
  • This documentary which was directed by Albert Maysles [ who along with his brother David directed the fascinating Grey Gardens documentary} and Bradley Kaplin follows Ali and Holmes during their training for the fight and ends with highlights of the fight. Muhammad Ali is at the center of this documentary but they do a good job giving Larry Holmes his due.
  • At the time of the fight Ali had been retired two years. He had last fought in the fall of 1978 when he beat Leon Spinks to claim the Heavyweight Championship for the third time. In 1980 Larry Holmes was the champ. The reason Ali came back- it was all about the money- he was offered $8 million and Ali needed the money. Ali was 38 years old and Holmes was in his prime as a fighter at 30.
  • The documentary does a great job in showing the declining condition of not only Muhammad’s skills in the ring but the decline in his health. Ali was the “Louisville Lip”- but in this period of time he was mumbling his words, he looked and moved slower. It wasn’t the Muhammad Ali of old. All the beating he took over the years had caught up with him. He had no business being in the ring at this time. The thing was Muhammad managed to fool everyone into not seeing it. Ali had pulled off miracles in the ring before- people still believed he could do it one more time. I recall at the time thinking- he shouldn’t be able to win this fight- Holmes was an outstanding fighter but Muhammad Ali was Muhammad Ali. The day of the fight I thought Ali would win one more.
  • Larry Holmes was and continues to be- an underrated champion. He was cursed to have followed the great Ali. He wasn’t Ali but no one was. Holmes was a great champion and would have gotten a lot more respect had he come along before Ali or years after. Ali was an impossible act to follow.
  • Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes were good friends. Holmes had been a sparring partner for Ali. It is clear in the interviews done at the time that Holmes really liked and admired Ali- and was very reluctant about fighting Ali. In one of the most memorable moments in this film- in a clip after the fight Holmes is being interviewed and is in tears because he had to hurt Ali.
  • A main strength of this documentary is the following of Ali though his training for the fight. The video tells it all. In camp Ali looks out of shape and slow. When he talks his speech is slower than the old Ali, at times he mumbles. Two weeks before the fight a doctor came in and said he thought Ali had a thyroid problem and gave him pills to take. Ali gobbled them down like candy. When he went into the ring for the fight he had lost 30 pounds and the strength he had. To the eye he looked good but his looks were deceiving.
  • Thankfully the actual fight wasn’t shown- just highlight clips. In the fight Holmes pounded the defenseless Ali. Ali had no answer to him. Ali was taking a beating but never went down. Today you’d have to think this fight would have been stopped but this was 1980. Holmes can be seen motioning to the referee ‘stop the fight”- but it went on and on- finally after the 10th round Ali’s corner stopped the fight.
  • Champion boxers have a history of holding on a fight or two -too long. Ali was the last to know. He had pulled off upsets before, he had been counted out before but he always defied the odds. He thought he had one more rabbit up his sleeve here vs Holmes. Ali had ran out of miracles. I could remember reading [and seeing the old films} of Joe Louis at the end of his career. The Marciano- Louis fight was similar to the Holmes -Ali fight. Both Louis and Ali had no business fighting those fights and Marciano/ Holmes both felt terrible about the job they had to do.
  • Dr. Ferdie Pacheco- aka The Fight Doctor who was in Ali’s corner is the most interesting participant outside of Ali/ Holmes in this doc. He had always been outspoken against Ali continuing to fight- after the Thrilla In Manila battle between Ali and his rival Joe Frazier in 1975. He spoke of how with each additional fight he would tell Ali it was time- but Ali kept going. Pacheco blames Ali’s decline over the last four decades of his life- on fighting too long and taking too many hits. Interestingly Ali would take beatings in training to ‘toughen’ himself up for the fight.
  • Ali would fight one more time, in 1982 another loss against Trevor Berbick before retiring. He would soon after be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The most startling images in the documentary are late in the film when you see the young Ali and how fast and mouthy he was- compared to the slow talking, slow moving Ali of 1980.
  • Overall this documentary was well done. I wouldn’t rank it among the best in the series or most interesting but with Ali being the subject of course I found it fascinating to watch. This was made in 2009- Ali was still alive but didn’t or couldn’t participate in it. The Larry Holmes of 2009 did. Ali died in died in 2016 at the age of 74. Larry Holmes is living- 71 years old.
Muhammad Ali: Behind TIME's Cover | Time

5 responses to “ESPN 30 FOR 30 #4 : MUHAMMAD AND LARRY

    • I would have hated to have been the one to follow Ali… Frazier was great during Ali’s era but he is another one who doesn’t get his due… a big what if- what if Frazier had won The Thrilla in Manila and had won his battle vs Muhammad two fights to one? I still think Ali would be one who was remembered more…

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