Muhammad Ali is no classic stylist despite his stand-up and move-while-jabbing technique. A close look at Ali reveals that he never pivots on any punch. This makes him unorthodox, compared to Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and Willie Pep. Those fighters, especially with a foe hurt, put their whole body behind a punch.
Ali, a reminder of the Jack Johnson and Jimmy Doyle school of fighters, snaps punches from his elbows and shoulders. Although less powerful than punches with a pivot, Ali's blows have enough snap to hold his man off and, most importantly, provide the opportunity to throw more fast punches and still be free to pull away from a counterpunch.
Ali's mobility, a thing of the past, was beautiful to watch. No heavyweight fighter in history could come close to his natural speed. What made his speed effective was that it rendered an opponent more vulnerable to his feints. Sonny Liston couldn't move forward as fast as Ali moved backward in their first fight.
The Ali we shall see Monday night only has lateral speed, and not much of that Ali has never really developed a left hook. He would only throw it as a reflex punch or when he had a man hurt. He would then throw it in a slashing style, unlike the bombs thrown by Robinson and Jersey Joe Walcott.
In his career, Ali never threw a hook off the left jab, one of the classic maneuvers of a classic boxer.
He never had to develop these punches in his youth because he had so much going for him, especially amazing reflexes that could neutralize an opponent by simple turn of the head at the last second.
To beat Ali, Alfredo Evangelista will have to neutralize the champ's jab. If he can do this, his only remaining task is to keep Ali backing up and depend on his running out of steam. That's the name of the game against Ali: get him tired.
All came in the fight scene in 1960, of 18 who wanted to box everybody in the Miami Beach gym, his trainer, Angelo Dundee, had to stop him serveral times, or he would have boxed everyone, including lightweights.
Ali could fight then. He could never fight inside. But he had a snappy jab, a stiff right hand that came with a snap at the end of it that did damage, not exposing him to an effective counter. He was strong, fast and he could feint even the most experienced fighter.
Ingemar Johnansson, then the heavyweight champion in town for a fight with Floyd Patterson, accepted trainer Dundee's offer to spar with Ali. Ali gave the Swede a boxing lesson although Johansson did nail Ali with a whistling right, the 18-year-old took it and came back with more than he received. That sparring session was one of the reasons Dundee accepted a title match with the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston a few years later.
Dundee knew the stuff the kid was made of.
A champion at 21, Ali kept getting better. The only men who gave him trouble was those who could "see" his jab - the focal point of his fast combinations. Doug Jones was one of those. Floyd Patterson, one of those who figured to give Ali trouble, had a bad back making their first fight inconclusive.
In his last fight before his forced exile, Ali did what most fighters only dream of doing in the ring. He was fighting Zora Folley in Madison Square Garden and was having some difficulty putting the wily veteran away. Folley, at the end of his fine career, was closing up, turtle-like, as Ali put on the pressure.
The champ saw an opening for his right, which he started to throw. Folley dropped his left to its former extended position. Ali snapped out the half withdrawn right and caught him on the chin, without any weight. Only a snap at the end of it, like a quarterback throwing a jump pass. Folley rolled over and over as the ref counted him out.
And that was the end of Ali's growth - as a fighter. When he came back he was only a Very Good fighter, not The Greatest of All Time, which he could have before.
When he did come back in 1970, he had developed a dislike of hard training.
In his title bout with Joe Frazer in 1971 it was apparent that he was not all the way back physically. Only another fight like the one with Bonavena or a sparring session with five tough men could have done that. He did give a fine account of himself as he was dropped, dead tired, by a thunderous left hook by Frazier that got over his shoulder. He managed to carry the fight to Frazier for the rest of the round once he had arisen majestically from the canvas.
Ali's loss to Ken Norton was no surprise once his lack of condition became obvious. And Norton had the ability to smother and otherwise deal with Ali's jab.
The way to beat Norton is to back him up. Norton drags his right leg, and cannot fight if made to back up.
Ali let him become the aggressor and was whipped.
In the return match with Norton, Ali showed a new weapon. It was simply, "Let the other guy get tired hitting me." Ali moved faster than any heavyweight in history for five rounds, then retreated to the ropes when he got tired and let Norton punch himself out. By the 11th round Norton was tired, too. It was man-to-man to the end, with Ali winning.
It was the same for the Thrills In Manila fight with Frazier. Ali handled him easily until he tired, then let Frazier punch himself out through the 11th round. Ali stopped him in a vicious fight, about which he said afterward, "There was the smell of death in that ring tonight."
In the third Norton fight, Ali handled Norton easily in the early rounds while he had energy.He put a couple of feints that worked beautifully. Then he backed into the ropes and barely squeaked out a decision over a man who couldn't warm him up before his exile.