Muhammad Ali absorbed a lesson in geriatrics yesterday from a brash young sparring partner.
Michael Dokes, 19, of Cleveland, was cast as Ali's foll in the sparring session, but forgot his place and began buzzing punches so fast that the 35-year-old champ's gloves looked as though they have been borrowed from Duanne Bobick.
All preparing for a title defense Monday against Alfredo Evangelista, played it as though tolerating an upstart, casually pumping an occasion shot at Dokes as if to remind him who was boss. Sensing the fans' impatience to see the customary unfolding of a well-worn plot, with Ali putting his opponent in short pants, Ali faced up to reality for a moment in the fourth round.
"He's fast," the champion remarked to the crowd, as he tried to ham it up in a corner and embarrass Dokes. As Dokes instinctively made a move toward easing out of the corner. Ali added, "You can't get out of here" and reached out with both hands to restrain Dokes.
"I don't want to get out," Dokes replied as he rattled a combination through Ali's upraised arms.
Dokes, unabashed by Ali's verbal harassment, continued to match punches with Ali, sometimes scoring three to one. "I'm wearing him out," the champion said to the audience. I'm emptying his gas tank."
Once more Dokes flouted the champion and found his face with rapid flurries. Suddenly, Ali came down on him with a thumping right to the jaw that revived the falgging hopes of the champion's hero worshippers.
Dokes was taken aback, but only for a moment, and uncorked another rain of blows at Ali before the champion delivered an earnest clout to the side of the head. The fans were up and screaming at this unexpected ferocity when Richie Giachetti clambered into the ring to stop Dokes and Drew (Bundin) Brown reached over the ropes to restrain Ali.
Area fight manager James Dudley scoffed at Dokes' daredeviltry, contending that Dokes knew Ali would not hurt him.
Another local manager, understandably disinclined to have his name used, said, "Dokes showed how much Ali has slipped in speed."
Giachetti said, "They got carried away. I stopped it becasue I don't want my guy (Dokes getting hurt for this (a spurring partner's rate) kind of pay. I liked for him to get the experience, but if he stuns Ali, Ali is going to hit back and hurt him. I respect Ali as the champion."
Giachetti noted that Dokes had won 159 of 165 amateur bouts and is unbeaten in five professional fights, winning three by knockouts. Dokes' performance did not suggest he could be a threat to Ali, but it did indicate Ali has lost a smidgin of hand speed.
When Ali diverted attention from Dokes by bantering with the fans, one shouted, "Why are you ducking Ken Norton?"
"I'm not ducking Norton; I fought him three times," Ali said.
"Yes, and he beat you three times."
"No, I beat him half a round last time."
Ali was asked, "What do you think of Jimmy Young?" He replied, "She's good."
Young is here, partially because Don King said he hopes to promote a bout between Young and Norton shortly. Young is in condition and so is Norton, having stopped Bobick in 58 seconds Thursday.
King said Young prefers to fight for him. The promoter conceded that Ali probably will next fight Earnie Shavers in Madison Square Garden, Kings promotional arch rival.