Despite the bad reviews Muhammad Ali has received for his last few bouts, he is still the marvel of his time when it comes to appeal. Ali is the hottest entertainment property since the Beatles.
Hours after he picked up a $2.75 million check for 45 minutes of bland scuffling with Alfredo Evangelist Monday night at Capital Centre, the challenger's adopted country, Spain, was bidding for the champion's services against another unproven youngster, Larry Holmes, for a match in July in Madrid.
Mike Burke, president of Madison Square Garden, said he has Ali locked up to fight Ernit Shavers, a spavined trial horse, in September as part of an out-of-court settlement of a contract dispute with Ali.
Why does Ali go on at age 35? Because he can laugh all the way to the bank at the rates he is paid to risk his heavyweight championship. He is said to be asking $3 million to fight Holmes and/or Shavers.
If the unattractive bouts have no chance whatever of paying his purse from the "live" gate, where does the money come from? Television, of course.
Ratings, or, putting it another way, the cost per thousand of homes per commercial minutes, are how the networks measure Ali's appeal.
Televiewers knew before the bout that Evangelista was of questionable caliber, but overnight ratings in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were sensational. The national ratings will be determined today.
A "passing grade" is said to be a "15" rating, or a 30 per cent share of the audience, for a prime time sports event.
The three-hour program began at 5:30 p.m. in the Los Angeles area but still had a 26.2 rating and 42 share.
It began at 7:30 p.m. in Chicago and had a 26.8 rating and a 45 share. The program started at 8:30 p.m. in New York and had a 27.5 rating and a 42 share.
The American Broadcasting Co. cautioned that those ratins were subject to a possible sharp drop when the national figures are reckoned.
NBC got a bad break last week when Ken Norton knocked out Duane Bobick in 58 seconds, resulting in millions of people turning off the program after that.
Still, although it was a nontitle fight, that network received a final rating of 19.7 and a 34 share. NBC paid Madison Square Garden $1.25 million so the network ould not have to black out New York City. The Garden still made a handsome profit because Norton was paid $500,000, Bobick $300,000 and it was estimated that the Garden's other expenses were about $100,000.
Don King, promoter of the Ali-Evangelista bout, was asked if Ali would fight Holmes for him or Shavers for the Garden.
He conceded that the Garden had Ali lined up for Shavers in September but said, "It's Holmes all the way before that, in July in Spain. And if Holmes knocks out Ali?" he said, with some wishful thinking, impying that the Garden bout would be valueless then.
"These people in Spain have made an offer that Ali cannot refuse. But I'm not the boss. I've got to talk to Herbert Muhammad (Ali's manager)."
Why don't the people in Spain want a natural rematch between Ali and Evangelista?
"That will come if Ali beats Holmes. Evangelista will be on the same show, against Lorenzo Zenon of Italy, who beat Evangelista in February. The people in Spain now know Evangelista needs more experience.
"The bouts will be held in Madrid and Roberto Duran will defend his lightweight title on the card too."
King said he also is going ahead with plans to match Ken Norton against Jimmy Young "somewhere in the United States," with Duran again defending his World Boxing Council title, against Estaban de Jesus, who holds the World Boxing Association version of the crown.
"That will be in September," King said. "Three parties have agreed. I'm waiting to hear from Norton, who is in Monte Carlo. The winner of Norton-Young would fight Ali."
In retrospect, there was a tipoff Saturday that Ali had lost some of his once-fearsome hand speed when his 19-year-old sparring partner, Michael Dokes of Cleveland, made the champion lose his temper by repeatedly beating him to the punch.