Muhammad Ali was a winner yesterday at the D.C. Armory/Starplex, despite his 38 years and about 245 pounds, including his new mustache.
The Muhammad Ali amateur boxing club came back from a 1-3 deficit and defeated the Kenyan national all-star team, 7-3, to remain unbeaten.
Donald Bowers, a 156-pounder, won the bout that put the Ali team ahead to stay and was named the card's outstanding boxer. His booming left hooks caught the fancy of the crowd of about 1,000. He knocked out Charles Oduori's mouthpiece and later knocked him down in the second round.
Ali strove grimly to look like a mere spectator after he arrived with John Peter Mbogua, the ambassador from Kenya. But fans immediately surged around Ali to seek autographs, shake hands or simply stare.
Attired in dark blue suit, white shirt and black tie, Ali appeared resolved not to upstage the amateurs in the ring, though a network television camerman did zoom in on him holding an infant in his lap and later holding up a lost child.
Came an intermission and he couldn't resist a microphone. Sitting on the ring apron, he finally mugged it up a bit as he said, "I want Larry Holmes . . . I want Larry Holmes."
The other happening that brought him from his ringside seat was the entrance of Sugar Ray Leonard. They hugged, Leonard yielded to the tempting microphone, and they melted into probably the smallest audience either ever played to.
Trying to hide his light under a bushel was futile for Ali. Before he arrived from his training camp in Deer Lake, Pa., the program was capitalizing on his name. Each ring padding in the corner of the ropes had his name in six places. The boxers and their handlers had his name on their shirts, even former World Boxing Association champion Jimmy Ellis, the coach.
His whole boxing team assembled in the ring after the national anthems of the two countries were played. The fighters huddled, hugged, jumped up in concert with index fingers aloft in the manner of a college football team, an chanted, "Ali, Ali, Ali."
The biggest hits were "Ali's Knockouts," who took turns trying to keep the fans interested in what round was coming up in the bouts by holding up card indicators.
Predictably, the boxers emulated their sponsor, doing the Ali shuffle, affecting his windmill bolo punch and, in the case of an especially stylish 165-pounder, Charles (casanova) Carter, making exaggerated bows of mock courtesty toward his opponent.
There was hardly a discouraging word for Ali to hear, except when the African boxers cheered themselves as a group before the bouts -- in Swahili.