"No, no, a thousand times no," was the first reaction today to Muhammad Ali's remarks to ABC-TV's "Good Morning, America" that he was thinking about fighting again, against Mike Weaver, the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion.
And, surprise of surprises, World Boxing Council champion Larry Holmes told a news conference, "Ali could beat Weaver; all he has to do is gain some weight. I know; I beat Weaver (on a knockout).
"Weaver waits before he punches. The trick is not to let him get off. Ali still has a lot of speed with his right hand; I heard them whizzin' past me in the third round," added Holmes, who scored an 11th-round TKO over Ali Thursday night.
But Ali was hedging about fighting Weaver shortly after a news conference got under way. "You know how I change my mind," he said. "I want to see Weaver's condition when he defends his title in South Africa against Gerrie Coetzee (on Oct 28). I lost weight too fast and came back too quick against Holmes.
"Larry was better than I thought he would be. He's the world champion, but he might not be the greatest," Ali said, smiling for the first time behind dark glasses hiding bruises under his eyes.
He retained his humor, reporting that trainer Angelo Dundee told him to "Get out there and hit Holmes. I said, 'You get out there and hit him.' Bundini (Drew Brown, Ali's jester and second) told me in the corner, 'You've got two chances -- slim and none.'"
Ali said he wanted another fight, "to clean the slate," presumably referring to the way the Holmes bout ended, with Ali on the stool in his corner after 10 rounds.
Dundee, who stopped the fight, wept as he called that decision. "It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life.
"I'd like him (Ali) to stop fighting, but it is his decision. He's done everything. He fought a good fighter and he had nothing; he couldn't get any shots off" said Dundee.
"I first thought of stopping the bout after the fifth round.Holmes thumbed him in the eyes, though it was not intentional; that is the way Larry fights."
Jose Sulaiman, president of the WBC, said before the news conference, "I am going to go to Ali and beg him not to fight again. I hold the responsibility to uphold the image of boxing. I am going to campaign at our next convention for tough regulations to discourage former champions from coming back after they lose.
"I am going to ask that former champions have one or two bouts before they can fight again for the title. If I were a commissioner, I would not give Ali a license to box again. but this bout proved the honesty in boxing. There was a lot written before this bout that Holmes could not win."
Holmes said he would like to unify the title by beating Weaver but added, "I don't think they will let him get out of South Africa with his title after paying him $2.7 million to fight there. Some people do things for money."
Holmes had the audience in his hand before Ali arrived for the news session.The champion entered carrying his baby daughter, Kandi, and played with a toy rabbit for her amusement at the head table. Ali won his first applause by picking up the baby and kissing her.
"I truly believe Ali doesn't owe boxing anything; boxing owes him," Holmes said. "He brought the million-dollar purses. He made me (as a former sparring partner with Ali). I love the man. He's a great human being."
Then why did Holmes whip him?
"I had to whip him or he would have whipped me. Remember how the papers were saying it was a mismatch?"
Was Holmes holding back his best punches in the later rounds?
"Listen, when that first bell rang I didn't even know his name. But going into the later rounds I knew I had won just about every one and he was tiring. Ali inspired me to be strong in the late rounds by his talk about me not having endurance after the eighth round. I will say I was not trying to do much after the seventh round.
"I let Angelo (Dundee) see what I was doing so he would do what he did. (stop the bout). I think Ali should go out now. I think he should have fought at 229 or 230 instead of getting down to 217 1/2. Working as hard as he did, he overdid dit. He overtrained."
What's ahead for Holmes?
I am the champion and I am a fighter; I'll fight anyone and everyone."
Does he have a fear of being knocked out, perhaps by Leon Spinks (who won the American title from Bernardo Mercado Thursday)?
"Who? What is he, a taxi cab driver? I'll wait 'til after the holidays with my family, probably fight again early next year," Holmes replied. "About Weaver's title, I think I'm the only champion because I've already knocked him out."
Holmes' manager, Richie Giachetti, said a Holmes-Spinks fight is "in the making. Or Weaver, if he can win against Coetzee. There's nobody else. Gerry Cooney has to beat somebody first. He's scheduled to fight Ron Lyle, but that means nothing. Michael Dokes has to beat somebody first."
Holmes was in high good humor after the group interview.
"I 'psyched' Ali, scared him, or something," he said, satirizing Ali's prefight boast that he would "psych" Holmes.
"We all come and we all go," Holmes said. "I told Ali, 'I want you to come to my nw house with your family and I'll go to yours.' I think I hurt him a few times. I don't think many boxers would have stood up under those punches."