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Fantasy Boxing Matchup: Muhammad Ali vs Larry Holmes, both in their primes

The heavyweight legends did meet in 1980, but what if they’d fought with both at their very best?

Photos by Getty Images

This week’s run of fantasy boxing matchups closes out with a fight we actually did see, kind of, but with the usual fantasy twist of what we didn’t see when they met in real life: both fighters in peak form.

If you’ve missed any of these, check out the hub page for the entire fantasy boxing series.

Muhammad Ali vs Larry Holmes

Everyone knows that Larry Holmes beat the brakes off Muhammad Ali in 1980. It’s a fight that has been discussed many times, but not as a great fight or a legendary night.

It’s a fight that has been discussed almost exclusively through the lens of sadness. The 38-year-old Ali was shot. He hadn’t even fought in over two years when he decided to face Holmes, who had firmly taken control of the heavyweight division at age 30. Holmes was Ali’s successor in many ways, having taken the WBC title from Ken Norton in 1978, making seven successful defenses from there, before being matched with “The Greatest.”

Ali was no longer Ali. The fight with Holmes was a regrettable affair; it would have been best left unexplored. Instead, Holmes completely dominated Ali for 10 rounds until trainer Angelo Dundee mercifully stopped the assault.

Ali’s doctor Ferdie Pacheco — who had left Ali’s team in 1977 because he didn’t think Muhammad should be fighting anymore — would say, “All the people involved in this fight should’ve been arrested. This fight was an abomination, a crime.”

“It was really hard because he was my buddy,” Holmes said in 2017 to GQ Magazine. Ali had hired a young Holmes as a sparring partner in the early 1970s. “He was the guy that gave me a job. He was the guy that taught me how to fight.”

It was really just not a good night for boxing, looking back on it.

But what if you could teleport each man at his best together during their primes?

I don’t think I need to get much into styles or anything. Everyone has seen Ali; he’s not called “The Greatest” just because it was good marketing. He was an outstanding heavyweight even among outstanding heavyweights — but he was not unbeatable or without any flaws. He had speed, power, incredible skill, a chin, and he was determined and driven to win at all costs.

Holmes may not have reached the incredible heights Ali did, or have the flashy style of Muhammad, but he was a great pro who learned tremendously even though he started boxing later than most, applied it all, and used his strengths incredibly well. He was a 6’3” guy with a long, 81-inch reach, and he used his jab very effectively to dictate tempo, maybe better than any heavyweight ever has. He wasn’t terribly popular during his career — he wasn’t Ali, basically — but history has been rightfully kind to him. Holmes was also not unbeatable, of course, but he didn’t start losing until 1985, when he was into his mid-30s.

So what would this fight have looked like? Did Larry have the sort of style that would’ve given the brash and incredibly confident Ali fits, especially considering a prime Holmes had worked with a top form Ali and knew the tricks that Muhammad tried to pull on opponents to get them to make mistakes? Or was Ali simply too good, too skilled, and just a level about Holmes?

Your call!


Who wins, prime vs prime, Ali or Holmes?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Muhammad Ali
    (534 votes)
  • 17%
    Larry Holmes
    (111 votes)
645 votes total Vote Now

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