I remember with some sadness the decision of Muhammad Ali to come out of retirement and fight Larry Holmes to try and claim the world heavyweight title for a record fourth time. In order to get the ok to box again Ali underwent a physical examination in the Mayo Clinic. He was given the all clear despite later confessing to having tingling sensations in his hands and slurred speech.
For sixteen years Ali had fought and defeated the greats of two generations, but he was now 38, and his former sparring partner was the deserving holder of the world crown, and at the peak of his powers. Like moths to a flame the world was drawn to watch the mismatch of the century, stubbornly clinging to the hope that Ali would still be able to avoid the puncher’s fiercest shots and maybe make the dream come true.
However time had caught up with him. His doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, had left his entourage after Ali had taken severe punishment in a bout with Earnie Shavers three years previously. He had also pleaded with Ali, his family, and his corner team to retire at that point after receiving a damning medical report from the the New York State Athletic Commission.
His powers on the wane, Ali lacked the speedy reflexes that once kept him out of range of the big hitters. Holmes picked him off at will, winning every round, and he later claimed he had pulled his punches in order not to seriously hurt his one time employer. After ten rounds Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, finally threw in the towel to prevent his man taking further punishment. Too little, too late.
Incredibly Ali attempted one more fight. This time nobody wanted to watch, to go through the pain of seeing ‘the greatest’ battered again. Trevor Berbick inevitably won the bout in Nassau and at long last Ali took his broken body into retirement.
You’re ahead of me, aren’t you? For the second time in my life ‘the greatest’ has gone on too long. The greatest Arsenal manager has taken more than one fight too many. His responses to his inquisitors in the press suggest he remains sharp of wit, but he says the same things over and over, and the words ring hollow. For years he rolled with the punches at Highbury, hauling himself off the canvas when other managerial giants temporarily floored him before landing a few knockout blows of his own.
After moving to a vast new gym Arsene learned the art of defending himself at all times. The title bouts dried up but he could still inflict damage on those who underestimated him. So it was with a heavy heart I have witnessed his attempts to bring those glory nights back in recent weeks. It was no real surprise that Carlo Ancelotti twice comprehensively outfought him in front of those who had cheered him to the rafters for many years. The Italian most certainly did not pull his punches and delivered a brutal 10-2 verdict.
What must have hurt more have been the humiliations by the likes of Ronald Koeman, Walter Mazzarri, and the unranked Sam Allardyce. Each one becoming more damaging than the last.
Who is Arsene’s Ferdie Pacheco or Angelo Dundee? Who will tell him that those who loved what he did when he had his strength and reflexes intact that it is time to hang up the gloves? Could David Dein hand him that bloodied towel and say “Arsene, old friend, you know what to do, don’t you”. Or will Ivan Gazidis step out from behind the cloak of invisibility and end it all?
The man should go with his head held high, and with the roars of appreciation ringing in his ears. We should not have to want to avoid witnessing one final beating. As Ali showed the legend will never diminish, but the sadness at the end of a glittering career is almost too much to contemplate.
Thank you for reading.