ON THIS DAY in 1977, an ageing but still universally revered Muhammad Ali was coming towards the end of a long and glorious career. Then aged 35 and largely winning fights through his cunning and with a little help from admiring judges in charge of scoring his fights, Ali had squeaked past the likes of Ken Norton and Jimmy Young, but now, at Madison Square Garden, he was facing a monster puncher in the form of the incredibly heavy-handed Earnie Shavers.
Ali knew he’d be in for a tough fight, asking a writer if he knew how tired he was and if the scribe had any idea how hard Shavers was going to hit him that night. His pre-fight dressing room concerns aside, Ali made yet another confident looking walk to the ring, accompanied by the theme music from “Star Wars.” Shavers, entering the ring with a formidable 54-5-1(53) ledger, would soon make Ali see stars.
Going into the fight, 32-year-old Shavers’ first crack at the world title, the feeling was the challenger would have to get Ali out of there early, such were Earnie’s perceived stamina shortcomings. Previously, Shavers had gone no further than the 10th round, and this on just five occasions. Ali on the other hand, had danced for the full 15 rounds a number of times. Still, at his current age, Ali could only turn on the dancing magic for limited periods. Shavers was the underdog, but some people felt he might pull off the win.