Trevor Berbick vs. Muhammad Ali
Trevor Berbick 218 lbs beat Muhammad Ali 236 lbs by UD in round 10 of 10
- Date: 1981-12-11
- Location: Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre, Nassau, Bahamas
- Referee: Zach Clayton
- Judge: Jay Edson 99-94
- Judge: Alonzo Butler 97-94
- Judge: Clyde Gray 99-94
- Muhammad Ali vs. Trevor Berbick was billed as "Drama in Bahama."
- The undercard featured Thomas Hearns vs. Ernie Singletary, Greg Page vs. Scott LeDoux, Earnie Shavers vs. Jeff Sims, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad vs. Michael Hardin, and Pete McIntyre vs. Mike Fisher.
- Ali said he wanted to fight WBA heavyweight champion Mike Weaver. "I should beat Berbick easy just moving and sticking," he said. "Then I'll beat Weaver, and then I'll probably quit. To beat Weaver at age 40 and be champion a fourth time and then retire would be all right."
- Berbick entered the fight as the Canadian and Commonwealth heavyweight champion, as well as the WBA's fourth-ranked heavyweight contender.
- According to Sports Illustrated, Ali's purse was $1.1 million and Berbick's was $350,000.
- The fight was shown on closed circuit television and was available to about three million homes in the United States on cable television. SelecTV was in charge of worldwide sales and distribution.
- The fight was released on VHS in 1997 as Muhammad Ali vs. Trevor Berbick - The Last Hurrah - Drama in Bahama. It was a two-tape set that included the entire fight, a pre-fight press conference, and interview footage. It was released on DVD in 2002.
Following his TKO loss to Larry Holmes on October 2, 1980, Ali said, "I shall return." However, there was a great deal of concern for Ali's health and eroding skills. As a result, he was unable to get a boxing license from any state athletic commission until South Carolina granted him one in August 1981.
William Nack of Sports Illustrated reported:
- Two physicians, including his former doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, had stated that Ali was suffering brain damage from having absorbed too many blows. His speech had slowed and was occasionally slurred. Worried himself, and wanting to put the question to rest before fighting Berbick, Ali submitted to a series of tests two months ago at New York University under the supervision of Dr. Harry Demopoulos, a professor of pathology. Demopoulos said the tests, along with others administered at UCLA and the Mayo Clinic, included a CAT scan, neurological exams, electroencephalograms and blood checks.
- Demopoulos said that 30 doctors were involved in the studies and that they all came to the same conclusion: "There's absolutely no evidence that Muhammad has sustained any injury to any vital organ—brain, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs—nervous system, or muscle or bone systems. His blood tests indicate he has the vessels of a young man."
- And the slurring? "We think it's a psychosocial response," Demopoulos said. "If the slurring were due to permanent damage, it would be there all the time." It occurs under certain circumstances, Demopoulos said, such as when Ali is under stress or when he is fatigued. The Bahamian minister of sports, youth and community affairs, Kendel Nottage, approved the fight. "I was shown a number of medical reports, and they were satisfactory to me," Nottage said.
Ali would be diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome in 1984. It has the same characteristics as Parkinson's disease, although not as severe. It is caused by gradual deterioration of certain nerve centers inside that brain that control movements.
Dr. Dennis Cope, Ali's physician, said in 1987 that Ali's condition was "caused by injuries to the brain from fighting."
The fight was promoted by Sports International Ltd., a Bahamas-based corporation formed to promote the bout. The president of the company, James Cornelius (who later changed his name to Ali Muhammad), met Ali in 1978. Cornelius was a member of the Nation of Islam's Temple No. 15 in Atlanta, Georgia.
On January 14, 1982, the Los Angeles Times reported that Cornelius was being investigated by the FBI in connection with a bank fraud case in Atlanta.
Court records in Atlanta showed that Cornelius pleaded guilty in 1975 to five counts of theft in connection with a used car dealership he ran, the Times reported, adding that he was placed on five years' probation after agreeing to pay back $23,000 to individuals and banks.
Ali said he had no knowledge of Cornelius's past. "I don't know nothing about him," Ali was quoted as saying.
Cornelius was subsequently charged and convicted of bank fraud.
In 1985, Cornelius wrote a book about the fight titled The Last Punch. He later made the book into a movie.
Assault on Don King
Berbick fought Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title on April 11, 1981, and lost by a 15-round unanimous decision. In order to get the title shot, he had to give promoter Don King options on his next three fights. Thus, when it was announced that Sports International Ltd. would promote a fight between Berbick and Ali, King demanded a piece of the promotion. Cornelius refused.
On December 5, King went in the Bahamas and tried to get an injunction to prevent the fight. The next day, several men went to King's hotel room and attacked him. Hours later, he flew to Florida and checked into a hospital with a broken nose, missing teeth and a badly cut lip.
"Mr. Cornelius and four other men came to my hotel room and attacked me," King told the press. "Cornelius said to me after the assault that if I did not leave the Bahamas, I would be killed."
Cornelius denied King's allegation. "That's bull," said Cornelius. "I don't know anything about it. I haven't even talked to Don King. I know nothing about it at all."
Jeremiah Shabazz, a Nation of Islam minister and a member of Ali's entourage, told Ali biographer Thomas Hauser: "Cornelius went ... to confront Don and tell him to stop interfering with the promotion. They had some words, and Don made the serious mistake of shoving one of the brothers who was with Cornelius. . . . and they went to work on him pretty good."
Trauma in Bahama
Trainer Eddie Futch, who was in the Bahamas to work with Pete McIntyre, was very critical of the promotion. "This is the worst I've ever been in," said the 70-year-old boxing veteran. "They were consistent—they did everything wrong all the way through."
Greg Page agreed. "I've never seen a promotion this bad," he said. "Whoever is putting on this show is crazy."
Ali, Berbick, and Hearns had their own dressing rooms, but the rest of the fighters were assigned to a sweltering locker room in which they shadowboxed side by side. "Now I know what the gladiators felt like in Rome," said Scott LeDoux. "Ever see the movie Spartacus? The gladiators all waited together in one pit. This is unbelievable."
When the first bout was to begin, it was learned that only two sets of gloves had been provided for the entire card. As a result, official Jay Edson warned the trainers not to cut the laces after any of the supporting bouts.
A cowbell was borrowed from the TV truck because there was no ring bell. From the same truck came a stopwatch and a whistle to sound the 10-second warning.
George Vecsey of the New York Times reported on December 12:
- The night had been remarkably orderly after the doubtfulness of the promotion. The evening had started an hour late because officials could not locate gloves or water or a bell. Fifteen of the fighters were in the same tiny dressing room while Ali, Berbick and Thomas Hearns had private rooms.
- The hastily built arena of 11,000 seats was close to being filled by the time for the Ali fight, but it was unclear how many had paid, or how much.
- Tickets had been scaled down from $50 to $5 in recent days, as the promotion seemed to be falling apart. But the wind died down on a chilly night, under a full moon, and things were much smoother than they could have been, as police officers in black and red kept order with considerable presence and dignity.
- The issue of payment for Berbick that threatened to wipe out the fight earlier today began after the weigh-in Thursday when Berbick received a letter of credit from the promoters. But when Berbick studied the letter overnight, he said it was not for the full amount and announced, "I want all my money before I fight."
- But after getting the letter of credit, Berbick said that "the fight is on, the TV people have guaranteed the money. I wanted to get my money before they got their money."
- Berbick had received approximately $100,000, and was owed $250,000 when he arrived here Wednesday evening. He told friends earlier today that he could not back down on his fee now because he would be embarrassed for the rest of his boxing career as a man who fought for less than he was promised. "It's a matter of principle," he said.
The day before the fight—with King's assault allegations against Cornelius and Berbick's threat to withdraw—Dave Kindred of the Washington Poster wrote: "This now is the trauma, not drama, in Bahama."
- The fight was actually close for seven rounds, with Berbick missing enough to make it competitive and interesting. Ali jabbed and delivered his harmless rights, and Berbick tattooed Ali's ribs when the three-time champion tried to hold on. But over the last three rounds, Berbick dominated, causing one to wonder what would have happened to Ali had he been in with a truly exceptional fighter. Larry Holmes demolished Ali and marked his once unblemished face even though he tempered his fight plan with underlying caution and unnecessary respect. Berbick, not one-fifth the fighter Holmes is, walked right through Ali yet couldn't drive in a single telling blow.
- The decision was unanimous. Judge Alonzo Butler of the Bahamas scored it 97-94 for Berbick, and judges Clyde Gray of Canada and Jay Edson of Florida agreed, both voting 99-94. International Boxing had it a bit closer, tabbing Berbick the winner, 96-94."
- Trevor Berbick: "Early on, I was hitting him on the chin to try to take him out of his misery. I didn't want to hurt him. I just wanted to throw enough punches to win. I made the fight. If not for me, there wouldn't have been a fight. It would have been a waltz."
- Muhammad Ali: "I think I'm too old. I was slow. I was weak. Nothing but Father Time. The things I wanted to do, I couldn't do. I was doing my best. I did good for a 39-year-old. I think I'm finished. I know it's the end. I'm not crazy. After Holmes, I had excuses. I was too light. Didn't breathe right. No excuses this time. I'm happy. I'm still pretty. I could have a black eye. Broken teeth. Split lips. I think I came out all right for an old man."
- United Press International, December 9, 1981
- "Ali wants Weaver title bout, Associated Press, December 9, 1981
- "Finances Threaten Ali Fight" by Dave Kindred, the Washington Post, December 11, 1981
- "Berbick Defeats Ali On Decision" by George Vecsey, the New York Times, December 12, 1981
- "Berbick pounds out decision over Ali" By Michael Farber, the Montreal Gazette, December 12, 1981
- "Not With A Bang But A Whisper" by William Nack, Sports Illustrated, December 21, 1981
- "Promoter of Ali fight under scrutiny" Associated Press, January 14, 1982
- "Ali Suffered From Too Many Blows To The Head" Associated Press, July 16, 1987
- Muhammad Ali: His Life & Times by Thomas Hauser, Simon & Schuster, 1991