ICE: I believe the great Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, is one of our greatest ever technicians. His powerfully short jab, his compact combinations and his stellar technique make him one of histories best heavyweights, regardless of time or era.
I do, however, also believe that history shows that Louis would have more than enough trouble with Ali’s foot and hand speed as well as his movement. Joe is a legend and an all-time great, there’s no doubt about it, but there is simply no way possible not to take note of the extreme troubles that Jersey Joe Walcott and especially little old Billy Conn gave him with slick moves and tricky punch selection. As great as Joe was I just cannot for the life of me see him not getting spun out of position and countered frequently by Muhammad. Joe had great timing but Ali on his best day may have been next to impossible to time with leads or counters.
His fast and fluid counter shots in bunch would stylistically overwhelm Joe Louis.
2. ALI VS ROCKY MARCIANO
ICE: With all due respect to the great champion, Rocky Marciano, because I feel he is one of the most underrated champions in history by a lot of people, it is simply a matter of size, speed and styles. Marciano was pretty much a small cruiserweight, standing just 5 foot 10 inches tall and weighing less than 190 pounds on most days. With Ali possessing one of the most effective left jabs in history along with the most nimble feet the heavyweight division has ever seen as well as some of the sharpest combination punching a big man has ever dealt out, I just can’t see any way that Marciano deals with him in his prime. He couldn’t outjab him, he couldn’t counter him and he couldn’t corner him if Ali decided to fight the very smart fight and win by decision. With the huge speed disadvantage, Rocky would be forced to predictably and repeatedly lead and with that would come a ton of misses and a ton of sharp counter shots. Ali had the best lead fright hand of any heavyweight in history and I just for the life of me cannot see Rocky avoiding it more than a few times over 15 rounds.
If he doesn’t get stopped on cuts much earlier.
3. ALI VS MIKE TYSON
ICE: I think because of his hand speed, Mike presents a real challenge for Ali. Mike at his best would make Ali work hard mentally as much as physically and it would take Ali some time to get used to the hand speed and the quick head movements that Mike loved to employ.
Really thinking about it, though, I think this is a fight where Ali’s prefight braggadoccio would never be more useful. One element that Mike usually had going for him was that it was very apparent his opponents were (rightfully so) either overly respectful if not downright afraid of him or they were too caught up in what he was doing for them to be focused fully on their own game plans.
In the case of Muhammad and Mike, though, I believe that the ten week build up before the fight would be more than enough time for a prime Ali to show Tyson that not only was he confident and ready but that intimidation was literally a non-factor. An irrelevant aspect to the fight. There is no doubt in my mind that thy prefight mental games would prove to be a huge asset to Ali and a huge detriment to Mike. From the poems and the insults and the jokes to what would surely be Ali’s complete dismissiveness of Mike, I believe they were enter the ring on fight night in two extremely different mindsets and only one of them would be comfortable with theirs.
In terms of fight night strategy, I am very sure Ali would be quick, nimble and very alert. He would stay off the ropes, out of the corners and up on his toes. He would talk and likely get inside Mike’s head. Many cagey boxers over the years were also able to tie Mike up repeatedly to limit his offense and no heavyweight in history did that better than Ali.
Once Ali adjusts to the speed intangible I think he settles in very comfortably with Mike.
4. ALI VS WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
ICE: While I believe Wladimir would trouble Ali a bit with his height and his jab, I think he was a bit too predictable and robotic and that Ali would find enough holes in the slower man’s defense. Ali would likely be fast moving and elusive against Wlad from the start and would probably spent much of the bout looking somewhat awkward and out of synch. Probably wouldn’t be the most visually pleasing fight ever contested but I could see a nimble Ali sharply countering the Russian with two or three quick shots at a clip repeatedly over the course of 15 rounds to secure a solid decision.
5. ALI VS JACK DEMPSEY
ICE: I believe Jack would make Ali fight from the opening bell. He would be aggressive and mean and hungry in pursuit of a vicious knockout but all things considered I simply cannot see Jack’s size or style getting it done. More than likely once Ali got his rhythm and loosened up, once he fought his range, it was probably be a dazzling site to see him letting loose with fluid multi-punch combinations that would rain down on Jack on a regular basis.
6. ALI VS LENNOX LEWIS
ICE: Lennox Lewis is a problem for Muhammad Ali. Much taller, much heavier. When Ali fought George Foreman in 1974 he made mention several times before the fight of the “big, bad monster” Foreman was at the time but when you put them side to side, Lennox actually was considerably taller and larger than that particular version of Big George and was able to keep the fight at a distance in much better fashion, too. Lennox’ habit of keeping his fights at long range likely would have been a big advantage for him in a fight with Ali. With neither guy possessing much of an inside game, the fight would undoubtedly would be fought at extreme distance and as much of an Ali fan I am, I think he would find this a tremendously difficult puzzle to solve. I don’t think Lennox had a particularly pretty or stylistic jab, certain nowhere near the level of the prime Larry Holmes, but the name of the game at the end of the day is effectiveness and that’s one thing Lennox certainly had going for him when it came to that left hand.
Certainly a Rope-A-Dope strategy would never work in a million years against LL (Lennox would have no qualms about laying back and firing his strong left hands at Ali’s gloves from a distance) and if at his height, Lennox couldn’t be drawn in to the danger zone, “The Greatest” would have no choice but to push the issue while trying to get things done. Going forward wasn’t his forte so we couldn’t expect him to suddenly be awesome at it with a man that big and in possession of so many weapons.
I believe if the prime Ali were to win this fight he would have to simply be laser quick with ultra-hyper reaction time when attacked by Lewis. If Ali couldn’t time Lennox and return fire with four and five shots at a time as he did so well against so many others, I can’t say I see him getting a tremendous amount of work done with the much bigger man.
I’d like to believe that Muhammad could ultimately get Lennox to reaching and losing patience in an attempt to get to him and if that were to happen then Lennox could and would be made to look awkward and slow when trying to defend against Ali’s lightning counters. If, on the other hand, Lennox were to maintain composure and fight his most disciplined fight, I could see him posting an extremely uneventful 15 round decision.
7. ALI VS JACK JOHNSON
ICE: With all due respect to the man and what he accomplished but after viewing the old videos of Jack in action I simply cannot see anyone from that era dealing with Ali in any way shape or form. The way they held their hands up to the stances they employed while boxing, I believe it would be easy picking for someone with the speed and combination punching of Ali. He would keep Jack completely off balance with jabs to the head and body, he would continually be first, and would give Johnson looks at speed, strategy and punches that he never ever, not even once, had to deal with in any of his previous professional fights.
That hands ridiculously out of position strategy obviously worked very well against slow, unathletic late 1800’s era heavyweights but, truth be told, Jack Johnson would literally be lost inside of a boxing ring with Muhammad Ali.
8. ALI VS EVANDER HOLYFIELD
ICE: I truly believe this is a distance fight all the way, almost guaranteed. Evander was a great fighter himself but when it comes to styles and overall strategy, I can’t see him getting much done against a prime Ali. I think Evander was a bit too predicable with his strategy, most likely trying to double jab his way in before letting right hands to the body go in attempts to soften Ali up for the late rounds. In my mind, though, I picture Ali holding his distance perfectly and simply having the better jab of the two men. Ali wouldn’t have a great amount of difficulty reaching Evander, in particular with the sharp lead right hand, and I think he would pot shot and maneuver his way to a wide unanimous decision win.
Evander Holyfield really was a great heavyweight champion but for me, all the things that made him so great would never come into play in a boxing match against Muhammad Ali.
9. ALI VS GENE TUNNEY
ICE: I think this is simply a case of Ali being too big, too fast and too strong for the great Gene Tunney. Tunney more than likely had no chance to hurt Ali and while he certainly may have given him stylistic trouble he wasn’t going to outbox him, either.
I believe Ali would have ran the table all night in a fight with Gene, any way he wanted to.
10. ALI VS RIDDICK BOWE
ICE: Of the men challenging Ali in this series, I believe Lennox lewis and this man, Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, would be the most difficult for Ali to solve. Not only was Riddick a very large man but he also possessed the jab and the inside fighting to trouble Ali. For Ali to win he would have to be first in exchanges with Riddick and also punch when Big Daddy tries to force lulls in the action. In many ways I could see a scientific tactical match, a battle of jabs. After a few rounds, though, I think a prime Ali would begin to separate himself with the more fluid movement and faster hands. Riddick’s habit of moving the fight to the inside would prove to be his undoing in my eyes. Giving up that distance and trying to bait Ali into a rough and tumble match wouldn’t work well.
If Riddick can’t contain Ali with strong double and triple jabs, I would expect the fleet Ali to maneuver his way with side to side movement and well placed counter shots when Bowe eventually resorts to his habit of trying to get things done with overly wide overhand swings.
It would be tough for either man to really look good in such a fight and while I wouldn’t completely rule out Bowe’s size mixed with that mean double jab keeping Ali off balance at the end of it, I still am going to vote ultimately for Ali to get through with enough shots inside Riddick’s wide ones to ensure a close decision win.