When it was all over, with Duane Bobick on his feet but in no condition to go on and with Kenny Norton bounding about the ring as though he were on a pogo stick, it seemed that there had been an extraordinary amount of fuss for just 58 seconds of fighting. That is, if you care to call what happened in Madison Square Garden last week fighting. Granted, the outcome was supposed to be secondary to the big prize awaiting the winner, wasn't it? Norton will now get $2.25 million by fighting Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight championship this September in Brazil, won't he?
Forgive the hollow laughter. Ali, who had watched the fight on television at his Landover, Md. training base, was not about to climb into a ring against Norton again, this fall or indeed anytime soon. He had other plans.
"Hmmmm," mused Ali, who would soon go on TV himself to demonstrate the proper way to make a Spanish omelet, "now I think it would be nice if Norton fought Jimmy Young. Then I will fight the winner of that fight."
There was an explanation why Ali's camp waited until the Norton-Bobick fight was over before announcing that boxing's finger had once more written a contract in the sand and, having written, moved on. If Bobick had won—an outcome Ali badly wanted—the champion would have kept the date in Brazil. However, as you noted on television, unless you blinked, Bobick is no Ken Norton.
Apparently it is Ali's belief that the most he can ask of his old bones is to carry him through one more tough fight, and he is in no hurry to make such a punishing request. Not when he can pick up a million now and then fighting Raggedy Andys like Alfredo Whatshisname, the Spaniard out of Uruguay en route to oblivion. "Norton didn't beat nobody," said Ali, who knows a nobody when he sees one in the ring.
Until the pre-fight hype swayed a few minds, that had been the assessment of Bobick, the gentle 26-year-old ex-Olympian. Thirty-eight victories over 38 has-beens and never-will-bes doesn't get you out of elementary school. Sooner or later, if you are ambitious, it can get you killed. If you're going to leap into white water, you shouldn't spend all your time in a wading pool.
Against the inexperienced Bobick, Norton was a raging torrent. Bobick's best weapon is unending pressure; he plods in close and stays there, banging away relentlessly until the other man falls, usually from exhaustion. So Norton came out sideways, like a crab, expecting to meet the oncoming Bobick with a hook and an uppercut. Only Bobick never came.
"I'm always a slow starter," Bobick sighed later. "I guess I started even slower than usual."
Surprised, Norton moved in, probing with a right to the body. He watched Bobick's eyes. When they moved to follow the course of the body punch, Norton unleashed a seemingly wild overhand right. It only seemed wild; it is one of the big punches in Norton's repertoire. It thundered against the side of Bobick's head, sending him reeling backward. A savage when the fight is going his way, Norton stormed in after his stunned opponent.
He smashed a left hook and a right to the body; another right speared the head. Then Norton drove a right uppercut against Bobick's Adam's apple. Gagging, his eyes tearing so that he had difficulty seeing, Bobick staggered back toward his corner.
Going full bore, Norton rained overhand rights to Bobick's head. Barely conscious, Bobick fell. Struggling, he forced himself upward, sagged for a moment, then, as the count got to nine, he lurched to his feet. His mouthpiece was more out than in. His eyes were squinted, almost closed. After studying the hurt fighter carefully, Referee Petey Delia started to wave Norton in. Bobick staggered and almost fell again. That's when Delia wrapped his arms around him and said. "The fight is over, son."
"I'm all right," Bobick protested, his voice a painful croak.
"No," Delia said, "it's over."
For Bobick, it's back-to-school time. As Norton had pointed out earlier in the week, although the youngster from Bowlus, Minn. had a solid foundation, someone forgot to build the next two floors. And it will be a tougher school than the one he has been attending. The teachers will be the Ron Lyles and the Earnie Shaverses as the hard men with the master's degrees in violence. If Bobick survives them, he'll be back. He is young and strong, and he believes in himself.
Meanwhile, Norton is still waiting for Ali. but he's hardly optimistic. His manager, Bob Biron, has asked the WBC and the WBA to force the champion into a fight. "I'll believe it when I see it," growled Norton.
Removed from title consideration for the moment, Bobick accepted his defeat without excuse. He assembled his family and went off to a scheduled "victory" party at the Riverboat in the Empire State Building.
"The real defeat would be if I went off somewhere and hid." he said with a voice that belonged on a lily pad on a pond back home in Minnesota.
The headliner at the nightclub was Bobick's manager, who had opened with his Smokin' Joe Frazier Revue the night before the fight. A few minutes after Bobick arrived, Frazier appeared on stage and asked, "Has Duane Bobick arrived yet? Hey, Duane, come on up here. You don't have to sing. Rome wasn't built in a day. Come on up here."
Bobick came out of the crowd. Red and blue spotlights picked up his small smile. As he walked across the stage, Frazier said to him. "I love you, man."
In that strange croak, Bobick said, "I'm a frog, but if you kiss me I'll turn into a prince."
A frog? As a fighter, perhaps. As a human being, Bobick is already a prince.