When Leon Spinks upset Ali for the heavyweight boxing title in a split decision on Feb. 15, 1978, it was truly a stunning outcome.
Normally, the champion gives a rematch to the defeated champ, and the WBA was happy to oblige. However, the WBC stripped Spinks of the title for his refusal to fight No. 1 contender Ken Norton.
This is a remarkable document, and while Ali was known for his ability to ad-lib, this speech lays out his argument for a rematch in a careful, structured manner.
“The promoters, Spinks and myself, all agree that Ken Norton should be next in line for the title,” Ali writes. “And a majority of the people around the world want to see me have a chance to regain the title for the third time.”
Ali references the fact that when he defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title in 1964, he immediately gave him a rematch. He gave Liston the first crack at regaining the title “not because I had to,” but “I felt it was only fair to give the man a chance who gave me a chance before anyone else would.”
The speech is written in Ali’s hand on 8½-by-11-inch paper, and while it shows some fading the writing is still rather distinct and legible.
With typical bombast, Ali poses the question at the end of his news conference: “So who is most deserving of the first shot at the title, Muhammad Ali or Ken Norton?”
On the Dick Cavett Show, Ali noted that there were “no excuses” for his loss.
“The decision has been made, they’re not going to reverse it,” Ali told the talk show host. “If you lose, you lose. I lost the fight, the battle plan was wrong.
“The man won, so now I just have to get ready to come back.”
The boxing world got that comeback. Ali would regain his title on Sept. 15, 1978, at the Louisiana Superdome.