Tim Witherspoon sheds light on ‘beautiful’ experience sparring with Muhammad Ali and reveals what went on before the Larry Holmes fight

Tim Witherspoon has told talkSPORT how sparring with Muhammad Ali improved him as a boxer on his way to becoming a two-time heavyweight world champion.
The American joined Russ Williams and Spencer Oliver to record a new ‘Fight Of My Life’ documentary, with the series currently airing every Sunday night at 9:30pm.
Ali worked with Witherspoon towards the end of his careerGetty Images – Getty
Witherspoon was 16 years younger than Ali and so spent most of his career fighting after ‘The Greatest’ had hung up his gloves.
However, they did cross over for a brief period towards the end of Ali’s reign, while Witherspoon was learning as a rising young prospect.
He told Fight Of My Life on talkSPORT: “That was beautiful. I sparred with him before the Larry Holmes fight, but I didn’t have that many fights then.
“Sparring with Muhammad Ali was the greatest asset to me in the beginning of my career.
“Just coming out of nowhere, leaving university, going into the amateurs (I only had seven amateur fights), then straight to Muhammad Ali.
“Who can ask for something like that?
Ali is known as the ‘Greatest of All Times’Getty
“It was just new stuff to me and it was really great. And he paid attention to me, he was talking to me a lot when I first started sparring with him.
“He knew I was from Philly, he had a lot of people affiliated with him from Philly and so he took to me really cool. But he was cool with everybody.
“He was the greatest of all times, but I just was happy to be around him and learning things from him. It was really great.
“I’m still dreaming, ‘Wow, I’ve had a chance to be with Muhammad Ali.’”
Witherspoon went on to win the WBA and WBC titlesGetty Images – Getty
As it happened, the Holmes fight turned out to be one of Ali’s last.
The ageing legend was beaten up and stopped in ten rounds by the new champion, with many later recognising that Ali should not have entered the ring that night.
Withspoon added: “When I started sparring with him, I was expecting him to put a whipping on all the sparring partners – not like he wanted to hurt us – but let us know he’s the champ and stuff like that.
“But during the camp I was sensing something’s wrong. I had an intelligent trainer, ‘Slim’ Jim Robinson, who was always into everybody’s business.
Ali was unable to defeat holmesGetty Images – Getty
“And he would say to me, ‘Tim, something’s wrong, Ali can’t put out, something’s wrong with him, I don’t know what it is.’
“So when we went to Vegas [for the fight] , the sparring partners, the trainers and various other people were in the Dunes Hotel and Muhammad Ali was in Caesars Palace.
“I was young, I was tired, I just wanted to go home. All the lights and cameras, I wasn’t used to that.
“So I went over to Caesars Palace to try to get my ticket to get out of Vegas. Soon as the fight was over, I wanted to get out.
“I’m walking down the hall and I heard them and they’re arguing. I went, ‘Woah, somebody’s fighting.’
“I heard them saying, ‘Oh, he shouldn’t be fighting, he’s sick.’
“Ali was sitting on the bed, Angelo Dundee was beside him, my trainer was staring at him, Drew Bundini, there was other people in there.
“And they were arguing about whether he should fight or not.
Holmes dominated the heavyweight division for a decade
“And I stopped, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, Ali might not fight.’
“So I stood there for like another three or four minutes and they were arguing, ‘No, he shouldn’t fight, he’s dehydrated, this and that.’
“But the fight did go on. After the first round, I knew that he wasn’t gonna win.
“He was sick when he fought Holmes. When Holmes jumped on him, I said, ‘Wow, something’s really wrong with him.’
“He was sick, he should’ve never fought.”

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