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West Virginia men write stats-driven book on Muhammad Ali

June 10, 2018

FRIENDLY, W.Va. (AP) — “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” by Bob Canobbio and Lee Groves of Friendly is a statistical analysis of the punches Muhammad Ali landed on his opponents and the blows landed upon him based on available footage from 474 rounds of the 548 Ali fought as a professional.

It’s the latter that is the most enlightening, that Ali absorbed a higher percentage of his opponents’ power punches than many would have thought, even during his best years, Groves said.

“I think that is the importance of this book,” said Groves, who works for Compubox.

Canobbio, the owner of CompuBox, agreed.

“I would say that was the most startling statistic we uncovered,” Canobbio said. Also enlightening was the accuracy and power of Ali’s jab, he said.

The idea for the book came from writer Jonathan Eig, who wrote a biography of Ali, “Ali: A Life” that was released last year. Eig wanted Canobbio, the owner of Compubox, and Groves to research and compile the statistics from Ali’s bouts for inclusion in his biography.

“Eig later said he thought it would be a good idea that we do our own book based on the stats we collected,” Groves said. “And we thought that was a good idea.”

The statistics show a different Ali from his youth to his older years as a boxer and as the heavyweight champion, Groves said. In the title fights in Ali’s later years, Ali’s opponents dished out more than Ali, “but because of the conventional wisdom of the time they were reluctant to dethrone a reigning champion by decision,” Groves said.

“As I wrote in the book, the climate back then imposed a subconscious dilemma for the judges: do you give the challenger a close round or do you give the champion the benefit of the doubt?” he said. “Many times, it was the latter and by comparing the punch count charts with the round-by-round scorecards, readers will now be able to compare and contrast the numbers with the scoring. For me, that was a rather fascinating exercise.”

The most egregious example was Ali’s fight with Jimmy Young in 1976, Groves said. Young “thoroughly out-boxed Ali,” but lost the fight, Groves said.

Keeping Ali as champion was not necessarily bad for the sport of boxing, or the promoters, or businesses like restaurants and hotels where Ali would fight, Groves said.

“He was a one-man Super Bowl. That’s a good way to put it,” he said.

Ali’s fights also meant ratings boosts for the TV networks, which could charge a premium for advertising, Groves said. Boxing feared losing Ali would be a catastrophe.

“They thought you had to find another Ali to keep the sport going,” Groves said.

Ali died in 2016 at the age of 74. The hits he took while boxing is attributed to much of his health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, Groves said.

The book contains 360 pages of punch count charts, statistical tables, scorecards and stories written by Groves with the aid of hundreds of articles culled from boxing magazines, past books on Ali, books written by Ali opponents and interviews with writer/broadcaster Steve Farhood and CompuBox co-founder Logan Hobson (both of whom were ringside for Ali’s final fight with Trevor Berbick), former light heavyweight champion and current trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and broadcaster James “Smitty” Smith,” a friend of Ali’s since Smith was 11 years old.

Among the lesser-known factoids in the book is how Ali was willing to throw in the towel before the final round of his third fight with Joe Frazier, something Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch ended up doing. Had the Frazier corner seen or heard a frantic member of their camp telling them to wait, history would have changed, Groves said.

“What would have happened if Frazier’s corner had gotten the message and attempted to call Ali’s bluff and Ali actually quit?” Groves asked. “Knowing Ali’s courage, that probably wouldn’t have happened, but had Ali thrown in the towel, Frazier would have won their three-fight series, he might have been regarded by historians as the greater fighter and perhaps a generation of fighters might have tried to fight like Frazier instead of like Ali. We’ll never know, of course, but it is an interesting example of the ‘butterfly effect’ in which a single action sets off a chain of other unforeseen events.”

Ali’s life has been the subject of countless books, movies, documentaries and other types of projects, but the one part of his life that had yet to be addressed is the statistical side of his boxing life, Groves said.

“Now, through this book, readers will get a good idea of how great a fighter he was on offense but also how tough he had to be to absorb the level of punishment he ended up taking, especially in his final 10 fights,” he said. “I’m very appreciative to Bob Canobbio for giving me the chance to be part of this project.”

This is Groves’ second book on boxing. The first was “Tales from the Vault” written eight years ago.

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Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.), http://www.newsandsentinel.com

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