Memories of Muhammad Ali in New Orleans include his September 1978 fight with Leon Spinks at the Superdome. An all-star crowd for the “September to Remember” or “Battle of New Orleans,” as it was called, watched Ali reclaim the heavyweight title he lost to Spinks just months earlier.
At the Superdome, Ali became the first three-time heavyweight champion of the world by avenging his loss to Spinks in the first fight earlier that year.
The New Orleans bout was supposed to be Ali’s final fight, but he would return to the ring a couple of years later. However, since he suffered defeats in his final two fights, New Orleans can be considered his last career win.
As impressive as the action in the ring was, the September 15, 1978 matchup is also remembered for its all-star audience. Stars Sylvester Stallone, Liza Minnelli, John Travolta, Jerry Lewis, Lorne Greene and Kris Kristofferson were among those ringside. Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier sang the national anthem. The record crowd of 70,000 watched Ali win a unanimous decision over Spinks in 15 rounds.
Though it might not be as well-known as the “Rumble in the Jungle” (Ali versus George Foreman in 1974) or the "Thrilla in Manila" (Ali versus Frazier in 1975), the New Orleans battle still had the showmanship for which Ali was known.
“The entrance had the trappings of a religious procession, two acolytes holding up the image of the man wearing a crown – ‘The Greatest,’ it said -- while the man himself, in a white robe, followed with his escort,” wrote columnist Peter Finney in The States-Item the next day. Excerpts are included in his book, “The Best of Peter Finney: Legendary New Orleans Sportswriter,” written with his son Peter Finney Jr.
“Once in the ring, to the roar of ‘Ali, Ali, Ali,’ he looked more confident, shadow-boxing in his corner, preparing to win the title a third time, than Joe Frazier, mike in hand, preparing to lip-sync the National Anthem. When Frazier finished his song, Ali began his, a 45-minute farewell symphony, sprinkled with some off-key notes, but, on the whole, an impressive show for an aging maestro,” Finney wrote. “The 36-year-old challenger brought out the amateur in the 25-year-old champion with a 15-round boxing lesson that reduced Leon Spinks to a confused street fighter.”