Re: Did the exile hurt Ali's legacy or did it help it?
This is how a see Ali's career unfolding if not for the exile:
1967-1969: He cleans out the division, breezes through guys like Spencer, Quarry, Bonavena, Ellis, Ramos and Mac Foster. His most noteworthy defense during this time is against the impressive contender Joe Frazier, that some feel beforehand can really trouble Ali. Knowing Frazier is a slow starter Ali goes out quick and start throwing combinations behind the jab earlier than usual. After losing almost all of the first 5 rounds Frazier comes out in the sixth like he's just getting started and starts to get to Ali with the left hook more. Ali takes some of the best punches he's ever taken and loses most of the middle rounds. But this is Ali at his absolute peak, and in the tenth and eleventh rounds he comes back strong and rocks Joe. He takes enough of the remaining rounds to win a fairly comfortable decision. Frazier has the puffy, marked face of the two, but Ali walks gingerly out of the ring and the effect of Frazier's hooks are highly visible on the right side of his jaw.
1970-1975: At the beginning of the decade there doesn't seem to be anyone who can really challenge Ali. He wins rematches against Chuvalo and Bonavena and easily dispatches of a couple of other challengers before all of a sudden George Foreman comes along as the next big thing after destroying a comebacking Joe Frazier. He is touted as being a young version of Liston and is fancied by some to actually beat Ali since Ali's chin hasn't really been that tested yet. But Ali silences the doubters by giving Foreman a thorough boxing lesson and knocking him out late. Foreman lands a couple of good punches, but all that does is to prove once and for all Ali can take a good punch.
After that Ali rematches Quarry and Patterson and beats Bob Foster and Bugner before he takes on Frazier again, in the end of 1972. This time Ali fights more cautiously during the first 10 rounds - dancing behind the jab and clinching when Fraziers gets close - but turns it on for the last five. He has Frazier in some trouble in these rounds, but Frazier responds in turn and rocks him. In the last round Frazier, desperately behind on points, chases and Ali plays it safe. He wins a clear UD.
By now Ali's supremacy is total and his only real opponent seems to be advancing age. But in the very next fight Ken Norton comes out of nowhere and gives Ali his toughest fight ever. Ali doesn't suffer a broken jaw in this one, though, and manages to grind out a close and somewhat controversial decision. After dispatching of Lyle and Shavers he gives Norton a rematch in 1974. Also this one is very tough, but Ali's better prepared and wins an un-controversial but still pretty close decision. After that he claims a couple of easy victories - rematches Bugner and defeats Wepner among others. Then in 1975 he encounters surprisingly tough resistance from Jimmy Young, but takes home the UD.
1976-1979: Ali's age is really beginning to make itself known during these years, but he still has enough to beat his challengers. He defeats a Coopman and wins a rematch over Young before taking on former sparring partner Larry Holmes in late 1976. Ali takes home a close and somewhat controversial decision. He makes two more easy defenses (Evangelista being one of them) and then retires, beating both Marciano's and Louis's records with some margin and is considered by most to be the greatest heavyweight ever. Some even wants to compare him to the great Sugar Ray.
After a year in retirement he gets restless, though, and challenges Holmes for the title. Holmes has improved since their first meeting while Ali has visibly faded. Larry wins clearly, but Ali manages to go the distance. He retires for a final time.