This is only the third "Legend" I have done with a sports figure involved. One was Vince Lombardi and the other was Michael Jordan. I was never one who was into boxing. I only watched one boxing match in my whole life and it was Muhammad Ali versus Ken Norton. Ali won. Anyhow, while I may not be up to par on my boxing knowledge, I am smart enough to know that Muhammad Ali did just as much for the world outside the ring as anything he done inside it. His recent passing provoked me to move his "Legend" segment up.
Muhammad Ali // (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American Olympic and professional boxer and activist.
He is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated
sports figures of the 20th century. From early in his career, Ali was
known as an inspiring, controversial and polarizing figure both inside
and outside the ring.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. // was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. He had a sister and four brothers. He was named for his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., who himself was named in honor of the 19th-century Republican politician and staunch abolitionist, Cassius Marcellus Clay, also from the state of Kentucky.
Clay's father's paternal grandparents were John Clay and Sallie Anne
Clay; Clay's sister Eva claimed that Sallie was a native of Madagascar. He was a descendant of slaves of the antebellum South, and was predominantly of African descent, with Irish and English heritage. His father painted billboards and signs, and his mother, Odessa O'Grady Clay,
was a domestic helper. Although Cassius Sr. was a Methodist, he allowed
Odessa to bring up both Cassius and his younger brother Rudolph "Rudy" Clay (later renamed Rahman Ali) as Baptists. He grew up in racial segregation.
His mother recalled one occasion where he was denied a drink of water
at a store. "They wouldn't give him one because of his color. That
really affected him." He was also affected by the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, which led to young Clay and a friend taking out their frustration by vandalizing a local railyard.
Clay was first directed toward boxing by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin,
who encountered the 12-year-old fuming over a thief taking his bicycle.
He told the officer he was going to "whup" the thief. The officer told
him he had better learn how to box first. For the last four years of Clay's amateur career he was trained by boxing cutman Chuck Bodak.
Clay made his amateur boxing debut in 1954. He won six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union national title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
Clay's amateur record was 100 wins with five losses. Ali claimed in his
1975 autobiography that shortly after his return from the Rome Olympics
he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were
refused service at a "whites-only" restaurant and fought with a white
gang. The story has since been disputed and several of Ali's friends,
including Bundini Brown and photographer Howard Bingham, have denied it. Brown told Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram, "Honkies sure bought into that one!" Thomas Hauser's biography of Ali stated that Ali was refused service at the diner but that he lost his medal a year after he won it. Ali received a replacement medal at a basketball intermission during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games.
Clay made his professional debut on October 29, 1960, winning a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker.
From then until the end of 1963, Clay amassed a record of 19–0 with 15
wins by knockout. He defeated boxers including Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, Lamar Clark, Doug Jones and Henry Cooper. Clay also beat his former trainer and veteran boxer Archie Moore in a 1962 match.
In each of these fights, Clay vocally belittled his opponents and
vaunted his abilities. He called Jones "an ugly little man" and Cooper a
"bum". He was embarrassed to get in the ring with Alex Miteff. Madison
Square Garden was "too small for me". Clay's behavior provoked the ire of many boxing fans. His provocative and outlandish behavior in the ring was inspired by professional wrestler "Gorgeous George" Wagner.
After Clay left Moore's camp in 1960, partially due to Clay's refusing to do chores such as dish-washing and sweeping, he hired Angelo Dundee, whom he had met in February 1957 during Ali's amateur career, to be his trainer. Around this time, Clay sought longtime idol Sugar Ray Robinson to be his manager, but was rebuffed.
By late 1963, Clay had become the top contender for Sonny Liston's title. The fight was set for February 25, 1964, in Miami Beach.
Liston was an intimidating personality, a dominating fighter with a
criminal past and ties to the mob. Based on Clay's uninspired
performance against Jones and Cooper in his previous two fights, and
Liston's destruction of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson
in two first-round knock outs, Clay was a 7–1 underdog. Despite this,
Clay taunted Liston during the pre-fight buildup, dubbing him "the big
ugly bear". "Liston even smells like a bear", Clay said. "After I beat
him I'm going to donate him to the zoo."
Clay turned the pre-fight weigh-in into a circus, shouting at Liston
that "someone is going to die at ringside tonight". Clay's pulse rate
was measured at 120, more than double his normal 54.
Many of those in attendance thought Clay's behavior stemmed from fear,
and some commentators wondered if he would show up for the bout.
The outcome of the fight was a major upset. At the opening bell, Liston
rushed at Clay, seemingly angry and looking for a quick knockout, but
Clay's superior speed and mobility enabled him to elude Liston, making
the champion miss and look awkward. At the end of the first round Clay
opened up his attack and hit Liston repeatedly with jabs. Liston fought
better in round two, but at the beginning of the third round Clay hit
Liston with a combination that buckled his knees and opened a cut under
his left eye. This was the first time Liston had ever been cut. At the
end of round four, as Clay returned to his corner, he began experiencing
blinding pain in his eyes and asked his trainer Angelo Dundee
to cut off his gloves. Dundee refused. It has been speculated that the
problem was due to ointment used to seal Liston's cuts, perhaps
deliberately applied by his corner to his gloves. Though unconfirmed, Bert Sugar claimed that two of Liston's opponents also complained about their eyes "burning".
Despite Liston's attempts to knock out a blinded Clay, Clay was able
to survive the fifth round until sweat and tears rinsed the irritation
from his eyes. In the sixth, Clay dominated, hitting Liston repeatedly.
Liston did not answer the bell for the seventh round, and Clay was
declared the winner by TKO.
Liston stated that the reason he quit was an injured shoulder.
Following the win, a triumphant Clay rushed to the edge of the ring and,
pointing to the ringside press, shouted: "Eat your words!" He added, "I
am the greatest! I shook up the world. I'm the prettiest thing that
In winning this fight, Clay became at age 22 the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion, though Floyd Patterson was the youngest to win the heavyweight championship at 21, during an elimination bout following Rocky Marciano's retirement. Mike Tyson broke both records in 1986 when he defeated Trevor Berbick to win the heavyweight title at age 20.
Soon after the Liston fight, Clay changed his name to Cassius X Clay,
and then later to Muhammad Ali upon converting to Islam and affiliating
with the Nation of Islam. Ali then faced a rematch with Liston scheduled for May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine.
It had been scheduled for Boston the previous November, but was
postponed for six months due to Ali's emergency surgery for a hernia
three days before.
The fight was controversial. Midway through the first round, Liston was
knocked down by a difficult-to-see blow the press dubbed a "phantom
punch". Ali refused to retreat to a neutral corner, and referee Jersey Joe Walcott
did not begin the count. Liston rose after he had been down about 20
seconds, and the fight momentarily continued. But a few seconds later
Walcott stopped the match, declaring Ali the winner by knockout. The
entire fight lasted less than two minutes.
Instead, Ali traveled to Canada and Europe and won championship bouts against George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London and Karl Mildenberger.
Ali returned to the United States to fight Cleveland Williams
in the Houston Astrodome on November 14, 1966. The bout drew a
record-breaking indoor crowd of 35,460 people. Williams had once been
considered among the hardest punchers in the heavyweight division, but
in 1964 he had been shot at point-blank range by a Texas policeman,
resulting in the loss of one kidney and 10 feet (3.0 m) of his small
intestine. Ali dominated Williams, winning a third-round technical
knockout in what some consider the finest performance of his career.
Ali fought Terrell in Houston on February 6, 1967. Terrell was billed
as Ali's toughest opponent since Liston - unbeaten in five years and
having defeated many of the boxers Ali had faced. Terrell was big,
strong and had a three-inch reach advantage over Ali. During the lead up
to the bout, Terrell repeatedly called Ali "Clay", much to Ali's
annoyance (Ali called Cassius Clay his "slave name").
The two almost
came to blows over the name issue in a pre-fight interview with Howard Cosell. Ali seemed intent on humiliating Terrell. "I want to torture him", he said. "A clean knockout is too good for him."
The fight was close until the seventh round when Ali bloodied Terrell
and almost knocked him out. In the eighth round, Ali taunted Terrell,
hitting him with jabs and shouting between punches, "What's my name,
Uncle Tom, what's my name?" Ali won a unanimous 15-round decision.
Terrell claimed that early in the fight Ali deliberately thumbed him in
the eye - forcing Terrell to fight half-blind - and then, in a clinch,
rubbed the wounded eye against the ropes. Because of Ali's apparent
intent to prolong the fight to inflict maximum punishment, critics
described the bout as "one of the ugliest boxing fights". Tex Maule
later wrote: "It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a
barbarous display of cruelty." Ali denied the accusations of cruelty
but, for Ali's critics, the fight provided more evidence of his
After Ali's title defense against Zora Folley on March 22, he was stripped of his title due to his refusal to be drafted to army service.
His boxing license was also suspended by the state of New York. He was
convicted of draft evasion on June 20 and sentenced to five years in
prison and a $10,000 fine. He paid a bond and remained free while the
verdict was being appealed.
In March 1966, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces.
He was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and
stripped of his passport. As a result, he did not fight from March 1967
to October 1970 - from ages 25 to almost 29 - as his case worked its way
through the appeals process before his conviction was overturned in
1971. During this time of inactivity, as opposition to the Vietnam War
began to grow and Ali's stance gained sympathy, he spoke at colleges
across the nation, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African
American pride and racial justice.
On August 11, 1970, with his case still in appeal, Ali was granted a
license to box by the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission, thanks to
State Senator Leroy R. Johnson. Ali's first return bout was against Jerry Quarry on October 26, resulting in a win after three rounds after Quarry was cut.
A month earlier, a victory in federal court forced the New York State Boxing Commission to reinstate Ali's license. He fought Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden in December, an uninspired performance that ended in a dramatic technical knockout of Bonavena in the 15th round. The win left Ali as a top contender against heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.
Ali and Frazier's first fight, held at the Garden on March 8, 1971, was nicknamed the "Fight of the Century",
due to the tremendous excitement surrounding a bout between two
undefeated fighters, each with a legitimate claim as heavyweight
champions. Veteran boxing writer John Condon called it "the greatest
event I've ever worked on in my life". The bout was broadcast to 35
foreign countries; promoters granted 760 press passes.
After the loss to Frazier, Ali fought Jerry Quarry, had a second bout with Floyd Patterson and faced Bob Foster in 1972, winning a total of six fights that year. In 1973, Ken Norton
broke Ali's jaw while giving him the second loss of his career. After
initially seeking retirement, Ali won a controversial decision against
Norton in their second bout, leading to a rematch at Madison Square
Garden on January 28, 1974, with Joe Frazier who had recently lost his
title to George Foreman.
Ali was strong in the early rounds of the fight, and staggered
Frazier in the second round. Referee Tony Perez mistakenly thought he
heard the bell ending the round and stepped between the two fighters as
Ali was pressing his attack, giving Frazier time to recover. However,
Frazier came on in the middle rounds, snapping Ali's head in round seven
and driving him to the ropes at the end of round eight. The last four
rounds saw round-to-round shifts in momentum between the two fighters.
Throughout most of the bout, however, Ali was able to circle away from
Frazier's dangerous left hook and to tie Frazier up when he was
cornered, the latter a tactic that Frazier's camp complained of
bitterly. Judges awarded Ali a unanimous decision.
The defeat of Frazier set the stage for a title fight against heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974 - a bout nicknamed "The Rumble in the Jungle". Foreman was considered one of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history. In assessing the fight, analysts pointed out that Joe Frazier and Ken Norton - who
had given Ali four tough battles and won two of them - had been both
devastated by Foreman in second round knockouts. Ali was 32 years old,
and had clearly lost speed and reflexes since his twenties. Contrary to
his later persona, Foreman was at the time a brooding and intimidating
presence. Almost no one associated with the sport, not even Ali's
long-time supporter Howard Cosell, gave the former champion a chance of winning.
Ali opened the fight moving and scoring with right crosses to Foreman's
head. Then, beginning in the second round - and to the consternation of
his corner - Ali retreated to the ropes and invited Foreman to hit him
while covering up, clinching and counter-punching, all while verbally
taunting Foreman. The move, which would later become known as the "Rope-A-Dope",
so violated conventional boxing wisdom - letting one of the hardest
hitters in boxing strike at will - that at ringside writer George Plimpton
thought the fight had to be fixed.
Foreman, increasingly angered, threw punches that were deflected and
did not land squarely. Midway through the fight, as Foreman began
tiring, Ali countered more frequently and effectively with punches and
flurries, which electrified the pro-Ali crowd. In the eighth round, Ali
dropped an exhausted Foreman with a combination at center ring; Foreman
failed to make the count. Against the odds, and amidst pandemonium in
the ring, Ali had regained the title by knockout.
Ali's next opponents included Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle, and Joe Bugner.
Wepner, a journeyman known as "The Bayonne Bleeder", stunned Ali with a
knockdown in the ninth round; Ali would later say he tripped on
Wepner's foot. It was a bout that would inspire Sylvester Stallone to create the acclaimed film, Rocky.
Ali then agreed to a third match with Joe Frazier in Manila. The bout, known as the "Thrilla in Manila", was held on October 1, 1975,
in temperatures approaching 100 °F (38 °C). In the first rounds, Ali
was aggressive, moving and exchanging blows with Frazier. However, Ali
soon appeared to tire and adopted the "rope-a-dope" strategy, frequently
resorting to clinches. During this part of the bout Ali did some
effective counter-punching, but for the most part absorbed punishment
from a relentlessly attacking Frazier. In the 12th round, Frazier began
to tire, and Ali scored several sharp blows that closed Frazier's left
eye and opened a cut over his right eye. With Frazier's vision now
diminished, Ali dominated the 13th and 14th rounds, at times conducting
what boxing historian Mike Silver called "target practice" on Frazier's
head. The fight was stopped when Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, refused
to allow Frazier to answer the bell for the 15th and final round,
despite Frazier's protests. Frazier's eyes were both swollen shut. Ali,
in his corner, winner by TKO, slumped on his stool, clearly spent.
Ali fought Ken Norton for the third time at the Yankee Stadium
in September 1976, which he won in a heavily contested decision, which
was loudly booed by the audience. Afterwards, he announced he was
retiring from boxing to practice his faith, having converted to Sunni Islam after falling out with the Nation of Islam the previous year.
After returning to beat Alfredo Evangelista in May 1977, Ali struggled in his next fight against Earnie Shavers
that September, getting pummeled a few times by punches to the head.
Ali won the fight by another unanimous decision, but the bout caused his
longtime doctor Ferdie Pacheco
to quit after he was rebuffed for telling Ali he should retire. Pacheco
was quoted as saying, "the New York State Athletic Commission gave me a
report that showed Ali's kidneys were falling apart. I wrote to Angelo
Dundee, Ali's trainer, his wife and Ali himself. I got nothing back in
response. That's when I decided enough is enough."
In February 1978, Ali faced Leon Spinks
at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. At the time, Spinks had only seven
professional fights to his credit, and had recently fought a draw with
journeyman Scott LeDoux. Ali sparred less than two dozen rounds in
preparation for the fight, and was seriously out of shape by the opening
bell. He lost the title by split decision. A rematch followed shortly
thereafter in New Orleans, which broke attendance records. Ali won a
unanimous decision in an uninspiring fight, making him the first
heavyweight champion to win the belt three times.
Following this win, on July 27, 1979, Ali announced his retirement
from boxing. His retirement was short-lived, however; Ali announced his
comeback to face Larry Holmes
for the WBC belt in an attempt to win the heavyweight championship an
unprecedented fourth time. The fight was largely motivated by Ali's need
for money. Boxing writer Richie Giachetti said, "Larry didn't want to
fight Ali. He knew Ali had nothing left; he knew it would be a horror."
It was around this time that Ali started struggling with vocal stutters and trembling hands. The Nevada Athletic Commission
(NAC) ordered that he undergo a complete physical in Las Vegas before
being allowed to fight again. Ali chose instead to check into the Mayo Clinic,
who declared him fit to fight. Their opinion was accepted by the NAC on
July 31, 1980, paving the way for Ali's return to the ring.
The fight took place on October 2, 1980, in Las Vegas Valley, with
Holmes easily dominating Ali, who was weakened from thyroid medication
he had taken to lose weight. Giachetti called the fight "awful ... the
worst sports event I ever had to cover". Actor Sylvester Stallone at
ringside said it was like watching an autopsy on a man who is still
Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee finally stopped the fight in the eleventh
round, the only fight Ali lost by knockout. The Holmes fight is said to
have contributed to Ali's Parkinson's syndrome. Despite pleas to definitively retire, Ali fought one last time on December 11, 1981, in Nassau, Bahamas, against Trevor Berbick, losing a ten-round decision.
One of Ali's greatest tricks was to make opponents over-commit by
pulling straight backward from punches. Disciplined, world-class boxers
chased Ali and threw themselves off balance attempting to hit him
because he seemed to be an open target, only missing and leaving
themselves exposed to Ali's counter punches, usually a chopping right.
Slow motion replays show that this was precisely the way Sonny Liston
was hit and apparently knocked out by Ali in their second fight. Ali often flaunted his movement by dancing the "Ali Shuffle", a sort of center-ring jig.
Ali's early style was so unusual that he was initially discounted
because he reminded boxing writers of a lightweight, and it was assumed
he would be vulnerable to big hitters like Sonny Liston.
Muhammad Ali defeated every top heavyweight in his era, which has been
called the golden age of heavyweight boxing. Ali was named "Fighter of
the Year" by Ring Magazine more times than any other fighter, and was involved in more Ring Magazine "Fight of the Year" bouts than any other fighter. He was an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and held wins over seven other Hall of Fame inductees. He was one of only three boxers to be named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated.
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