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15 NOVEMBER 2018


Happy Birthday Muhammad Ali

 Ali and Frazier in the Fight of the Century
Ali and Frazier in the Fight of the Century

By Clive Bernath: Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, celebrates his 70th birthday today and the former three time world heavyweight champ has been honoured for all his incredible achievements in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.


Ali, who was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr on January 17, 1942, was first introduced to boxing as a 12 year-old by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E Martin, who encountered the young Clay screaming at him over a thief taking his bicycle. The young Clay told the officer he was going to "whup" the thief, at which point Martin told him he ‘had better learn how to fight‘.


After winning six Kentucky Golden Gloves and two national Golden Gloves titles the young Clay was chosen to represent the United States at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy where he won the Gold medal at light-heavyweight. After compiling more than 100 wins and just 5 loses as an amateur Clay turned professional in October 1960 Clay’s incredible hand speed and fancy footwork quickly attracted the interest of boxing fans from around the world. The aforementioned plus the trash talking and the way in which the young Clay predicted the round in which his opponents would fall, also contributed to his ever increasing fan base and popularity in equal measure.


After 19 straight wins the charismatic Clay was on his way but what really cleared his path to greatness was his sixth round retirement victory over the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston in February 1964 to win the world heavyweight crown for the first time. If the truth be known even Clay’s own team had reservations about the much smaller and younger 22 year-old defeating such a ferocious and intimidating figure such as Liston. But defeat him he did and to celebrate Clay immediately converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. 13 months later Ali fought Liston again and this time he knocked him out inside a round with what ringside observers and boxing experts called the ‘Phantom Punch’ because no matter how matter how many times the video footage was viewed and slowed down it was still difficult to see the knockout punch landing.


After winning the title Ali, as he was now known, fought and won a further eight times to bring his unbeaten record to 29-0. But Ali’s career stalled in 1967 after he refused to serve in the US army in Vietnam.


Ali publicly considered himself a Conscientious Objector stating, "War is against the teachings of the Holy Quran. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers." Ali famously said in 1966: "I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger"



Below is a short explanation from the free Encyclopaedia website Wikipedia regarding Ali’s refusal and subsequent punishment after refusing to enlist into the US Army.



Appearing shortly thereafter for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces on April 28, 1967 in Houston, he(Ali) refused three times to step forward at the call of his name. An officer warned him he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more, Ali refused to budge when his name was called. As a result, he was arrested and on the same day the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title(world). Other boxing commissions followed suit.


At the trial on June 20, 1967, after only 21 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Ali guilty. After a Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. During this time, the public began turning against the war and support for Ali began to grow. Ali supported himself by speaking at colleges and universities across the country, where opposition to the war was especially strong. On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction for refusing induction by unanimous decision in Clay vs United States The decision was not based on, nor did it address, the merits of Clay’s/Ali’s claims per se; rather, the Government’s failure to specify which claims were rejected and which were sustained, constituted the grounds upon which the Court reversed the conviction.




Ali’s refusal to go to war only added to his legacy but he paid a heavy price as he was prevented from boxing for more than threes years. On October 26 1970, Ali stepped back into the ring to face the teak tough Jerry Quarry. Quarry fancied the job against the unbeaten motor mouth Ali but after three rounds Quarry was stopped after sustaining a cut. Two month later Ali knocked down Argentine Oscar Bonavena three times before the fight was stopped in the 15th round to claim the NABF title.


Although still unbeaten Ali was no longer world champion. Whilst fighting the US Army a young man by the name of Joe Frazier had literally bulldozed his way to world heavyweight title success. Ali never lost his title in the ring and was desperate to claim back what he thought was rightfully his. Frazier too was keen to prove he was the genuine world champ and it was not long before the pair had the opportunity to settle their differences in the ring. At the world famous Madison Square Garden in New York in March 1971 Ali and Frazier went toe to toe for 15 of the most brutal and entertaining heavyweight rounds in boxing history. The fight was close but Frazier’s relentless non stop attacks had Ali backing up all night and proved enough to retain his WBC and WBA titles via unanimous decision. It seemed that Ali’s gamble to face Frazier for the title after such a long lay off had back fired.

By the time Ali and Frazier faced each for the second time Frazier had been relieved of his title by systemically being literally destroyed by a young and very hungry George Foreman. The second encounter, again at Madison Square Garden saw Ali gain revenge in yet another incredibly ferocious battle by virtue of a 12 round unanimous decision.


The rematch win over Frazier earned Ali the right to challenge Foreman, a sort of Sonny Liston clone but twice as strong. Just like the first Liston fight no one gave the older and slower Ali a prayer against an unbeaten young giant of a man who had already knocked down Frazier six times inside two rounds previously,. The fight took place in Kinshasa, Republic of Congo and was dubbed the ‘Rumble In The Jungle‘.


As big and strong as he was Foreman was not exactly the fastest and most durable heavyweight and Ali was very much aware of this so he adopted an unusual tactic whereby he would allow Foreman to back him up on the ropes and punch away at him for a number of rounds in the hope that Foreman would eventually tire himself out. After eight painful rounds the gamble paid. Ali, sensing, Foreman was now exhausted, floored the champion with a combination of punches in the center of the ring. Foreman failed to regain his feet and Ali not only made history by regaining the world heavyweight title he also caused one of the biggest heavyweight upset of all time.


Famous and historic wins over Liston, Frazier and Foremen is more than enough establish Ali as one of the all time greats but the third and final encounter against bitter rival Joe Frazier would surpass them all. Frazier had bounced back from his defeat to Foreman by out-pointing Britain’s Joe Bugner and was keen to continue his rivalry with Ali, especially now Ali had the title.


The third and final encounter took place in the Philippines on October 1, 1975 and was billed as the ’Thrilla In Manila’. The first two fights were as brutal, ferocious and entertaining in equal measure so how could anyone expect the two best heavyweights on the planet to match the previous encounters? Incredibly they did not only match the previous two fights, somehow they surpassed them. Such was the hatred for each other they fought themselves to exhaustion in a fight now recognised as not only the fight of the century but the greatest heavyweight bout of all time. The record books will show that Ali won after Frazier was retired by his corner at the end of the 14th round suffering from sheer exhaustion. Ali later admitted he too was running on empty and admitted that during that 14th round against Frazier was nearest he has come to death.


Ali remained champion for the next three years. History has an uncanny way of repeating itself and just like Ali himself had caused major heavyweight upsets by defeating Liston and Foreman he too would lose his title unexpectedly. It was a young Leon Spinks with just seven professional bout bouts to his credit that relieved the now aging champion of his title in February 1978 via 15 round split decision in Las Vegas. Although Ali regained the title for a record third time just seven months later it was clear he was a fighter in decline. Sadly he fought on twice more and losing heavily to both Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick before retiring for good in 1981.

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinsons decease in 1984, a decease which was almost certainly contributed to by his years in the boxing ring. Ali’s contribution to the sport of boxing will never be in doubt. He remains the most famous sporting icon in the world . Equally, Muhammad Ali has devoted his life to travelling the world to highlight hunger, poverty and homelessness among the poor. Muhammad Ali was indeed one of the greatest boxers of all time but he is also a great Humanitarian as well.


January 17, 2012

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