ZORA FOLLEY, a 34-year-old contender, would be Muhammad Ali‘s final challenger of his first reign as world heavyweight champion.
Folley was a modest man of considerable ability but he was past his peak. And anyone hoping to beat Ali had no chance if they were not at the top of their game.
The contest, staged inside New York’s Madison Square Garden on March 22, proved how far ahead of his peers Ali really was. Folley had some success in the opening rounds but it seemed like the boss was simply going through the motions, almost treating it like a sparring session. Folley was dropped in the fourth and looked ready to go but Ali toyed through rounds five and six.
Aware of the public disgust at the inhumane hammering of Ernie Terrell, Ali’s manager, Herbert Muhammad, instructed his fighter to “stop playing” before the seventh. “The Greatest” listened to the advice and followed it, pummeling Folley, dropping him twice, and knocking him out.
Ali would lose his next fight. A fight that took place far away from the comforts of a boxing ring. His powers were less formidable in a court room.
He had hoped to box on April 25, three days prior to the date he was due to be inducted into the US Army, in a rematch with Floyd Patterson in Las Vegas. But the State Governor, Paul Laxalt, vetoed the fight on the grounds that “it would give Nevada a black eye.”
On May 8 Ali was indicted for violation of the Selective Service Act by a Federal Grand Jury. He was bailed for $5,000 and although a change of residence from Louisville to Houston had delayed matters, he appeared in Houston before an all-white jury to answer charges of evading national service. Pleas that he was a Muslim Minister were dismissed and he was given the maximum sentence, imprisonment for five years and a $10,000 fine, by District Judge Joe Ingraham. But thanks to the $5,000 bond already paid, he retained his freedom, pending an appeal.
Ali was solemn while in court, his face a mask of calm, his body rigid. Once outside court, he addressed the reporters.
“I’m the champ. I can beat any man alive. I don’t have to prove it to anybody. It doesn’t make any difference if they take my name off a few bits of paper. You can’t brainwash the fact that I am the champ out of the minds of the people. If I thought it would bring freedom, justice and equality for 22million so-called negroes, they wouldn’t have to draft me. I’d join tomorrow.”
He was soon stripped of his titles, and his boxing licence. He did not fight again until 1970.