AS 1967 began, world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was in the form of his life but two things were threatening his supremacy. One was the Vietnam conflict. His lawyers were fighting hard to save him from military service but it was a costly saga, and one that damaged his standing in the eyes of many in the late 1960s.
The other, more immediate, threat came in the form of 6ft 6ins WBA boss Ernie Terrell. Widely regarded as an imposter to the throne, the Chicago-born giant was an excellent fighter nonetheless. Before he claimed his title – stripped from Ali for fighting Sonny Liston in a rematch – Terrell had earned his stripes, beating the likes of Cleveland Williams, Bob Foster and Zora Folley. And his record in world title fights was none too shabby either with leading contenders Eddie Machen, George Chuvalo and Doug Jones all being outpointed. Put all those names together, and you have one of the most impressive heavyweight records of the 1960s.
But unfortunately for Terrell, the undefeated 25-year-old – two years removed from answering to Cassius Clay – was a different breed. None of this mattered to Terrell, who had not taken kindly to Ali’s stance on Vietnam, nor his new name.