Premium History

The Muhammad Ali 50

Muhammad Ali
Fifty moments, both good and bad, that shaped the legend of Muhammad Ali

50. WITHOUT DUNDEE
When Ali’s trainer decided to corner Jimmy Ellis in 1972 (because he was also Ellis’ manager), Muhammad engineered a spat between the pair to sell the fight. There was no truth in it, and they were reunited after Ali beat Ellis in 12 rounds.

49. SPAGHETTI LEGS
After taking a meaty whack from brilliant light-heavyweight puncher Bob Foster in 1972, Ali feigned – or disguised – he was hurt, wobbling his knees theatrically. Cut for the first time, Ali battered Foster to defeat in eight rounds.

48. SUICIDE JUMPER
In 1981, CBS broadcast footage of Ali talking to a man who intended to complete suicide by jumping from the ninth floor on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. After 20 minutes, the man came off the ledge and down to safety through the fire escape.

47. MUHAMMAD ALI REFORM ACT
Introduced in 1999 and enacted in 2000, this federal law was designed to “protect the rights and welfare of boxers, to aid boxing commissions and increase sportsmanship and integrity within the boxing industry.”

46. NORTON PIPPED
If Frazier was Ali’s greatest rival, Norton was his peskiest. Their 1973 rematch came just months after Muhammad’s jaw had been broken in fight one and, after rejecting an offer to fight champion George Foreman, preferring to get revenge first, Ali edged Norton in a rematch.

Muhammad Ali

45. ROAD TRIP
With pressure mounting to join the army, and his detractors growing, Ali took his world title on the road. In a six-month period in 1966, Ali beat George Chuvalo in Canada, Henry Cooper and Brian London in England, and Karl Mildenberger in Germany.

44. CLASS IN VICTORY
After beating Zora Folley in 1967 Ali grabbed the microphone to address his victim’s wife, who was watching on television: “Your husband is okay, Mrs Folley. And tell your kids they should be proud of their father.”

43. FIRST FIGHT
Despite first trainer, Joe Martin, saying young Clay “didn’t know a left hook from a kick in the ass” when he first started in 1954, he won his first bout six weeks later, edging Ronny O’Keefe on points.

42. AUDIENCE WITH POPE
Pope John Paul II knew all about Ali’s brilliant boxer career, and Muslim faith, when he arranged to meet him in 1982. They signed autographs for each other in yet another exhibition of the levels whereby Ali transcended not only boxing, but sport.

41. CHAT SHOW GUEST
“You are too small mentally to tackle me,” Ali said to Michael Parkinson during the second of their legendary four televised conversations. “I’m serious. You and this little TV show is nothin’ to Muhammad Ali.”

40. ROCKY GOES 50-0
In 1969, Ali and Rocky Marciano stripped down for a computerised film pitching the pair together in fictional combat. The fight was shown across theatres in 1970, after Marciano had died in a plane crash, and depicted Rocky winning in 13 rounds.

39. GETTING LUCKY
Towards the end of Ali’s second title reign, it was clear Ali was slowing down as he toiled through some defences. In April 1976 he was fortunate to get the nod over Jimmy Young in a horrible fight and, five months later, over old rival Ken Norton in their rubber match.

38. US HOSTAGES
In 1990, against the wishes of President Bush, Ali flew to Baghdad to negotiate the release of 15 US hostages. Ten days after meeting Saddam Hussein, the hostages were freed and boarded a plane to New York.

37. SIT DOWN, JOE
While watching a replay of their first bout on a TV show to promote their second, Joe Frazier and Ali squabble about who came off worse after their 1971 classic. Frazier stands up, Ali tells him to sit down, and the pair end rolling and brawling on the floor.

36. JONES STRUGGLE
Clay had breezed through the majority of fights until, in 1963, he came up against the brilliant Doug Jones. Some observers had Jones winning at the end of 10 rounds, but 21-year-old Clay was awarded the decision, and with it, plenty of lessons.

35. CRUEL PUNISHMENT
Enraged with Ernie Terrell’s failure to call him Ali, the fighter administered a frightful, prolonged beating over 15 rounds. During and after the contest, Ali was roundly criticised for appearing to extend Terrell’s pain, and carrying him the distance. The truth, though, may just have been that Terrell was tougher than anyone gave him credit for.

34. THE FIRST KNOCKDOWN
After being dropped by Sonny Banks in 1962, the youngster was embarrassed and later said: “As you know, I think that I’m the greatest and I’m not supposed to be on the floor, so I had to get up and put him on out, in four as I predicted.”

33. FLOORED IN SPARRING
Weeks before his 1970 return against Jerry Quarry, he sparred fringe contender Alvin Lewis and was floored, much to everyone’s surprise. “Yes, he knocked the wind out of me,” said Ali. “I did not have my muscles properly tensed because I am out of practice.”

Muhammad Ali

32. TORN GLOVE MYTH
Whatever Angelo Dundee or anyone else may have claimed, replacing Clay’s torn glove after he was decked by Henry Cooper in 1963 added just a few seconds – not the often reported 300 – to the minute break between rounds four and five.

31. LISTON HYSTERIA
The “Louisville Lip” behaved like a maniac to secure the 1964 shot at Liston, turning up at his home in the middle of the night with a loudspeaker among the stunts. At the weigh-in, a hysterical Clay’s pulse was so high, doctors considered calling it off.

30. BIRTH OF ROCKY
The story goes that Sylvester Stallone was so impressed with unknown Chuck Wepner’s 1975 effort to dethrone Ali – contentiously flooring him along the way via a trodden foot – he was inspired to write his masterpiece, Rocky.

29. COMPASSIONATE LEAVE
After a slow start, aaginst Ron Lyle, Ali was forced to get busy. By the 11th round he is hammering his challenger around the ring, motioning for the referee to end Lyle’s suffering. Eventually Ferd Hernandez steps in.

28. THE ALI SUMMIT
One week before he was convicted in a Houston court for refusing military service in 1967, and during the Civil Rights battle, 12 great black athletes – including Bill Russell and Jim Brown – attended a meeting to support Ali as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.

27. THE LAST TIME
Ali had his 61st and last contest against Canadian Trevor Berbick in a shoddily-promoted 10-rounder in the Bahamas. Although more competitive than some feared, Ali was again a poor imitation of what came before, losing on points.

26. THE POET
Before beating Foreman, Ali declared: “I wrestled with an alligator. I tussled with a whale. I handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail. Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

25. COSELL JOUSTS
Broadcaster Howard Cosell and Ali created a great double act, which benefitted the careers of each. “You’re being extremely truculent,” Cosell once told the telegenic Ali, who replied, “Whatever truculent means, if it’s good, I’m that.”

24. ALI BOMB-YE
Out in Zaire, with his daunting mission to dethrone George Foreman, Ali whipped his African supporters into such a state, they famously chanted ‘Ali Bomb-ye! Ali Bomb-ye!’ which translated as, ‘Ali kill him’.

23. SUPREME COURT
Disillusioned, Ali announced his retirement in 1970 before the Supreme Court ruled that young men who were opposed to war on ethical grounds should be exempt from drafting into the armed forces. Ali could fight again.

22. GORGEOUS GEORGE
Clay was 6-0 when he encountered popular wrestler “Gorgeous” George Wagner in 1961. The young boxer watched in awe as Wagner promoted himself, and realised that if he talked more, he too could become a marketable star.

21. PARKINSON’S DISEASE
In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s after suffering from tremors and slurring of his speech. He campaigned for awareness of the disease and raised money for research, before The Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center opened in Phoenix.

20. REVENGE
Just under three years after losing to bitter rival Frazier, Ali won the return over 12 rounds at Madison Square Garden. Both had been beaten since their epic opener, costing the sequel some lustre, but this was Ali’s most comfortable outing in the trilogy.

19. FOR THE KIDS
In 1974, Ali walked into a classroom dressed as a janitor as unsuspecting children were being asked their opinions about him. The look on a boy’s face, as Ali is revealed and challenges him to an arm wrestle, is priceless.

18. THE PRO DEBUT
“He’s awfully good for an 18-year-old and as fast as a middleweight,” said Tunney Hunsaker after losing a one-sided six-rounder to debutant Clay in 1960 on points. A little over 6,000 were in attendance at Louisville’s Freedom Hall.

17. NEAR DISASTER
When Henry Cooper clumped Clay to the canvas at the end of the fourth round, Britain gasped in expectation. But Cassius – not a popular figure at that time – picked himself up, and regained enough of his senses, to halt the blood-soaked Cooper in the fifth.

16. LOSING TO HOLMES
This was the moment when the world realised even Ali could not cheat Father Time. He was 38, and promised to rule again, but he was dominated by a somewhat merciful Larry Holmes in 1980 and pulled out after 10 hard-to-watch rounds.

15. ATLANTA 1996
Shaking under the weight of Parkinson’s disease, Ali lighting the Olympic flame in Atlanta was an emotional event. Those in attendance, and the millions watching on TV, wept and cheered as Ali’s legend took on a whole new form.

14. THE COMEBACK
For Mike Tyson there was Peter McNeeley and for David Haye there was Mark de Mori. For Ali, after his three-year hiatus, there was Jerry Quarry – one of the best fighters in the division. Ali looked sharp and sliced Quarry to defeat in three.

13. BECOMING ALI
In 1961, two years after his interest was tweaked by the Black Muslims, Clay became absorbed in the religion. Immediately before the 1964 Liston bout, Clay’s father announced that his son had joined the Nation of Islam. Afterwards, Clay became Cassius X, before settling on Muhammad Ali.

12. PROPHET OF DOOM
Before he trounced the ageing but still capable Archie Moore, Clay chirped: “Don’t block the aisle and don’t block the door. You will all go home after round four.” His prophecy, as with almost all of his predictions at this time, came true.

11. THE JAWBREAKER
Expected to beat Ken Norton and secure another shot at his old title, Ali was left nursing a broken jaw and his second professional defeat. Angelo Dundee claimed the injury occurred early in the 12-rounder, but Ali refused to quit.

10. THREE TIMES A CHAMP
The end was close in 1978, yet Ali was able to roll back the years at 36, even dance again, when he revenged Leon Spinks to become world heavyweight champion for a record-breaking third time.

9. IMMACULATE THRASHING
Many fans point to the 1966 three-round demolition of Cleveland Williams as Ali’s finest performance – and with good reason. In time like never before, his hands and feet colluded to create a beating that remains gloriously hypnotic.

8. THE PHANTOM PUNCH
The eternally controversial 1965 rematch with Liston should not be remembered among Ali’s greatest performances due to the fishy finish. However, images of him snarling over the fallen Sonny are among the most iconic of the 20th century.

7. FIGHT OF THE CENTURY
With their friendship buried forever, Ali and Frazier collided in 1971 in the most anticipated fight of all-time. “Smokin’ ” Joe was unstoppable, dropping Ali in the last round before winning on points. It was Ali’s first loss, and the platform to reinvention.

6. THRILLA IN MANILA
Ali and Frazier saved their most barbaric dance for last. In 1975, with the grudge tied at 1-1, the pair went to war one last time. After 14 torturous rounds, Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch refused to let his virtually blind charge out for the final session.

5. GOLD STANDARD
One day after winning light-heavyweight gold at the Rome Olympics in 1960, Clay approached then-heavyweight king, Floyd Patterson. “Look after that heavyweight title,” he said. “Keep it warm for me in the next two years when I will be ready to take it off you.”

4. ANTI-WAR
Ali was stripped of the world heavyweight title in 1967 because he refused to serve in the US Army. “How can I kill a man when I pray five times a day?” he asked. His stance on the Vietnam war – which cost him three of his peak years – smashed through racial boundaries, and made him an amabassador for peace.

3. SHOOK UP THE WORLD
Few thought 22-year-old Clay had it in him to beat the fearsome Sonny Liston in 1964. After six rounds of torment, Liston – citing a shoulder injury – could take no more. As Clay celebrated, “I shook up the world”, a legend was born.

2. THE BIKE THIEF
At the age of 12, Clay cycled his red and white Schwinn to the Louisville Home Show due to the free popcorn and hot dogs on offer. While there, his bike was stolen. Incensed, Clay approached local boxing trainer, policeman Joe Martin, and learned to box.

1. STOPPING GEORGE FOREMAN
The 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ is arguably the most famous fight in history, and the ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics perhaps the sport’s best-known game-plan. Ali’s eighth-round knockout of the invincible man sends shivers down the spine, 42 years on.

Boxing news – Newsletter

Current Issue