Muhammad Ali, bust portrait
World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg.
Source: Library of Congress Prints
& Photographs Division
New York World-Telegram
& the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection
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Vintage Original Photograph
Shaun Boothe - U.A.B of MUHAMMAD ALI
Ali was known for his fighting style, which he described as "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee". Throughout his career Ali made a name for himself with great handspeed, as well as swift feet and taunting tactics. While Ali was renowned for his fast, sharp out-fighting style, he also had a great chin, and displayed great courage and an ability to take a punch throughout his career.
Clay was first directed toward boxing by the white Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, who encountered the then twelve-year-old Cassius Clay fuming over the fact that his bicycle had been stolen. However, without Martin knowing, Clay also began training with Fred Stoner, an African-American trainer working at the local community center. In this way, Clay could make $4 a week on Tomorrow's Champions, a local, weekly TV show that Martin hosted, while benefiting from the coaching of the more experienced Stoner, who continued working with Clay throughout his amateur career.
Clay's last amateur loss was to Kent Green of Chicago, who could say he was the last person to defeat the champion until Ali lost to Joe Frazier in 1971 as a pro. Under Stoner's guidance, Cassius Clay went on to win 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 record was 100 wins, with five losses, when he ended his amateur career.
Ali states (in his 1975 autobiography) that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service at a 'whites-only' restaurant, and fighting with a white gang. Whether this is true is still debated, although he was given a replacement medal during the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he lit the torch to start the games.
After his Olympic triumph, Clay returned to Louisville to begin his professional career. There, on October 29, 1960, he won his first professional fight, a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker, who was the police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia.
"The Greatest" Muhammad Ali
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Standing tall, at 6-ft, 3-in (1.91 m), Clay had a highly unorthodox style for a heavyweight boxer. Rather than the normal style of carrying the hands high to defend the face, he instead relied on foot speed and quickness to avoid punches and carried his hands low. From 1960 to 1963, the young fighter amassed a record of 19-0, with 15 knockouts. He defeated boxers such as Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, Lamar Clark (who had won his previous 40 bouts by knockout), Doug Jones and Henry Cooper.
Muhammed Ali vs. Henry Cooper
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Clay built a reputation by correctly predicting the round in which he would "finish" several opponents, and by boasting before his triumphs. Clay admitted he adopted the latter practice from "Gorgeous" George Wagner, a popular professional wrestling champion in the Los Angeles area who drew thousands of fans. Often referred to as "the man you loved to hate," George could incite the crowd with a few heated remarks, and Ali followed suit.
Among Clay's victims were Sonny Banks (who knocked him down during the bout), Alejandro Lavorante, and the aged Archie Moore (a boxing legend who had fought over 200 previous fights, and who had been Clay's trainer prior to Angelo Dundee). Clay had considered continuing using Moore as a trainer following the bout, but Moore had insisted that the cocky "Louisville Lip" perform training camp chores such as sweeping and dishwashing. He also considered having his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, as a manager, but instead hired Dundee.
At the time of the first fight in 1964, Liston was the world heavyweight champion, having beaten Floyd Patterson by a first round knockout in September 1962. With an impressive knockout record to that point, Liston was a fighter whom many other heavyweights were reluctant to meet in the ring. For example, Henry Cooper said that if Cassius Clay [Ali's name at the time] won, he was interested in a title fight, but if Liston won, he was not going to get in the ring with him. Cooper's manager Jim Wicks said, "We don't even want to meet Liston walking down the same street." Liston was an ex-con with ties to organized crime whose ominous, glowering demeanor was so central to his image that Esquire Magazine caused a controversy by posing him in a Santa Claus hat for its December 1963 cover.
Cassius Clay, on the other hand, was a glib, fast-talking 22-year-old challenger who enjoyed the spotlight. He had won the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics and had great hand and foot speed — not to mention a limitless supply of braggadocio and confidence.
Nevertheless, Clay had been knocked down by journeyman Sonny Banks in 1962 and by the hard-hitting Henry Cooper in 1963. Few observers and fans believed he could beat Liston. Furthermore, the brash Clay was not liked by most reporters. Lester Bromberg's forecast in the New York World-Telegram was typical. Bromberg predicted, "It will last almost the entire first round." The Los Angeles Times' Jim Murray observed, "The only thing at which Clay can beat Liston is reading the dictionary," adding that the faceoff between two unlikeable athletes would be "the most popular fight since Hitler and Stalin--180 million Americans rooting for a double knockout." The New York Times' regular boxing writer Joe Nichols declined to cover the fight, assuming it would be a mismatch. By fight time, Clay was a seven to one betting underdog.
The television series "I've Got A Secret" did multiple segments about the title fight. Panelists Bill Cullen, Henry Morgan and Betsy Palmer predicted that Liston would win in the third, second, and first rounds, respectively. Host Garry Moore was even more pessimistic about Clay's chances, estimating a Liston Knockout "in the very early moments of round one," adding, "if I were Cassius, I would catch a cab and leave town". Actor Hal March went a step further: "I think the fight will end in the dressing room. I think [Clay] is going to faint before he comes out."
The night before the first fight, on February 24, 1964, the show featured Clay and Liston's sparring partners as guests. Harvey Jones brought with him a lengthy rhyming boast from Cassius Clay:
"Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat, if Liston goes back an inch farther he'll end up in a ringside seat. Clay swings with a left, clay swings with a right, just look at young Cassius carry the fight. Liston keeps backing but there's not enough room, it's a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom. Then Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing, and the punch raised the bear clear out of the ring. Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown, but he can't start counting until Sonny comes down. Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic and our radaring stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic. Who on Earth thought, when they came to the fight, that they would witness the launching of a human satellite. Hence the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money, that they would see a total eclipse of Sonny."
– Cassius Clay, As read on CBS' I've Got a Secret.
Jesse Bowdry brought a much terser written message from Sonny Liston:
"Cassius, you're my million dollar baby, so please don't let anything happen to you before tomorrow night."
– Sonny Liston, As read on CBS' I've Got a Secret.
The following week, "I've Got a Secret" brought on two sportswriters, whose secret was that they had been the only writers to correctly predict Clay's victory.
During training, Clay took to driving his entourage in a bus over to the site where Liston was training, and repeatedly called Liston the "big, ugly bear". Liston grew increasingly irritated as the motormouthed Clay continued hurling insults ("After the fight I'm gonna build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug. Liston even smells like a bear. I'm gonna give him to the local zoo after I whup him... if Sonny Liston whups me, I'll kiss his feet in the ring, crawl out of the ring on my knees, tell him he's the greatest, and catch the next jet out of the country."). Clay insisted to a skeptical press that he would knock out Liston in eight rounds.
Clay's outbursts continued at the pre-fight physical the day before the event. Clay worked himself into such a frenzy that his heartrate registered an astonishing 120 beats per minute. Many observers took this to mean that Clay was either terrified or not in the proper shape. However, Clay's heartrate was back to normal by the official weigh-in.
Liston's title defense against Clay was held on February 25, 1964, in Miami Beach, Florida. The fight began with Clay showing a lot of movement, using a fast, effective jab and quick flurries of combinations. This made it difficult for Liston to score with his slower armspeed and heavy punches. In the third round, Clay opened up his attack and hit Liston with several combinations, causing a bruise under Liston's right eye and a cut under his left. During the fourth round, Clay coasted, keeping his distance. However, when he returned to his corner, Clay started complaining that there was something burning in his eyes and that he could not see.
It has been theorized that a substance used to stop Liston's cuts from bleeding (possibly Monsel's Solution) may have caused the irritation, but this has never been confirmed. In any case, Angelo Dundee rinsed Clay's eyes with a sponge and pushed him off his stool to begin the fifth round, telling him to stay away from Liston.
Clay managed to survive the fifth round. By the sixth his sight had cleared, and he resumed control of the fight, landing combinations of punches seemingly at will. On his stool following the sixth round, Liston told his cornermen that he couldn't continue, complaining of a shoulder injury. He failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and Clay was declared the winner by technical knockout.
Cassius Clay vs Liston 1964 - I am the Greatest
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Sensing that he had made history, Clay sprang to the center of the ring, did a victory jig and then quickly ran to the ropes to remind sportswriters that he had told them so all along. In a scene that has been rebroadcast countless times over the ensuing decades, Clay repeatedly yelled "I'm the greatest!" and "I shook up the world!"
Elijah Muhammad addresses followers including Cassius Clay
"I shook up the world!"
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World Telegram & Sun photo by Stanley Wolfson.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection
Because of the unexpected ending of the first bout, boxing authorities ordered a rematch, this time with Liston as challenger. Originally scheduled for Boston, Massachusetts in November 1964, the fight was postponed six months when Ali needed emergency surgery for a strangulated hernia. However, since the promoters did not have a license in Massachusetts, the fight eventually was moved to a small auditorium in Lewiston, Maine, the state's second largest city. Due to the remote location (140 miles north of Boston), only 2,434 fans were present, setting the all-time record for the lowest attendance for a heavyweight championship fight.
The ending of the second fight remains one of the most controversial in boxing history. Midway through the first round, Liston fell to the canvas, in what many have argued was not a legitimate knockdown. Referee Jersey Joe Walcott, a former world heavyweight champion himself, appeared confused after Ali refused to reatreat to a neutral corner. Instead, Ali stood over his fallen opponent, gesturing and yelling at him to get up. The moment was captured by ringside photographer Neil Leifer, and has become one of the iconic images of sport. Ali then posed over him, with his fists in the air celebrating the knockdown. While Walcott tried to sort out the situation, 20 seconds passed, and by then Liston had gotten to his feet and resumed boxing. Nat Fleischer, publisher of The Ring, finally alerted Walcott that Liston had spent more than the requisite 10 seconds on the canvas, and Walcott stopped the fight — awarding Ali a first-round knockout.
Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston (1965)
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In November 1965 Ali fought Floyd Patterson in his second title defense including his rematch with Liston. Patterson lost by technical knockout at the end of the 12th round in a bout that mirrored what he would later do against Ernie Terrell, savagely beating his opponent but refusing to knock him out. Ali was scheduled to fight WBA champion Ernie Terrell (the WBA stripped Ali of his title after he announced his conversion) in a unification bout in Toronto on March 29, but Terrell backed out and Ali won a 15-round decision against substitute opponent George Chuvalo. He then went to England and defeated Henry Cooper by stoppage on cuts and Brian London. Ali's next defense was against German southpaw Karl Mildenberger, the first German to fight for the title since Max Schmeling. In one of the tougher fights of his life, Ali stopped his opponent in round 12.
Ali returned to the United States in November 1966 to fight Cleveland "Big Cat" Williams in the Houston Astrodome, in front of an indoor record 35,460 fight fans. A year and a half before the fight, Williams had been shot in the stomach at point-blank range by a Texas policeman. As a result, Williams went into the fight missing one kidney and 10 feet of his small intestine, and with a shriveled left leg from nerve damage from the bullet. Ali beat Williams in three rounds.
On February 6, 1967, Ali returned to a Houston boxing ring to fight Terrell in what became one of the uglier fights in boxing. Terrell had angered Ali by calling him Clay, and the champion vowed to punish him for this insult. During the fight, Ali kept shouting at his opponent, "What's my name, Uncle Tom ... What's my name?" Terrell suffered 15 rounds of brutal punishment, losing 13 rounds on two judges' scorecards, but Ali did not knock him out. Analysts, including several who spoke to ESPN on the sports channel's "Ali Rap" special, speculated that the fight continued only because Ali wanted to thoroughly punish and humiliate Terrell. After the fight, Tex Maule wrote, "It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty." Ali returned to Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 22, 1967 beating Zora Folley in a TKO after 7 rounds.
Appearing for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces on April 28, 1967 in Houston, he 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, on that same day, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other boxing commissions followed suit.
In 1970, Ali was allowed to fight again. the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Ali had been unjustly denied a boxing license.
Ali and Frazier met in the ring on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden. The fight, known as '"The Fight of the Century," was one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts of all time and remains one of the most famous. It featured two skilled, undefeated fighters, both of whom had legitimate claims to the heavyweight crown.
The fight lived up to the hype, and Frazier punctuated his victory by flooring Ali with a hard left hook in the 15th and final round.
In 1974, following splitting two bouts with Ken Norton (one Ali lost in which Norton broke his jaw) Ali fought a rematch against Joe Frazier, Ali-Frazier II, which was notable for a pre-fight brawl on ABC Sports sparked by Ali calling Frazier "ignorant." In the fight at Madison Square Garden, Ali won a unanimous decision.
Best match Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman
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In one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, Ali regained his title on October 30, 1974 by defeating champion George Foreman in their bout in Kinshasa, Zaire. Hyped as "The Rumble In The Jungle," the fight was promoted by Don King.
In October 1975, Ali fought Joe Frazier for the third time. The bout was promoted as the Thrilla in Manila by Don King, who had ascended to prominence following the Ali-Foreman fight. The anticipation was enormous for this final clash between two great heavyweights. Ali believed Frazier was "over the hill" by that point, and his overconfidence may have caused him to train less than he could have. Ali's frequent insults, slurs and demeaning poems increased the anticipation and excitement for the fight, but also enraged a determined Frazier. Regarding the fight, Ali famously remarked, "It will be a killa... and a chilla... and a thrilla... when I get the gorilla in Manila."
Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier 3 - Thrilla in Manila Mix
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The fight lasted 14 grueling rounds in temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Ali won many of the early rounds, but Frazier staged a comeback in the middle rounds. By the late rounds, however, Ali had reasserted control and the fight was stopped when Frazier was unable to answer the bell for the 15th and final round (his eyes were swollen closed). Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to allow Frazier to continue. Ali, in one of the toughest fights of his entire career, was quoted as saying, "It was the closest thing to death that I could feel." Another version had Ali saying, "It was like death. Closest thing to dyin' that I know of." The fight was ultimately detrimental to the health of both fighters, Frazier would retire after losing a fight to George Foreman, while Ali would continue to box but with skills that were beginning to decline.
in September 1976, at Yankee Stadium, Ali faced Ken Norton in their third fight, with Ali winning a close 15-round decision.
In February 1978 an aged and out of shape Ali lost the title to 1976 Olympic Champion Leon Spinks. Ali defeated Spinks seven months later, winning the Heavyweight Title a third time, following which he retired. Ali's retirement was short lived. In 1980 he returned to face Larry Holmes to win the heavyweight title back an unprecedented four times. By this time Ali was already on medication for what developed into Parkinson's Disease (or syndrome) and was unable to recover his former skills or stamina. Angelo Dundee refused to let his man come out for the 11th round, in what became Ali's first and only loss by anything other than a decision. Ali's final fight, a loss by unanimous decision after 10 rounds, was to up-and-coming challenger Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Muhammad Ali defeated almost 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 is an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and holds wins over seven other Hall of Fame inductees. He is also one of only three boxers to be named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated. He is regarded as one of the best pound for pound boxers in history. He was a masterful self-promoter, and his psychological tactics before, during, and after fights became legendary. It was his athleticism and boxing skill, however, that enabled him to scale the heights and sustain his position for so many years.
Ali lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his fourth wife, Yolanda 'Lonnie' Ali. They own a house in Berrien Springs, Michigan, which is for sale. On January 9, 2007, they purchased a house in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky.
The 12th Annual Keep Memory Alive Foundation
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MGM Grand Conference Center. Las Vegas, Nevada
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MUHAMMAD ALI (IN HIS OWN WORDS) part 1
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MUHAMMAD ALI (IN HIS OWN WORDS) part 2
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MUHAMMAD ALI (IN HIS OWN WORDS) part 3
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MUHAMMAD ALI (IN HIS OWN WORDS) part 4
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