“Rumble young man rumble…”
These were words shouted out by Bundini Brown to Muhammad Ali.
“Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee…”
Ali, in the midst of a tough bout would sometimes smile at Brown.
“…you can’t hit what your eyes can’t see!…”
Ali would shake his fist and roll his eyes. And he would then proceed to win his boxing match. He was one of the most eloquent speakers I’d ever heard. His dark eyes were piercing, cloudy when angry, shining when full of mischief.
This young man would also go on to shake the world.
Ali would somehow win, lose, and recapture the most prestigious, and lucrative, sporting title in the world. The Undisputed World heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. He won the title a record three times.
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. had 61 professional fights with a phenomenal 56 wins, 37 K.O.’s, and only 5 losses. This remarkable man also represented the United States in the summer Olympics in Rome. He won the Gold Medal in the Light-Heavyweight class.
His first professional fight was against Tunney Hunsaker on 10/29/1960. He won via decision in the 6th round. A result that would be repeated many times over decades and beyond.
Ali was trained by Angelo Dundee. He fought for the title against the much feared Sonny Liston in 1964 wherein he won the championship. Ali’s defenses of his title include bouts against all the top contenders from around the world including: Henry Cooper-England, Karl Mildenberger-Germany, Oscar Bonavena-Argentina, George Chuvalo-Canada, as well as many others. He fought in the Bahamas, Philippines, Germany, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Zaire, Indonesia, Ireland, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, England, and the United States. He was our U.S. Champ but he was also an ambassador to the world.
This remarkable man also defended his title against worthy opponents including the U.S. government, more on that later. He fought some of the best fighters of his day: Jerry Quarry, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, the great Archie Moore, Joe Bugner, Larry Holmes.
Ali refused to be drafted into the military during the controversial Vietnam Conflict. He was therefore stripped of his title amongst other nefarious punishments. Many think he was being punished for joining the Nation of Islam. But Ali believed in peace.
“I don’t have no quarrel with the Yellow man…he has done nothing to me…”
“The Black Man has suffered more from the White Man in this country.”
This unique, intelligent athlete was unable to fight for nearly three years while his case wandered through a legal maze which finally ended up in the United States Supreme Court. After all that time the highest court in the land ruled in his favor. It could be argued that, in hindsight, he may have been completely right in his statements regarding rights and justice.
This all set up what was called The Fight of the Century. In 1971 Ali would fight “Smokin'” Joe Frazier for 15 rounds in the hallowed confines of Madison Square Gardens for the heavyweight title. Frazier was the current champ after having defeated all contenders in fight-offs for Ali’s vacated title.
Frazier was an imposing fighter. He was from Philly, well known for producing rough and tough boxers. He was known to posses one of the most powerful left hook punches of any era. What is interesting is that Ali, who was so so difficult to hit proved to be vulnerable to only one type of punch.
The left hook.
Ali had been knocked down by left hooks before. One prominent incident was against the gritty fighter Henry Cooper. The crafty southpaw, though undersized, Mildenberger gave him one of his most difficult bouts ever.
Millions listened on the radio to this fight which lasted 15 grueling rounds. This duel is possibly the greatest boxing match ever fought. These two worthy and well matched opponents fought with all their heart and physical skills. Both had to be hospitalized afterward. The entire nation and definitely the sporting world watched this bout with both awe and admiration.
In the 15th round an aggressive and brave Frazier hit Ali with a beautifully thrown left hook. It caught him on the jaw and Ali went down. Most fighters would have been vanquished by such a tremendous blow. Incredibly Ali stood up tall in his corner. In films of the fight it can be seen that Ali has a sizable lump on the right side of his face. Frazier seems to be surprised when Ali gets up. The fight ends.
Joe Frazier is declared the undisputed champ and rightfully so. But even with his hurt jaw Ali talks and talks. His is the spirit that will not be kept down.
His story is not over in the least.
To be continued….