May 31, 2003

Muhammad Ali

(info about Muhammad Ali)

Art of boxing

Thomas Kieller

Muhammad Ali looks at Sonny Liston on the canvas.

The greatest – Sharp in the ring with his quick hands and captivating in society with his vivid prose, he fashioned boxing by his unique style.

Let's take a step back in time

The American population lived, in the sixties, a cultural dilemma where the two principal preoccupations were war and equality of rights for the black people. Leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King took a stand against racism and they claimed their deep disagreement with the racial prejudices that the black community had to endure. Other Americans showed their firm opposition to the Vietnam war. Whichever, it's the burst of the United States. The manifestations which were more and more frequent put on the table a questioning of the values of the time. It is at the dawn of this societal shock that the young Cassius (Ali) started his professional career and he was ready to play a predominant role in this movement of change.

Beginning – 1960

Before he adopted his traditional Muslim name, the young Cassius Clay already demonstrated to the public his unique talent. However, his boxing technique was really unorthodox. Often, he dropped his guard voluntarily! Cassius preferred to avoid the fists of his opponents with his reflex and efficient footwork. Clearly faster and more talented than his adversaries, he dominated them easily.

Already, he had a lot of confidence and said frequently that he was the strongest and that nobody could beat him. The public who had seen him box on the television show "Tomorrow's champion" didn't like his confident and arrogant manner. In spite of that unfavorable opinion, he delivered the goods.

At 18 years of age, he won all the possible titles as an amateur. In the National Golden Gloves, he fought an awesome battle. His opponent, a black champion of the American army named Allen Hudson, sent him to the canvas in the first round. However, Cassius didn't give up. He stood up and replied to his adversary by winning by a technical knockout in the third round. This victory gave him the right to go to the Summer Olympic Games in Rome (1960). In front of the Romans, he won the gold medal in the light-heavyweight category. The only thing to do, after, for Cassius was to leap into the professional ring.


At the top of his career, Muhammad Ali was a heavyweight with great agility which is comparable to boxers in the super middleweight category (the 168 pounds). He could even box with his left hand at his side while he evaded the blows by stepping back. He avoided danger with quickness under the scream of joy of the fans present.

Moreover, he had the fastest hands of his category. His left jab could literally dictate the fight. He exhausted his opponents by his repeated blows to the face and body. Even if he was considered as an agile boxer more than a hard hitter, it was important to respect his fist. During his 30 first fights, he won 24 times by KO or TKO. There's no doubt that he could hit hard and he could send his adversary to the canvas.


With his great confidence, he defied his opponents. Even the greatest boxers tasted his lyricism.

"If you sign to fight me, increase your insurance.
Ali's got a left, Ali's got a right.
If he hits you once, you're asleep for the night."

He didn't stop with a bunch of words. He dared to predict the round in which he would knockout his opponent. After that, he described the fight. For the first boxing match with Sonny Liston, Ali told the public that Sonny would become the first human satellite.

All this parading about generated a wild range of emotions for his fans and his detractors. Indeed, people reacted to his comments particularly when he proclaimed himself the greatest. "I am the greatest", he shouted in the ring.

However, when the ring bell sounded, his beautiful speeches gave place to boxing. So much so, his adversaries had to be ready for the rumble.

His fights in the center of the ring and in life

He didn't have difficulties when he became a professional. From 1963 to 1964, Cassius Clay won his first 19 confrontations by sending 16 of his opponents to the floor. This series of victories led him to the heavyweight championship.

Clay vs Liston

In 1964, Sonny Liston, an ex-prisoner, was dominating the heavyweight division with his fists. Two years before, he had dethroned Floyd Patterson in only 2 min. 6 s. The colossal Liston seemed untouchable.

The experts thought that the champion would defend his title easily. However, Cassius would make them eat their words, big time. That night in Miami, he danced around the flat-footed champion and hit him with a flow of jabs. Also, he connected with a lot of combinations which had weakened little by little his opponent. In the beginning of the 7th round, Liston, visibly exhausted, refused to pursue the fight. When the fallen champion was regaining his strength in his corner, Clay was shouting to the astounded journalists: "Who is the greatest? Eat your words! I shook up the world!". The shock that Clay started was far from over.

The day following the fight, he announced that he accepted to convert himself to Islam and that he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. This announcement shocked a lot of people in the white community who now knew that he was attending, since three years, the Nation of Islam meetings, a highly contested group. As a consequence, he lost a lot of black and white fans. Moreover, the World Boxing Association (WBA) refused to sanction the revenge match against Liston. The given reason, which is very doubtful, is the name change!

Ali didn't step back. He continued on his way. A year later, he faced Liston one more time. This time, he hammered him so much that Sonny was KO'd in the 1st round. Turning the page on the Liston case, Ali fought many other good boxers such as Floyd Patterson, Henry Cooper and Brian London who fell down before him.

Vietnam war

Ali was still harassed for his convictions. In 1966, he was declared good for the military service. However, he was totally in disagreement on the matter of the Vietnam war. He responded to a journalist's question by chanting this poem:

"Keep asking me, no matter how long
On the war in Vietnam, I sing this song
I ain't got no quarrel with the Viet Cong."

In April 1967, Ali refused to join the US Army by claiming the status of a conscientious objector. Ten days later, he was committed for trial before the federal grand jury. This jury condemned him. After, the judge imposed on him the maximal sentence, which was five years of imprisonment and a 10,000 dollar fine. Without delay, his passport was taken from him. Even worse, he did not have the right, anymore, to box in the United States. Without a boxing license, the WBA authorities took from him his heavyweight world championship title. This course of events prevented Ali from boxing for three years and a half just at the moment when the experts considered that he was at top of his art.

Unable to win his living with his fists, he decided to tell his point of view in many American universities. In his speeches, he spoke about war and the equality of rights for the black people.

Because the situation was not progressing to his desire, Ali announced in February 1970 his retirement from boxing. However, in June of the same year, a decision of the Supreme Court made him reconsider. His condemnation was annulled because the FBI did illegal monitoring. The authorities present did not say a word on Ali's civil rights that without a doubt were neglected. The bad joke was finally over.

Ali didn't reproach anybody on this matter. On the contrary, he said that it was not worth it to punish them for the actions they believed were right. This was his position on the situation. He did not institute proceedings against anybody to obtain his title back. He preferred to climb, another time, all the steps leading to the championship.

After three years of inactivity, Ali started off rapidly by beating by TKO Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. After the second fight, Ali called Joe Frazier.

Ali vs Frazier

Frazier, the WBA champion, accepted Ali's duel without hesitating. Since the time Ali was arrested, suspended and robbed of his heavyweight champion title, Frazier ruled easily the category.

The two boxers had at that time a virgin record, no defeats. On Frazier's card, we could read 26-0 with 23 KOs. A true demolisher! Ali's record was also dazzling 31-0 with 25 KOs. The difference was that Frazier was without a doubt at the top of his career, while Ali was coming back from three years of inactivity. He had only two preparatory fights. Was he really ready?

New York, March 8, 1971 – The night of the fight, a frenzy could be felt in Madison Square Garden. Everybody understood the stake of that confrontation. The crowd which was filling the Garden to full capacity was excited. The 700 journalists, who could obtain their accreditation for the fight, were also agitated.

In the 1st round, we could see that Ali had lost his touch. His hands were less incisive and his footwork did not follow the rhythm. He decided to face the champion up front. At this game, Smoking Joe was brutal. With his habitual will and desire to win, Frazier continually rushed Ali and bludgeoned him with his favorite hit, the left hook.

Ali had to rely on his speed and agility to avoid the brutal attacks of this hard hitter, but more often than not his defense flinched. Sometimes, Ali thwarted Frazier's assaults by letting fly jabs to the face. Then for many rounds, the boxers traded heavy blows. The rhythm of the fight was unbridled.

Ali predicted that Frazier would fall in the 6th round. This time, he was totally wrong. Frazier succeeded to corner Ali on the cables and struck him with powerful blows to the head and body. Ali could only do one thing, take the punishment. However, he made it to the sound of the bell.

In the 9th round, Ali took the bull by the horns by launching a flow of combinations. The fight was long from over. In the 15th round, Frazier launched the final assault by landing a left hook which spontaneously sent Ali to the canvas. One more time, Ali survived the fist of Frazier. Nevertheless, the outcome of the fight was decided. The verdict of the three judges was unequivocal. Frazier won the fight: 9-6, 11-4 and 8-6.

This first fight between Ali and Frazier was the most violent of the trilogy and the experts gave it the name "Century fight". It was appropriate.

After this loss, Ali had to win many fights to prove to the experts that he was still the number 1 challenger. In 23 months, he fought ten boxers. He vanquished all of them easily. Only one slight skid against Ken Norton slowed him down. Indeed, Norton had reserved him a surprise by beating him by decision. However, Ali obtained his rematch rapidly. This time, he prepared himself adequately and won the second confrontation.

Two years after the defeat against Frazier, Ali had his second chance and didn't miss it. He won the fight by a unanimous decision. However, the title was not at stake. A year before, Frazier lost in Jamaica against a newcomer, the young and prolific boxer George Foreman. The next step for Ali was unavoidably to face this solid hard hitter.

Ali vs Foreman

Mobutu, Zaire's dictator, wanted to attract the world's attention with this fight. And indisputably, the eyes of the whole world were turned momentarily towards this spot of Central Africa, precisely at Kinshasa. The fight between these two strong men is better known as the "Rumble in the jungle". It was indeed a shock of titans, but in the bush.

Contrary to the fight against Sonny Liston, Ali didn't make use of his speed to avoid the ferocious assaults of Foreman. Ali had opted totally for another strategy, the famous rope-a-dope. Intentionally, Ali fell on the cables and presented only his arms to Foreman. Like that, Ali was protecting his rib cage with his forearms and his face with his gloves. Seeing an opportunity, Foreman hurled onto Ali and launched his most powerful punches. Ali took all the blows like a bag of sand.

At the end of every round, Ali came out of his torpor to inflict on Foreman many quick combinations. Little by little the champion was weakening. Than at the end of the 8th round, Ali was attacking more vigorously Big George who was showing evident signs of fatigue. Ali struck Foreman with a series of combinations, and for the first time of his career, Foreman went to the floor. Tired and stunned, he didn't recover. The crowd was ecstatic. Ali won the heavyweight title like he did the first time by beating a colossus.

Ali vs Frazier – Part 3

In 1975, Ali boxed again another legendary fight against Joe Frazier. This last fight which would end the trilogy took place in Manila, Philippines. Again, the two boxers delivered a hard fight. After all, Ali was the strongest and won the "Thrilla in Manila". At the end of the fight, Ali fainted in his corner proving that he put a lot of energy to beat Frazier.

Last episodes

After this great victory, Ali defended with success his title six times. However, the young Olympic medalist Leon Spinks came and beat Ali in 1978. At 36 years old, Ali was not the same. He was not fast anymore. In spite of the fact that he was not at his prime, he was able to beat Spinks in a rematch. He became for the third time heavyweight champion. But he was unable to defend his crown. His time was simply past and he retired in 1981.

Far from his last achievement

Later on, a member of his team announced that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease which was affecting his motor capacities and his elocution. In the general opinion, the malady was provoked by the accumulation of blows to the head during his career. Nevertheless, he didn't stop there.

Indeed, he was implicated in many humanitarian tasks. Just before the Gulf war (1990), Ali went to Iraq to negotiate a release of hostages. At the Atlanta games in 1996, he lighted up the Olympic flame before millions of viewers even if he was shaking because of the malady. Moreover, he has given millions of dollars to diverse organizations, among them numerous schools. He did all of this without regard of color or religion. In spite of his sensational comments that he made during his career, Ali developed a deep respect for men and women.

Boxing, his life

Ali didn't follow the easy road. In 1967, the authorities sent him to the canvas by taking his title and by forbidding him to box. Still, he didn't abdicate. He stood up, fought and he became, once again, the heavyweight champion of the world. By beating the solid hard hitters of his generation, Ali proved without a doubt that he mastered his art. Liston, Frazier and Foreman all went down in front of him. His numerous achievements led him in September 1987 to the Boxing Hall of Fame.

His sensational comments, crazy talent and physical qualities didn't leave anybody cold. He shaped his sport with a unique style. Ali is the Renaissance of boxing.