|Happy 67th Birthday to Muhammad Ali!
By Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (Jan 17, 2009)
The self proclaimed “Greatest” celebrates his 67th birthday on January 17th. Ali is among a group of former heavyweight champions born in the month of January.
Earlier this month “Big” George Foreman celebrated his 60th birthday on January 10th. Just after him “Smokin” Joe Frazier celebrated his 65th birthday on January 12th. Anyone see Joe in the social security line?
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky and has lived in numerous places like Philadelphia, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois and back to Kentucky.
I had the fortune of meeting him in Philly in 1972 and several times at his Deer Lake camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania. He was always good for a laugh! Whether you liked him or not you had to laugh if you were around him unless you were Joe Frazier or one of his other victims. I mean opponents.
Ali helped one of the once most exciting divisions at a time not so exciting become one of the most exciting! The days of dominance of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis never brought the caliber of opposition Ali met in the who’s who of boxing.
In 1960 Ali won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics for the USA team. Who could forget his prediction in the pro ranks of “Moore in 4?” It was 1962 when Ali called the round on Archie Moore who still holds the record for most knockouts with 131!
In 1963 in London Ali hit the canvas from a Henry Cooper left hook. He struggled back to his corner at the end of the round and suddenly “the torn glove” appeared (Dundee?). It gave Ali minutes to re-coup and come back in the 6th to stop a bloody Cooper.
In 1964 Ali shocked not only the boxing world, but the world as a whole in winning the heavyweight championship of the world from the “big bear”, Charles “Sonny” Liston!
In 1965 there was the “phantom” punch they felled Liston in a rematch at 2:12 of the 1st round as the referee the former heavyweight champ “Jersey” Joe Walcott caused confusion on whether Liston beat the count or not. Was this to be the most famous dive since the Jack Johnson and Jess Willard fight?
In 1966 who could forget the many replays of the destruction of Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams? Ali’s hand speed was hard to keep up with unless you watched it in slow motion taking down the hard hitting Williams.
In 1967 big Ernie Terrell claiming Ali damaged his vision by forcing his face to be rubbed against the ropes. Huh? Somehow Terrell went the entire 15 rounds as Ali brutalized him for something Terrell had said prior to the fight.
Due to not entering the military Ali was out of boxing from 1967 to 1970. In 1971 he would face the man who eventually held his crown one “Smokin” Joe Frazier. In a very close fight going into the 15th and final round a battered Joe Frazier nailed Ali with his famous left hook to the jaw that dropped Ali like a sack of potatoes. Ali would regain his feet and take it to Frazier but it was not enough to overcome the knockdown. It was the difference in the fight as the winner, not the loser would be admitted to the hospital.
Ali would win 10 straight before Ken Norton broke his jaw in San Diego in 1973 earning Norton the decision. After defeating both Norton and Frazier in rematches Ali would challenge “Big” George Foreman for his heavyweight title in Zaire, Africa in 1974. The people of the country rallied around the challenger, not the champ. After a postponement the “Rumble in the Jungle” would take place as Ali introduced the world to “the rope a dope” and regained the title as Foreman punched himself out on Ali’s arms! Angelo Dundee almost had a heart attack with that strategy of Ali’s!
In 1975 Ali “slipped” in the 9th round as the “Bayonne Bleeder” Chuck Wepner stood over him. Ali claimed he stepped on his foot and eventually stopped Wepner in the 15th.
Also in 1975 some 7 months and 2 fights later Ali and Frazier would bring us possibly the greatest heavyweight championship match in boxing history called “the Thrilla in Manila!” On the brink of defeat time and time again Ali would outlast the swollen faced Frazier after 14 rounds. Ali sat on his stool completely exhausted when legendary trainer Eddie Futch told his warrior, Frazier, he had had enough.
In 1976 in what I called one of the most controversial decisions in a heavyweight title fight Ali retained his title against Philly’s Jimmy Young. In 1977 Ali withstood the punching power of “the acorn”, Earnie Shavers. In 1978 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks with only 7 fights to his credit upsets Ali! Then before 63, 350 fans in New Orleans Ali would regain his title 7 months later in which would be his “last harrah.” Losses to Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick in 1981 would end his career.
While Ali may not have been as popular as Louis and Rocky Marciano during his active days in boxing he won the hearts of many since as an ambassador for boxing. He has negotiated the release of our troops more successfully than Jimmy Carter. Though his voice has been reduced to a whisper I can still here him say “timber” in front of Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain as the over 7 foot Goliath reconsidered challenging Ali and of course the famous “I am the Greatest” after his victory over Liston winning his first world title.
Love him or hate him, Ali has brought more entertainment to the sport of boxing than anyone in the history of the sport. The once most recognizable figure in the world stepped out of a limo in Newark, New Jersey during a gang fight. They stopped fighting and ran over to see “the Greatest”! Need I say more?
e-mail Ken at: email@example.com
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