PBS Showed Two-Part Special on Muhammad Ali This Week!
By Ken Hissner: On Sunday and Monday of this week, PBS showed a two-part special on Muhammad Ali. This article will tell what was shown along with this writers’ meeting with Ali and his career.
Ali called himself “The Greatest” to get the fans to hate him, which he did on purpose to build up his attendance at his fights. He got this from watching wrestler Gorgeous George who irritated the fans at events.
It showed Ali during his conversion to Islam at a mosque. Not entering the military draft was showed that cost him some 3 ½ years of boxing activity. The boxing commission withdrew his boxing license.
The film showed when Ali and his brother Rudy went into town during a rainstorm; Ali parked his bicycle, which would later be stolen. He went to a local PAL where boxing officer Joe Martin took him under his wing being the trainer. Martin, not impressed at first, stayed with young Ali.
Ali went to the community center where black trainer Fred Stoner ran the boxing program. He said he felt Stoner knew more than Martin. It showed Ali running in racing the local bus waving to the bus driver.
On Ali’s way to Rome Olympics, he stopped in Harlem, NY, hoping to meet his idol “Sugar” Ray Robinson. When Robinson showed up in his Cadillac convertible, he didn’t pay much attention to Ali though signing a photo.
In Rome, Ali met heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson whom he told he would meet in two years. Ali at the Olympics won three straight before meeting southpaw Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, whose mouth he had blooded in the third and final round winning the Olympic Gold Medal.
Ali flew back to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where he met some wealthy businessmen who gave him money that he went on to spend at local businesses. At 18, Ali was ready to go into the professional ranks. William Faversham, Jr., got eleven local businessmen to manage him to avoid the mobsters signing him. They gave him an $11,000 signing bonus and weekly salary, which he purchased his Cadillac though not having a driver’s license at the time.
Ali’s debut was against Tunney Hunsaker, 17-9-1, a policeman, winning by decision. Ali would go to former world champion Archie Moore’s “ Salt Mines” camp where Ali didn’t like the fact he had to do chores and left. Many years later, he would meet Moore in the ring, stopping him.
Faversham sent him to Angelo Dundee’s camp in Miami. On December 19th, 1960, he arrived in Miami when Dundee picked him up, taking him to a local hotel to live with a Jamaican heavyweight. He would go to the 5th Street Gym that Dundee ran. None were impressed with his style of hands to his side moving around the ring. Dundee decided to guide him rather than change his style in teaching him.
Ali defeated Herb Siler, 5-1, Tony Esperti, 9-5-2, Jim Robinson, 6-6-2, and Donnie Fleeman, 35-11-1, from December 1960 to February of 1961. He would spar with world champion Ingemar Johannsson who was preparing to defend his title against Floyd Patterson, embarrassing him until his trainer called a halt.
It showed Martin Luther King speaking on race matters in Louisville while Ali decided not to get involved. He purchased a Muslim record and found Abdul Rahman, who was selling newspapers about the Nation of Islam’s leader Elijah Muhammad. He went to the local hall, where he listened to a Muslim speaker talk about the religion.
During World War II, Elijah Muhammad refused induction into the military, replacing founder Farrad who mysteriously disappeared. In 1959 Mike Wallace, on his television show, showed the hatred that the black group had for white people.
Ali, at 20, predicted to break Floyd Patterson’s record as the youngest to win the title at 21. He went on to face Sonny Banks, 10-2, at Madison Square Garden, predicting Banks would fall in four. In the first round, a left hook to the jaw from Banks dropped Ali. In the second round, Ali bewildered Banks with his hand speed, stopping him in the fourth as predicted.
Ali talked about how he stopped George Logan, 24-7-1, Don Warner, 12-6-2, and Banks all in four rounds as predicted. Next, he defeated Billy Daniels, 16-0, stopping him in seven rounds. In July of 1962, he predicted Argentine’s Alejandro Lavorante, 19-3, would fall in seven and did. Then Archie Moore “Moore in four,” and he did. The 52-year-old Moore, 185-22-10, took the fight needing the money. Next was former professional football player Charlie Powell, 23-6-3, knocking him out in three rounds.
Ali would attend Muslim meetings that Malcolm X would lead. Malcolm X was forced from the Islamic group, and it was rumored after returning from the Middle East where he said: “whites and blacks lived together there and can here.” It was obvious the three people, all with the Muslim group who gunned him down, were sent there to put a hit on him.
Ali was shown with former world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey who said, “I don’t care if the kid can fight a lick I’m for him. He’s good for boxing.”
It showed in September of 1962 Patterson facing Sonny Liston in a title defense. Trainer Cus D’Amato didn’t like the fight. Patterson was stopped in round one. It showed mobster Frankie Carbo who got involved with Liston after he had won his first seventeen fights. Liston was 33-1 when he fought Ali.
In March of 1963, Ali met Doug Jones, 21-3-1, in Madison Square Garden. Ali had predicted Jones would fall in four but would go the limit with him. Scores were 8-1 and 5-4 twice while in a tough fight down to the wire. The crowd yelled “fix” and threw paper cups into the ring. Liston watched on television and said he would be locked up for killing him if they were to fight.
Ali was ranked No. 2 for the title and purchased that red Cadillac. He made a record album and was on the cover of Time Magazine. He predicted he’d be champ in 64! He was preparing for a fight in London with Great Britain and Empire champion Henry Cooper, 27-8-1, still known as Cassius Clay; he had Cooper a bloody mess starting in round two. In the fourth round, a left hook from Cooper dropped Ali. In between rounds, his trainer Angelo Dundee cut one of his gloves, giving Ali time to clear his head. In the next round, as predicted, Ali stopped Cooper, whose left eye was bleeding badly. Ali predicted, “Liston will fall in eight because I am great!”
Liston predicted if he came to me, I would kill him. If he runs, I will run him down and kill him. Liston went on to stop Patterson in the first round.
Ali showed up at a casino in Las Vegas agitating Liston. Ali would be attending Temple No. 7, where Malcolm X was speaking and was asked if he was a Muslim. He said, “I don’t know!” Ali asked his group of managers for more money to appear against Liston and was told he would get paid a million dollars.
Ali showed up the night before their fight in a bus at 2 am in the morning, blowing the horn. He said, “you ugly bear will fall in eight but may fall in seven knocking you to heaven!”
Edith Clay, Ali’s grandmother, was shown being interviewed, saying, “I pray for him!” Then, the future manager of Mike Tyson, Jim Jacobs was shown with Ali along with the Beatles! Drew Bundini Brown was shown with Ali saying, “I’m going to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!”
A month before fighting, Liston Ali spoke at a Muslim meeting to the dislike of his father. Promoter Bill McDonald told Ali not to speak about becoming a Muslim, or the fight is off. On the morning of the fight, Ali showed up with a blue jeans jacket with “Bear Hunting” on the back. “Sugar” Ray Robinson appeared with him at the weigh-in. Liston predicted it would end in “two!” Ali was fined $2,500 for his actions at the weigh-in, and the ring physician said he had high blood pressure and might not be fit to fight. Later Ali’s doctor said he was fine.
On the night of the fight, Ali appeared in the crowd watching his brother Rudy defeat Chip Johnson by split decision on the undercard. Ali was an 8-1 underdog when he appeared in the ring that night.
Liston chased Ali in the first round using his jab that usually fell short as Ali danced around the ring. In the third round, Ali came out dominating Liston with his jab cutting Liston under the right eye, being cut for the first time in his career.
In the fourth round, Ali started blinking due to something in his eyes. In the corner, he told Dundee to cut the gloves off. Dundee pushed Ali out and told him to “stay the hell away!” They felt Liston had an ointment put on his gloves.
By round six, Ali was back in control, and his eyes were clear. In the corner, after Liston’s trainer put in his mouthpiece Liston spit it out! The fight was over. Liston was taken to a hospital and said, “that wasn’t the fighter I was supposed to fight. That guy could hit!”
Ali announced he was a Muslim after winning the title. Rumors were the mob put their money on Ali. It was rumored prior to the fight in the dressing room, someone took a baseball bat and whacked Liston’s left forearm so he couldn’t have his usual power in his jab.
In the rematch that was to be held in Boston, Ali was suffering with cramps in his stomach while having dinner. He had to have a hernia operation. He needed months of rest before returning to training.
Rumors were the mob was involved, so the event would be moved to Lewiston, Maine, in a small ice rink.
This writer met with a valet of Liston’s at Joe Frazier’s Gym in Philadelphia. He told me, “we were driving to the arena and pulled up to a red light. A bunch of kids on the corner were pointing to the back seat where Sonny was and laughing. I turned around, and he was sweating like a pig, and I knew the fix was in.”
It was May of 1965, and the match had former world heavyweight champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott assigned as the referee. In his fighting days, Walcott was also tied in with the mob in Camden, New Jersey.
Ali played with Liston for several minutes with Liston’s jab not making contact. All of a sudden, what Ali would later call the “anchor punch” that former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson used made contact on the chin of Liston, and down he went.
Most spectators didn’t feel it was flush enough to knock Liston down, but down he went. As Liston made a weak effort to get up, he rolled around the canvas as Ali refused to go to a neutral corner by referee Walcott who lost complete control of the count. The fight was stopped at 2:12 of the first round before a small crowd of 2,434.
In Ali’s first defense, he took on former champ Floyd Patterson, 43-4. Patterson refused to call him Ali but called him Clay. Ali punished him throughout the fight, not opening up on him but carrying him in order to punish him. Years later, Patterson’s former trainer Cus D’Amato told this writer that after the fight, he asked about Patterson’s back going out on him, causing the stoppage if he had his special shoe on? It seems he had one leg shorter than the other and needed it but didn’t use it.
In March of 1966 in Canada, he faced George Chuvalo, 34-11-2, who took a beating but went the distance. Next in London in a rematch with Cooper, 33-11-1, Ali again stopped him on cuts. Back in London again, he easily knocked out Brian London, 35-13, in 3 rounds. Then off to Germany against southpaw Karl Mildenberger, 49-2-3, whom Ali had problems with being a southpaw but finally stopped him in the twelfth round.
At the Houston Astrodome in November of 1966, Ali never looked better in stopping “Big Cat” Cleveland Williams, 67-5-1, in three rounds. Next came NBA champ Ernie Terrell, 39-4, who, like Patterson, would not call Ali by his name but by Clay and paid the price taking a terrific beating and a bad eye injury at the end of 15 lopsided rounds.
In March of 1967, in Ali’s final bout before exile, he stopped Zora Folley, 74-7-4, in seven rounds at Madison Square Garden. Refusing induction into the Army, he had his license pulled by boxing commissions starting in New York. This writer felt it was wrong to take away his livelihood. NFL QB Joe Namath refused induction due to a “bad knee” yet played professional football and was allowed to continue his livelihood.
Upon returning to the ring after almost four years, he was now easier to hit. He had returned in October 1970, stopping Jerry Quarry, 37-4-4, in three rounds. Then Ali stopped Oscar Bonavena, 46-6-1, in the final round.
In March of 1971, he faced world champ “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0, at Madison Square Garden, in a close fight going into the final round when Frazier sealed the win scoring a knockdown. It was Frazier, not Ali, who would go to the hospital after the fight. It would be the first of three meetings between the two. Ali was 31-0, losing for the first time.
In Ali’s next fight, he fought former champ Jimmy Ellis, 30-6, who he split in two fights in the amateurs. Dundee trained both and chose to work the corner of Ellis being a big underdog. Ali stopped Ellis in the twelfth and final round for the vacant NABF title.
In his first NABF title defense, Ali defeated Buster Mathis, 29-2, knocking him down twice in both the eleventh and final twelfth round. In Switzerland, he stopped Germany’s Juergen Blin, 27-9-6, in seven rounds.
In April of 1974, Ali traveled to Japan, defeating Mac Foster, 28-1, over 15 rounds. Back in Canada, he had a rematch with Chuvalo, 66-17-2, again being taken the distance still winning easily. In a rematch with Quarry, 43-5-4, he won by stoppage in seven. Then off to Ireland, he stopped Alvin “Blue” Lewis, 26-4, in eleven rounds.
In a rematch with Patterson, 55-7-1, Ali stopped him in seven. At the end of 1972, Ali stopped Light Heavyweight champion Bob Foster, 49-5, in eight rounds. UK’s Joe Bugner, 43-4-1, came to Vegas and was beaten by Ali over 12 rounds.
In March of 1973, it would be the first of Ali’s three fights with Ken Norton, 29-1, in the latter’s hometown of San Diego, getting his jaw broken early in the fight losing a split decision, over 12 rounds.
Shortly after this, I was in center city Philadelphia when a crowd appeared nearby. I thought someone jumped off a roof, but it was Ali. He had lived at 70th and Overbrook in West Philly but was then living in Cherry Hill, NJ. This old-timer said to Ali, “next time you fight Norton, be a man, not a boy.” Ali replied, “did you call me Roy?” He loved rhyming things. The man repeated, “be a man, not a boy!” Ali said, “play with him like a toy. Did you call me Roy?”
Two weeks later, I saw an article in the Philly Daily News showing Ali’s old house and new one in NJ. I wasn’t writing then and went over and knocked on the door when his second of four wives, Belinda, answered. I asked to see the champ, and she closed the door and came back inviting me in. There was a Muslim banner, a picture of a horse being from Kentucky, and a plaque from the Cherry Hill little league thanking him for his support.
Ali comes into the room, and knowing if I don’t get the first sentence in, I get none. I said, “why didn’t you give Doug Jones a rematch? Why didn’t you give Ron Lyle a rematch? Didn’t Louis Rodriguez, your stablemate teach you everything you know?” He came right back at me, telling me to follow him into the living room. He was one funny guy!
In September of 1973, in the rematch with Norton, Ali won a close fight by split decision. Then off to Jakarta defeating Rudi Lubbers, 21-1, over 12 rounds. Next, in the rematch with Frazier in a NABF title defense, Ali did more slugging while Frazier tried boxing, with Ali winning easily by decision.
Ali would get his chance to win the world title for a record third time meeting champ George Foreman, 40-0, in Africa. While over there, he won the people over big time. Foreman got cut sparring, and promoter Don King wouldn’t allow him to leave the country in fear he wouldn’t return. Foreman beat on Ali’s body with Ali showing the “rope-a-dope” for the first time, allowing him to have Foreman punch himself out. Ali then took over, dropping Foreman in the eighth round for the count.
Legendary trainer Cus D’Amato told me he put the idea of being the first to win the title three times into his head.
In his first defense, Ali faced Chuck Wepner, 31-9-2, who told his wife before the fight, “tonight, you will be sleeping with the champ!” In the ninth round, Wepner stepped on Ali’s foot, and down Ali went.
Wepner went back toward his corner with his hands raised in victory. His trainer told him, “don’t look now, but Ali’s up, and he’s pissed!” Ali went on to deal out a terrific beating on Wepner, stopping him a bloody mess in the final round.
After the fight, Wepner’s wife asked, “what room is Ali in?” He replied, “why?” She said, “because you said after the fight I would be sleeping with the champ!”
Next up with be one tough fight against hard-hitting Ron Lyle, 30-2-1, who was ahead in the fight on two of the scorecards and even on the other until Ali had him against the ropes. Lyle was doing his version of the rope-a-dope when the referee prematurely stopped the fight in the eleventh round. There would be no deserved rematch for Lyle. A rematch with Bugner, 51-6-1, would follow in Kuala Lumpur, Ali winning an easy decision.
The third fight with Frazier called the “Thrilla in Manila” would be next. It was a war with Ali well ahead after fourteen rounds when Frazier’s corner called a halt with Frazier in bad condition, not knowing Ali was exhausted in his corner, but the fight was over, and Ali was still champ.
Ali would travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico, knocking out Jean Pierre Coopman, 24-3, in 5 rounds. In April of 1976, he would defend against Philly’s Jimmy Young, 17-4-2, who gave Ali plenty of trouble. The only problem was Young would back into the ropes too much for the judges who gave Ali the decision in a fight that, in my opinion, could have gone either way and no rematch for Young.
Off to Germany again, Ali easily stopped the UK’s Richard Dunn, 33-9, in 5 rounds. The third match with Norton, 37-3, was next, with Ali taking a close decision, 8-6, and 8-7 twice this time in New York, not California like the first two. An easy win over Spain’s Alfredo Evangelista, 14-1-1, over 15 rounds came next.
Hard-hitting Earnie Shavers, 54-5-1, was next, with Ali hurt halfway through the fight but came back, taking the win when Shavers faded. In February of 1978, former Olympic Gold Medalist Leon Spinks, 6-0-1, came next with no fear of Ali though with little experience. Ali lost a split decision. In the rematch, Ali was ready and easily defeated Spinks. This is when Ali should have retired but didn’t.
It would be two years before Ali decided to fight again against WBC champion Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes. I saw Ali in his Deer Lake, PA, camp preparing for this fight in horrible shape. Fat as he was, I said, “look at the shape you are in. You and Max Baer had the greatest physics, but why are you taking this fight?” He padded his stomach and said, “I like my ice cream.” I knew he was going to get beat against the arrogant Holmes, 35-0.
It would be the only time in Ali’s career he didn’t go the distance. He didn’t win a round when the referee stopped it in the tenth round. It was an all-time low in his career. Even his ring doctor Ferdie Pacheco refused to work the corner in this one, saying he should never fight again. It would be fourteen months later, in December of 1982, when Ali had his final fight in Nassau, losing to former champ Trevor Berbick, 19-2-1, over ten lopsided rounds.
Ali retired afterward with a final record of 56-5-1, with 37 stoppages, while at the age of 39, later being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in their first year.
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