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Muhammad Ali’s Four Part Series by Historian Ken Burns!

Muhammad Ali boxing photo and news image

By Ken Hissner: On PBS WHYY with Historian Ken Burns, Jesse Washington (moderator), Rasheda Ali Walsh (Ali’s daughter), and Howard Bryant (author), shown on September 19th, 2021, a four-part series on Muhammad Ali. Burns’s daughter Sarah and David McMahon contributed.

Rasheda Ali Walsh: My dad was a role model for me and led by example. In turning to the religion of Islam, he was misunderstood. My father would say, “I‘m the Greatest!” She is a twin and one of seven daughters and two sons, Ali fathered. Her son Nico Ali Walsh is 2-0 scheduled for his third fight on December 11th.

Some info on Ali was after defeating Sonny Liston twice, he had five fights, first in Las Vegas and four fights overseas in Toronto, Canada, London, UK, twice and Frankfurt, Germany, before the WBC World champion Ali, 26-0, returned to the new Houston Astrodome, in November of 1966 stopping Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams, 67-5-1, with 51 knockouts, in 3 rounds.

He would score wins after that in February of 1967, defeating Ernie Terrell, 39-4, at the Astrodome and the last in March of 1967, knocking out Zora Folley, 74-7-4 at Madison Square Garden in New York, before his refusal of induction into the Army.

When Ali refused induction into the Army in June of 1967, a judge ruled he would be fined $10,000 and serve five years in prison. He appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in his favor on June 28, 1971.

Ali was 29-0 when he returned to the ring in October of 1970, stopping Jerry Quarry, 37-4-4, in 3 rounds due to a cut, in Atlanta, GA. In December of 1970, he followed with a win at Madison Square Garden when he defeated Argentina’s Oscar Bonavena, 46-6-1, in the fifteenth round.

Ali was 31-0 when he met WBC and WBA World champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0, for the first of three meetings in March of 1971 at Madison Square Garden. Going into the fifteenth and final round, Ali was behind 6-8, 6-9, and 4-11. He was knocked down in the final round, losing for the first time. It was Frazier, not Ali, who checked into a hospital.

Ali would go on to win his next ten fights, including in such countries as Ireland, Switzerland, Japan, and Canada. Among those he defeated were former world champions Jimmy Ellis, Floyd Patterson, and Bob Foster. In March of 1973, he would taste defeat for the second time, losing a split decision to Ken Norton, 29-1, over 12 rounds in San Diego, CA, suffering a broken jaw sometime during the fight. They would fight two more times, with Ali winning both in close fights. He also defeated Frazier twice after losing to him. He won the rematch from a loss to Leon Spinks.

In October of 1974, Ali would become the first heavyweight champion to win that title three times. He stopped champion George Foreman, 40-0, in Zaire, Africa.

After defeating Spinks in the rematch, the “Fight Doctor” Ferdie Pacheco retired from Ali’s corner, saying he shouldn’t ever fight again. This writer agrees. Ali’s next two fights were his only loss, being stopped by Larry Holmes in October 1980 in Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. His final one was losing to Trevor Berbick in December of 1981 in Nassau, Bahamas. His final record was 56-5, with 37 stoppages.

The four-part series are Round One: “The Greatest” (1942-1964). Cassius Clay rises from boastful amateur to boxer contender for the heavyweight title.

Round Two: “What’s My Name?” (1964-1970). Muhammad Ali is banished from boxing for refusing induction into the Army.

Round Three: “The Rivalry” (1970-1974). Muhammad Ali returns from exile and twice faces his greatest rival, Joe Frazier.

Round Four: “The Spell Remains” (1974 to 2016). Muhammad Ali shocks the world and defeats George Foreman, and becomes world famous.

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