Muhammad “I’m the Greatest” Ali Special by Ken Burns!
By Ken Hissner: In 1964, the day after defeating Sonny Liston for the title said “Red birds stay with red birds, blue birds with blue birds, so black birds should be with black birds!”
Due to a low score on an aptitude test, Ali scored a low score. He stated, “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest!”
In May of 1965, Ali returned to Boston for the rematch with Liston, but it was moved to Lewiston, Maine. Liston was a 9-5 favorite. Ali landed the first solid punch, a lead right on the chin of Liston, stopping him at 2:12 of the first round before a “crowd” of 2,434.
The “Phantom Punch” was delivered later referred to by Ali “the punch was like the one Jack Johnson called the “Anchor punch!” Liston rolled around the ring, attempting to get up by couldn’t.
In September, Ali stopped former champion Floyd Patterson, 43-4, after the eleventh round. In 1966 Ali signed with Bob Arum of Top Rank.
Next up was supposed to be former champ Ernie Terrell in Chicago, but the mayor denounced it. It was to be moved to Toronto, Canada, but Terrell refused the conditions of the contract, so Canada’s George Chuvalo, 34-11-2, was the replacement opponent. Ali won by a 15 round decision.
Three wins later, Ali, after four wins out of the country at the Houston Astrodome against Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams, 69-5-2 with 51 knockouts. Ali stopped Williams in the third round.
Ali claimed he didn’t like the fact Terrell claimed a piece of the world title. “I want to torture him,” Ali said before the fight and did. Terrell suffered a bad cut over the right eye but managed to go the distance losing a lopsided decision.
In March, Ali would face Zora Folley at Madison Square Garden, stopping him in 7 rounds. It would be the last time Ali would be the unbeatable champion.
Ali was ordered to appear before the Houston draft board. Inside while appearing at his physical, he refused induction and would be given a $5,000 fine and 10 years in prison. The New York boxing commission stripped him of his license, with almost every other state following suit.
A jury accused Ali of rejecting the draft induction and threatened him with a $5,000 fine and ten years in prison. He claimed to be a Muslim minister.
In being interviewed, Ali was asked who would give him the best fight if in a return to the ring, and he said, “Joe Frazier!”
Ali’s manager Herbert Muhammad searched state after state for a venue where Ali could fight and did in Atlanta, GA. Ali fought Quarry for his first fight in over 3½ years. In the third round, Quarry suffered a gash over his left eye, stopping the fight from his corner.
In December, in Madison Square Garden, Ali stopped Argentina’s Oscar Bonavena, 46-6-1. This set the stage for Ali’s fight with WBC & WBA World champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0, at Madison Square Garden in March of 1971.
In the fifteenth and final round, Frazier dropped Ali and won on all scorecards by 8-6, 9-6, and 11-4 for Ali’s first loss in 32 fights. Four months later, Ali stopped former champ Jimmy Ellis, 30-6, for the NABF title in 12 rounds.
Nine wins later over a 24-month period. He would face former WBC champion Ken Norton, 29-1, losing a split decision, having suffered a broken jaw sometime early in the fight.
Six months later, Ali won the rematch by a split decision at Madison Square Garden. Next, the rematch with Frazier, 30-1, at Madison Square Garden, with Ali winning by scores of 6-5, 7-4, and 8-4.
Nine months later, Ali would become the first heavyweight champ to win the title three times, defeating champion “Big” George Foreman, 40-0, in what was called “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, Africa, with Ali scoring an eighth round knockout!
Three wins later, Ali and Frazier would have their third fight called “Thrilla in Manila” when Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch wouldn’t allow Frazier to come out for the fifteenth round. Ali later claimed it was the closest to death!
Ali would go on to win a close fight over Jimmy Young, 17-4-2, and two fights later, in the third match against Norton, he won by scores of 8-7 twice and 8-6 in Yankee Stadium in September of 1976.
Three fights later, Ali would lose to 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist Leon “Neon” Spinks, 6-0-1, by a split decision in Las Vegas, Nevada. Seven months later, Ali reversed the decision before 63,350 in attendance at the Superdome in New Orleans. At that point, his cut-man Dr. Ferdie Pacheco wanted Ali to retire and would not work his corner again.
It would be 25 months when Ali returned to the ring losing to WBC champion Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes, 35-0, in Las Vegas, Nevada, being stopped in the tenth round for his only career stoppage loss.
Fourteen months later, Ali had his last fight losing to former champion Trevor Berbick, 19-2-1, over ten rounds, in Nassau. Ali’s final record was 56-5.
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