The story of the Greatest - MUHAMMAD ALI

The story of the Greatest:


On January 17, 1942 - at about six thirty p.m. - the biggest sporting legend of the twentieth century was born in Louisville, Kentucky.


When Odessa Clay and her husband Cassius Marcellus looked proudly at their tiny son they didn't dare to dream that the baby they held in their arms would one day be the heavyweight champion and one of the most popular men of the world.

At a closer look, one can date the first boxing activity of Cassius Marcellus junior to the same year. His mother used to tell people that his first K.o.-punch was aimed at her face when the six-month-old hit her so hard that she had to have two teeth pulled out.

Cassius grew up in West End Louisville, a black area, together with his younger brother Rudolph who later changed his name into Rahaman. Their father painted religious and commercial plates while Odessa Clay worked as a cleaning woman and cook in white upper-class families. Although the Clays were not wealthy, young Cassius and Rudolph always had something to eat and to wear. Contrary to most of his later opponents, Ali had a carefree childhood.

At the age of twelve, Cassius got into boxing rather by chance. His new bike had been stolen and so he met police officer Joe Martin who besides ran a boxing gym. The furious boy told Martin that he would whip the thief if he found him. Martin suggested to Cassius that he teach him first how to box. Cassius agreed and attended Martin's gym regularly from then on.

In his first years as a boxer, Cassius Clay held some features that he would keep during his whole career: He bragged all the time how strong he was and that no one could beat him. Because of this the audience who could watch him didn't like him. His style was very unusual. Back then Cassius was already faster than most of his opponents. So he used his hands not as guard but held them at waist height while avoiding the punches of his opponent just with his reflexes and footwork.

Young Cassius was successful with his unorthodox style. In 1960, eighteen-year-old Cassius had won all amateur titles available (amongst others the National Golden Gloves in Chicago) and qualified for the Olympic trials. After he had been knocked down in the first round of the final by a black army champion named Allen Hudson, Clay countered and won by technical knockout in the third round. He had earned the right to travel to Rome with the US Olympic team in 1960:

One problem that had to be solved before the departure to Rome: Clays great fear of flying. Joe Martin, his coach at that time had to be persuade Clay for hours to get on the plane. Finally Cassius agreed and entered the plane to Italy - equipped with a parachute he had bought personally and wouldn't take off the whole flight.

Hardly arrived at the Olympic village he started to brag about his glorious future which was destined to him. With his behavior he attracted many athletes and journalists and soon was considered 'Mayor of the Olympic village'. But Clay also annoyed some athletes of his team because they felt neglected by the media.

He was also successful as athlete. After victories over the Belgian, Russian and Australian participant Clay finally faced the Pole Zbiginiew Piertrzkowski, a veteran with a fight record of over two hundred fights. The beginning of the final saw Clay in trouble.

As the bout went on, he became stronger and after the last round Piertrzkowski's and Clay's shorts were covered with the Pole's blood.

When returning to the USA, the gold medal winner - it hung around his neck - was welcomed enthusiastically. Some well-known trainers offered to train Clay who wanted to turn Heavyweight pro. Ex-fighters Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson and also Cus D'Amato were prospects. Before looking for a coach, Clay signed a contract with eleven millionaires from Louisville, the so called Louisville Sponsoring Group, that guaranteed the young boxer $ 10,000 instantly and fifty percent of his future ring income. This group also arranged Clay's first professional bout against Tunney Huntsinger. Clay won a split decision.

After his non-convincing first victory, Clay and his managers looked for a new coach. Joe Martin had not been accepted by Clay senior. Clay jr. refuged from Archie Moore's camp after a short stay because Moore tried to change Clay's style and made him also participate in the housework, what he did not want to do. Clay went back to Louisville for christmas and then to Miami Beach to meet Angelo Dundee who he had known for two years. Dundee didn't try to change Clay's style like Moore but helped him to improve it. In Miami, Clay fought his next four bouts which he won by knockout.

The first interesting opponent in Clay's professional career was his ex-trainer, former light heavyweight champion Archie Moore whom he faced in his 16th bout on November 16, 1962 in Louisville. Moore was 48 years old and wanted to succeed over the youth. He had no chance and stood four rounds just as Clay had predicted. It was one of Clay's features to predict the round in which his opponent would fall. He usually wrote a short humorous poem. Moore was the eleventh prediction the 'loudmouth' (as many journalists called Clay) had fulfilled.

In March of 1963, Clay's prediction record broke when he failed to knock Doug Jones out. The audience at Madison Square Garden booed Clay down when the result was announced: A close decision in Clay's favor.

In 1963 Clay also met Drew 'Bundini' Brown who became his motivator and court jester.

Together they invented the slogan 'Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!' that perfectly described Clay's style.

At the end of 1963 Clay had an impressive record: He had won all of his nineteen professional bouts and only three not by knockout. The 'Louisville Lip' was ready to achieve the goal for that he had lived almost all of his life:

The Heavyweight Championship of the world.

Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston (I)

February 25, 1964
Miami Beach, Florida

22-year-old Cassius Clay had been pro for just four years when he faced the undisputed heavyweight champion and former prisoner Sonny Liston for the first time.

Liston had taken away the title of Floyd Patterson two years before in only two minutes and six seconds. At that time he had lost only once as a professional. He seemed invincible.

Before the contract was signed, Clay had been travelling around the states with his bus 'Big Red', painted with provocant slogans in order to promote a bout between him and Liston. Thus, Clay increased the pressure on Sonny and his management until a championship bout was unavoidable.

Clay, who had a fight record of 19 wins with an average length of five rounds, used to call his opponent 'ugly, brown bear' and appeared in public wearing shirts with slogans like 'bear huntin''.

When the contract had been signed, Clay however did not stop to ridicule and mock Liston.

He drove to Liston's house at 3 a.m. and ran riot until the house owner went out with a poker to smash one of the bus' windows before the police pulled him back in.

Liston had to deal with sneering poems describing how Clay would knock him out.

During the traditional weigh-in on the morning of the fight, Clay went absolutely crazy.

He shouted 'I'm ready to rumble!' and 'I'm gonna eat you alive!' and it seemed it took Clay's staff a great effort to prevent their boxer from attacking Liston. The present doctor announced a pulse of 120 bpm and declared Clay 'emotionally unbalanced and scared to death'.

In fact, Clay had fooled everyone including Liston. He wasn't crazy at all but rather wanted to make everyone think he was. And everyone believed in his show.

43 out of the 46 sportswriters covering the bout thought that Clay, who was seven to one underdog, would be no match for Liston. Only half of the seats at Miami's Convention Hall had been sold. One reason were the high ticket prices. 8,000 people finally attended the fight.

At the beginning of the fight, Liston attacked Clay as if he wanted to finish him like he finished Floyd Patterson two times - by a first round knockout. But the challenger didn't let him come close. He danced around the flat-footed champion the whole time. Liston's punches missed the continously moving Clay. The champion himself had to take straight lefts again and again. From the third round on, he suffered from a cut under his left eye.

But suddenly Clay's victory was questioned because of an incident never totally cleared up. After the fourth round, Clay couldn't see. 'Cut the gloves off. We're going home!', the desperate contender told his trainer Angelo Dundee. But the coach pushed him back in the ring before the referee could stop the fight. 'This is the big one, daddy. Stay away from him. Run!'. By doing so, Dundee made Clay win and probably saved his career. Experts doubt that Liston being the winner would have accepted a rematch against this uncomfortable opponent.

Half-blind Clay somehow got through round five by avoiding punches he hardly saw. At the end of the round, Clay's eyes cleared and he dominated Liston again in the sixth.

When the gong for the beginning of the seventh round came, Liston stayed on his stool in his corner.

Clay couldn't believe it. He ran around the ring shouting 'I must be the greatest - I shook up the world!'. Indeed, a 22-year-old country boy from Louisville had turned the boxing scene upside down. He had beaten a supposedly invincible opponent and climbed the heavyweight throne for the first time.

But the happiness didn't last long. There had been rumors before the bout that Cassius Clay had joined the Nation Of Islam, a popular black organization whose leader Elijah Muhammad preached that integration be the wrong way for blacks. The blacks should claim their own territory in the US instead. Clay had been seen a lot in public with Malcolm X and other leading personalities of the Black Muslims as the members of the Nation were commonly called.

After the Liston bout, speculation became fact. It was revealed that Clay had joined Muslim meetings through the back door for three years. Clay's joining the Nation Of Islam and changing his name to Cassius X and then Muhammad Ali didn't please America's white establisment. 'Clay' had been the name given to the family by their slave owner generations before. Ali's statement: "Cassius Clay is a slave's name, and I'm not a slave."

The putting down of their slave names was a common feature among Black Muslims at that time. However, most of the journalists kept calling the champ by his old name.

All these things made a 'good lad Cassius Clay' in the eyes of many Americans change into a 'bad sect member Muhammad Ali'.

There were also changes concerning Ali's private. In August of 1964 he married Sonji Roi who he had been knowing for merely a month. On May 25, 1965 the rematch between Ali and Liston took place.

Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston (II)

May 25, 1965
Lewiston, Maine

The rematch between Cassius Clay, who had changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and former champion Sonny Liston was scheduled for November, 16, 1964.

Three days before the bout, Ali was diagnosed of having an incarcerated inguinal hernia that had to be removed by an instant operation. The rematch had to be postponed seven months. It was to be held in Lewiston, a small town in Maine. Only 2,434 people found their way to St Dominick's Arena on fight night.

The story of the actual fight is a short one. The bout had just started when it was finished by a straight right by Ali. The two boxers had absolved merely 105 seconds when the fight was over - a period of time in which Ali had just thrown six serious punches before Liston hit the canvas. He had been hit by a so-called 'phantom-punch' many of the spectators had not even seen. In slow motion one can see Liston jabbing. Ali moves backwards, Liston misses and his head falls down for a part of a second. In this time, Ali counters with a right that lands on Liston's jaw. Sonny, having not seen the blow and so not having prepared for it, goes down.


Seeing Liston on the canvas, Ali refused to go to the neutral corner but stood over Liston yelling: 'Get up and fight, sucker!'


Former heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, who refereed the bout, unsuccessfully tried to push the rampageous Ali into the neutral corner and forgot to count Liston out who stood up after seventeen seconds. The fight was ended by Walcott after Nat Fleischer, editor of Ring Magazine, yelled into the ring that Liston had taken the count. Consequently, Walcott stopped the bout and declared Ali the winner.

Many spectators considered the bout fixed. The FBI investigated the case. More than one speculation circulated about Liston's fall.

1) While preparing for the fight, Liston was visited by Black Muslims who threatened to kill his daughter Eleanor if he should win the rematch.

2) Liston lay down for money.

3) Ali was supposed to be assassinated during the fight. Consequently, Liston decided to leave the ring as quick as possible to save his own life.

Ali contradicts: 'It's a matter of fact that no fight was less fixed than this one'.

Twenty-nine days after this bout and less than a year after he married Sonji, Ali divorced from her on January 10, 1966. Ali complained - amongst other things - about her refusing to follow rules that were proper for Muslim women, like wearing long skirts or not using make-up.


Ali's next opponent was Floyd Patterson who opined that 'the Black Muslims' scourge [had to be] removed from boxing' and was without a chance in a twelve round slaughter.

In 1966, Ali successfully faced five opponents: George Chuvalo in Canada, Henry Cooper and Brian London in England, Germany's champion Karl Mildenberger in Frankfurt, and Cleveland Williams in Houston.

Meanwhile, a far more important fight for Ali had started - outside the ring. It would strip Ali of everything he had worked so hard for all of his life. The first act had been staged in 1964 when Ali failed the mental aptitude test at a military induction center in Florida and was classified 1-Y (not qualified). In early 1966, the required level was lowered because the US needed more soldiers for the Vietnam War. All of a sudden, Ali was 1-A. When he was asked by journalists about his opinion of the Viet Cong, he just replied: 'I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.'

This statement is probably the most famous that ever passed Ali's lips. The media called him a 'draft dodger' and demanded him to serve for his country as Joe Louis had done during World War II. Ali, however, insisted on his appeal for conscientious objector status because his religion didn't allow him to fight in any war.

Then, in autumn 1966, another incident enraged many whites; Herbert Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad's son, became Ali's new manager because the contract with the Louisville Sponsoring Group had expired.


Despite his trouble with the army, Ali fought 'the octopus' Ernie Terrell on February 6, 1967. Terrell had been undefeated for five years and held the WBA's version of the title that had been taken from Ali. Before the fight, Terrell had refused to call the champ by his new name 'Muhammad Ali'. He still called him Cassius Clay. As a result, Ali kept yelling 'What's my name, Uncle Tom!' during the whole fight while delivering a huge amount of blows to Terrell. Many spectators later blamed Ali for 'carrying' Terrell to punish him worse. 'Carrying' means to intentionally not knock out a weaker opponent.

One and a half month later, Ali defeated Zora Folley in New York. It was to be his last fight for long. On April 28, 1967, Ali refused the obligatory step into the US armed forces and thus was sentenced with five years' imprisonment and a 10,000 fine. Plus, he was stripped of his title, his boxing license and his passport. Ali couldn't leave the USA and didn't know whether he would ever be allowed to fight again.

Despite various offers that he could go to Vietnam without ever coming near a battle field but merely entertain the troops while boxing, Ali didn't change his opinion that said he was against any form of war but holy war against enemies of the Islam. Plus, he opined a stay in Vietnam would prevent him from practising his religion because he was an Islamic preacher.

In August, 1967, Ali married his second wife, 17-year-old Muslim Belinda Boyd who he had first met when he visited her school in 1961.

Because he wasn't allowed to box, Ali had to look for other ways to earn his living. Soon after he was banned from boxing, he started to write speeches he held at colleges and universities all over the USA in which he explained his point of view on the war and the segregation of African Americans. Ali impressed his chiefly white audiences with his self-written speeches that were critical, political, religious, and often funny at the same time.
With his innate eloquence and charisma he convinced many of them of the values he believed in - justice and peace.

While the trial USA versus Muhammad Ali was still not decided, the defendant was sentenced to ten days imprisonment - not because of his claiming for conscientious objector status but for driving without a valid license.

The income of Ali's college lectures was not enough to pay his attorneys. A documentation of his life, a computer bout between Rocky Marciano and Ali, the leading part in the Broadway Musical Buck White and various public appearences provided financial support for the 'people's champ' as Ali used to call himself.

As the years passed, the tide of public opinion turned. The Vietnam War was seen critically by more and more Americans. Also, Ali's image changed as more and more people began to realize he had been treated unjustly. Finally, after three-and-a-half years of useless trying, Ali's management got him a boxing license although the US Supreme Court had not judged yet whether Ali was guilty or not. Ali's first fight after his exile was to be against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta on October 26, 1970.

In 1970, when Ali returned to the ring, Joe Frazier was the undisputed heavyweight champion. He had won the WBA title in a unification bout against Jimmy Ellis.
Still in exile, Ali had been contacting Frazier and the two men had almost battled in a Philadelphia park.

Frazier's management were the first to offer Ali a fight. He was supposed to box Frazier in his first post-exile bout. However, when Ali got a license in autumn of 1970, they drew back. So Ali boxed Jerry Quarry, a strong fighter with a good stamina. It was Ali's first fight in three-and-a-half years. He had just six weeks time to prepare for this fight.

In the first round of Ali vs. Quarry the audience saw a 'floating' Ali who hit Quarry whenever he wanted. Quarry got better in the second round and landed some blows. After round three referee Perez ended the bout because of a huge cut above Quarry's eye that was heavily bleeding.

After this not-convincing comeback, Ali faced Oscar Bonavena, a strong boxer from Argentina is described as a 'stubborn donkey' because, after he had been hit, Bonavena would get even wilder and angrier and show not the least sign of weakness.
Ali ended an average fight with an impressing last round knockout but with this couldn't mislead the spectators that he lacked the speed that had provided for his successes before the layoff. Then, at last, a championship bout against Joe Frazier was to take place. It was declared the 'fight of the century'.

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (I)

March 8 1971
New York

Of all the fighters Muhammad Ali has faced during his professional career, Joe Frazier has doubtlessly been his hardest rival. These two men fought three dramatic and brutal battles and they both gave everything every time.

Their first meeting in the ring took place on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden. Ali had just absolved two fights after his three-and-a-half year exile. Frazier - undefeated like Ali - had been holding the title since 1970.

Back in August 1970, Ali - still banned from boxing - had arranged an interview with Joe during a car trip from Philadelphia to New York. He wanted to collect material for his autobiography since he didn't know if he would ever be allowed to fight again. Soon after this meeting they almost dueled in a Philadelphia park for promotional purpose. Frazier drew back in the last minute.

When Ali finally was granted a license, Frazier was supposed to be Ali's first opponent but the champion's camp declined.

Finally, in December 1970, they were willing and a contract was signed. Ali and Frazier were guaranteed 2.5 million dollars, an incredibly high sum at that time. The boxers had preferred this offer to another that had looked worse at first sight: 1.25 million against 35 % of the gross fight income. What they did not know was that, if they had taken the other offer, each fighter would have made nine instead of two-and-a-half million dollars.

The bout got the attribute 'fight of the century'. For the first time in the history of the heavyweight division, two undefeated boxers faced each other in a title bout. Before the fight, Ali provoked Frazier, for example by calling him dumb and ignorant. He also mocked him because Frazier, who had once worked in a slaughterhouse, was not as eloquent as himself. The champion seemed not impressed or intimidated by these verbal attacks in opposite to Sonny Liston, for example.

Plus, during the fight, Ali could not discourage Frazier with his 'that-didn't-hurt'-stuff. Frazier ducked under Ali's jabs, kept grinning and showed no impact on Ali's blows. He gave Ali a sample of his own medicine.

After losing the early rounds, Frazier took the control and hit Ali as hard as no one else had hit him before. But he had to take a huge amount of blows himself.

In round eleven he almost knocked Ali out. Ali staggered back into the ropes and was rescued by the bell.

In the last round Ali was knocked down by a left hook to the chin - it was one of three knockdowns in Ali's entire career. He stood up immediately and resumed the fight although probably almost every other boxer would have stayed on the canvas.

Ali described the knockdown: 'I can't remember going down. Just being on the canvas, looking up, hearing the count and knowing that I had nothing to do down there.'

Frazier, whose face was noticeably ragged after the fight, won an unanimous decision and provided for Ali's first professional loss. For the first time, Ali had lost his title in the ring and had to admit that Frazier had been too strong that night and that he was not yet in the shape he had been before his exile. The fight had a visible impact on the health of the two men. Both Ali and Frazier had to be x-rayed at hospital where some of Ali's ribs showed contusions as a result of Frazier's punches to the belly.

After this stunning defeat, Ali could book a very important victory. On June 28, 1971, his conviction of refusing to be inducted into the army was reversed and he got his passport and license back. The belt he had been stripped of could of course not be returned to him by the judges. Ali had to win it back on his own.

In the following 18 months, Ali won ten fights in a row with just one goal in mind: a rematch against Joe Frazier. His opponents were his friend Jimmy Ellis, Buster Mathis and the German Jurgen Blin in 1971, Mac Foster, again George Chuvalo and Jerry Quarry, Al Lewis, Floyd Patterson and Bob Foster one year later, and in 1973 Joe Bugner in Las Vegas.
Ali did not get more than $ 500,000 for any of these bouts. His next opponent was to be Ken Norton, an absolute no-name. Ali didn't take the fight too seriously and trained just three weeks.
This arrogance led to Norton breaking Ali's jaw in the second round and winning the fight on points. It was incredible that Ali continued for ten rounds with a broken jaw but in the end it proved to be a fruitless effort. Ali was ahead by one point on the scorecards before the last round, but Norton won the last round and the fight.

After this defeat that had been even more painful than the one against Frazier, Ali was down on the floor and not many people thought that he could ever rise again.

Muhammad Ali, however, did not think about quitting. After his jaw was healed, he resumed training and prepared for the rematch against Ken Norton.

The rematch against Ken Norton took place on September 10, 1973 in Los Angeles. Ali had trained longer and harder for this fight than for their first encounter. Nevertheless, it was a very close bout again. After round eleven the judges saw it even and the winner of the last round was to be the overall winner. This time, Ali won and took revenge successfully.

After an unimportant victory against Rudi Lubbers in Jakarta, Ali faced his steady rival Joe Frazier the second time.

Frazier, however, wasn't champ anymore. He had been dethroned in Jamaica in 1973 by a young, unknown fighter who had knocked the champion down six times in two rounds before the referee stopped the bout.

The name of the newcomer: George Foreman who proved his immense strength one year later by also knocking out Ken Norton in two.
It was not about more than Ali's honor that he wanted to restore when he fought Frazier in 1974. Before their first fight both boxers - especially Ali - tried to make each other nervous in the weeks leading to the fight. Five days before the bout, the situation escalated when an appearance at a TV show almost turned into disaster. Ali had called Frazier ignorant after had made a remark about Ali having to check into hospital after the first fight, and they were not far from getting it on in the studio. The bout itself was not as brutal as the first one and Ali won an unanimous decision.

A fight Ali versus Foreman was unavoidable. It was to be held in Zaire, a country in the 'heart of darkness', in central Africa. Zaire had been a Belgian colony for long, and was trying to get international attention, now that it was freed. Zaire's dictator Mobutu provided for five million dollars for each fighter which was twice as much Ali and Frazier had gotten for their first fight.

While Ali was feeling well in the land of his ancestors and collected sympathies from the Africans whenever he could, Foreman couldn't show his disrespect more obviously. He lived in the Kinshasa Inter-Continental and always had German shepherd police dogs around to prevent strangers from coming closer. At press conferences, Ali was funny, witty and smart in opposite to the mute Foreman.

When the two heavyweights entered the ring on October 30, out of sixty thousand African throats came the slogan 'Ali, boma ye!', meaning 'Ali, kill him!'. Foreman held little to no sympathies.

Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman

October 30, 1974: "THE RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE"
Kinshasa, Zaire

The 1974 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman is probably the most famous and most depicted of all heavyweight title bouts ever. One reason for this fascination might be that it was one of the most dramatic heavyweight bouts of all times. The features of the two opponents couldn't have been more different - on the one side the patriotic Foreman who had waved the Star Spangled Banner after winning the Olympics in 1968. On the other side the inconvenient black hero Ali, who had enraged the White establishment with his claim for conscientious objector status and his converting to Islam. The fight in Zaire and its surrounding occurences were even processed to a whole novel ('The Fight' by Norman Mailer, first published in 1975).

By mid-1974, Muhammad Ali had defeated all top-heavyweights (including rematches against Ken Norton and Joe Frazier) and was ready to snatch at the title again. In case of success, he would be the first boxer after Floyd Patterson to break the ancient rule of the heavyweight scene that says 'They never come back'.

The only requirement of Ali's manager Herbert Muhammad was a gross income of five million dollars for his boxer - a previously unheard-of sum. Ex-prisoner Don King, who had not promoted a bout before, promised to make the impossible possible and scare up the money.

With the help of Video Techniques, King convinced Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of Zaire, to provide most of the ten million (five million each for Ali and Foreman). A british company paid the rest.

Mobutu wanted to spread his country's name all over the world. Zaire had been called Belgian-Congo until 1960 when the Belgian occupiers left Africa. The former name of Kinshasa, inhabitated in 1974 by 1.5 million people, had been Leopoldsville. Mobutu was a stiff ruler. He had locked up three-hundred criminals in the basement of the stadium whereupon he ordered to kill fifty randomly selected and free the rest to spread news of the executions among the other criminals of Kinshasa. As a result, Zaire's crime rate was lower than ever.

Back to boxing. Foreman was the experts' favorite. He had won his last eight bouts unexceptionally by knockout in the first two rounds (amongst his deplorable foes had been Joe Frazier and Ken Norton whom Ali wasn't able to knock out or down in six bouts) and 37 of his 40 professional bouts. His strength was enormous and after he had punched the heavy bag for a couple of rounds, there was a huge bump in it - once he had even knocked it out of the affixture!

Ali prepared in his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, and traveled to Africa two weeks before the fight to have enough time to acclimatize. He chose a house forty miles outside the centre of Kinshasa on a state property whereas Foreman and his entourage checked into the Inter-Continental in central Kinshasa. Foreman did not like having much people around (he even had German sheperd police dogs to keep uninvited visitors away). Ali, to the contrary, used every occasion to gain the Africans' sympathies. Wherever he went, there was a big crowd surrounding him.

Eight days prior to the bout, Foreman was cut above the eye and the fight had to be delayed. It was rescheduled for October 30. After initial perplexity and helplessness, Ali decided to stay in Zaire and so did Foreman. There were rumors that Mobutu had forbidden them to leave the country.

Foreman's cut healed and the two boxers entered the ring in the Stadium. The renovated stadium had originally been a present of Mobutu to his people. Ali weighed 216 pounds, five pounds lighter than his foe.

Before the first round begins, Ali conducts the audience that frenetically chants 'Ali, boma ye!' which means 'Ali, kill him!'.

In the first round Ali lands some good combinations most of whom he starts with a right-hand lead, a strategy that a boxer normally uses in a later stage of a fight when the opponent is tired and not concentrated any more. However, the tactic works - Foreman gets hit. Additionally, Ali speaks to his foe during the entire fight - 'That didn't hurt' or 'Is that all you can, sucker?'. Foreman delivers some blows to Ali's body.

In round two, Foreman chases Ali, cuts the ring skillfully and forces the contender into the corners. Ali decides to change his strategy completely. From now on, he stays at the ropes, leans way back and invites Foreman to punch his body again and again. In the last seconds of this round, however, Ali has a furious comeback and shakes the stunned Foreman with rapid blows.

Round three is Ali's who tucks away Foreman's heavy blows to the body to hit back with quick combinations. At the end of this round, Foreman staggers towards his corner.

After both boxers have used the fourth round to rest from the exertions of the first nine minutes, Foreman comes out to the fifth with the intention to knock Ali out. He searchs for an opening in Ali's defense while working on his belly and kidneys. In the last forty seconds, however, Ali is back again and brings the defenseless Foreman on the edge of a knockout. Rapid as lightning the straights hail into Foreman's face - the gong rescues him.

Rounds six and seven are slow again - Foreman tries to get through Ali's guard without success.

In the last minute of round eight, Ali gathers all his left strength and courage and launches the final attack. He hits Foreman with a right, leaves the ropes and Foreman wobbles around with his hands down. Ali recieves him with two rights and then places the decisive combination. A columnist wrote:

'Then a big projectile exactly the size of a fist in a glove drove into the middle of Foreman's mind, the best punch of the startled night, the blow Ali saved for a career. Foreman's arms flew out to the side like a man with a parachute jumping out of a plane.'

Foreman goes down and takes the count. The audience goes crazy. Muhammad Ali has become heavyweight champion of the world for the second time in an incredibly exciting manner!

Minutes after the fight, heaven opens its penstock. Long awaited torrential thunderstorms flood the ring. Would this have happened an hour earlier, the bout could not have taken place.

The strategy Ali used that night was the exact opposite to the one he had won the title with against Sonny Liston ten years before. Back then, it had been Ali's goal to prevent from being hit by moving all the time. In Kinshasa, from the second round on, Ali didn't show any footwork at all and intentionally took all the haymakers Foreman delivered with his savage strength. Ali leaned way back out of the ring, protecting his face with the gloves, his kidneys and belly with his arms and elbows. Foreman pounded on Ali's body as hard as he could. Ali didn't go down. He took the bombs like a living heavy bag and then, at the end of each round, made a furious comeback by hitting Foreman with stinging combinations that got the champion closer and closer to a knockout. In the last thirty seconds of the eighth round, Foreman was ready. Ali attacked with all the strength he had left and provided for Foreman's first career knockout.
Muhammad Ali was the first boxer after Floyd Patterson to break the rule "They never come back' and win back the heavyweight title that had been taken from him seven years before.

Ali's next opponent was 35-year-old Chuck Wepner who held out against Ali's attacks for almost fifteen rounds until the fight was stopped. (Sylvester Stallone's Rocky movies are based on Wepner's courageous fighting.)
After Wepner, Ali defeated Ron Lyle in Las Vegas by knockout and seven weeks later Joe Bugner in Malaysia on points. There were people of Ali's camp who wanted him to quit but Ali could not yet give up the sport that had been the center of his life for more than twenty years.

Instead, the third fight against Joe Frazier was coming up. It was to be the third and last time the two rivals would face each other in the ring. This last fight was far more brutal and dramatic than the first two Frazier fights and is one of the three big fights of Muhammad Ali's career together with Liston I and the Rumble in the Jungle.

 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (III)

September 30, 1975: "THE THRILLA IN MANILA"
Manila, Philippines

Muhammad Ali's third fight against his rival Joe Frazier was a spectacular ending to the long lasting struggle of the two Heavyweights who faced each other for a total of 123 minutes in the ring. The 'Thrilla in Manila' is considered one of the most brutal and bitter bouts in the history of boxing; it was the only time an Ali - Frazier bout did not last for the scheduled time.

After having regained the title against George Foreman in Zaire one year earlier, Ali had successfully defended the belt three times within three months against mostly average opponents. Now he was to face Joe Frazier for the third time to change the record to his favor (Frazier had won the first bout in 1971, Ali dominated the rematch three years later).

The bout was important for Ali not only in terms of prestige. He was guaranteed six million dollars which was twice as much as Joe's and more than Ali had received for the first two fights altogether.

As usual, Ali didn't miss a chance to verbally attack his opponent in the days leading to the bout. This time it was worse than ever: He gave Frazier the nickname 'Gorilla', called him ignorant and mocked him because of his ghetto slang. Frazier countered with untypically statements: 'I want to hurt him. I don't want to knock him out. I want to take his heart out.'

Finally, the day of the fight was there. On the morning of October 1 (the fight took place at 10:45 a.m. to suit US viewers) 25,000 people crowded the Philippines Coliseum in Quezon City, six miles outside Manila, hoping for a great fight.

As expected, Ali puts pressure on Frazier in the beginning, stinging him with jabs and combinations to the head, winning the first rounds. Frazier does not lose hope - he knows his time is still to come. He keeps smiling as he takes Ali's punches and retaliates with punches to Ali's arms and body, once in a while a hook gets through to Ali's head.

With about a third of the fight over, Ali tires and Joe's punches hit target more often. The champion rests at the ropes like he did against Foreman. This time, however, the 'rope-a-dope' can not be successful because it is part of Frazier's tactic to batter Ali's arms until they are hurting to the extent that taking a blow is less painful than blocking it. Frazier tires too and by round ten both fighters show clear signs of fatigue, fighting at low pace. Angelo Dundee said after the fight: 'Both guys ran out of gas, only my guy had an extra tank'

Where Ali took the energy to come back in the heat and humidity of the Coliseum and hit Frazier worse than anyone had hit him before, has been subject to speculations ever since. 'Ali's magic' appeared for the last time in his career. From round twelve on, Frazier sees no land. In round thirteen his mouthpiece is knocked out of his mouth and out of the ring. So are his winning chances. Ali delivers 43 (!) punches in six minutes to Frazier's head, 'Smokin' Joe' did not fall, though. By round fourteen, Joe's left eye is completely shut so that he is not able to see Ali's punches any more.

In the break before the last round, Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch stops the fight. Too dominating, too far ahead had Ali been on the scorecards, too handicapped was Joe in terms of his vision to have any chance of winning.

Moments after the fight was over, Ali fainted in his corner. No one knows whether he could have resumed the fight. Ali was later quoted that he had been ready to quit if Joe had not.

Both Ali and Frazier fought to their absolute limit and maybe beyond. Joe's eyes were still shut hours after the fight. Ali's body showed conspicuous signs of the battle, with hematomas and bruises and swellings everywhere, as a result of 'punches that would have knocked down a house' as Joe later put it. Ali is supposed to have told Angelo Dundee yet during the fight that this was 'the closest to dying' he had ever been.

Friends and fans of the champion hoped Ali would finally after this slaughter in the ring, at the age of 33, announce his retirement. However, six more years would pass until this wish became reality at last.

In the last ten bouts of his career, following the 'Thrilla in Manila', Ali would never again be as good as he was in Manila on the morning of October 1. Maybe the illness Ali suffers from today would be less heavy if Ali had retired after the Thrilla in Manila but one can not tell.

Ali, however, continued his career and fought three times in the first half of 1976 - against Jean-Pierre Coopman (k.o. in round five), Jimmy Young who he defeated although he weighed 230 pounds and England's Richard Dunn (k.o. 5).

Then, one of the most embarrassing events of Ali's career took place. For two million dollars he fought the Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in Tokyo. What was planned to be a show event, almost turned into tragedy. The referee announced a draw after fifteen rounds - Inoki had tried to kick Ali's legs the whole time while Ali had thrown just six punches.
But the boring fight had consequences on Ali's health. Inoki had ruptured blood vessels in Ali's legs with his constant kicks. Because he didn't treat it right, Ali almost had to end his career.

On September 9, 1976, Ali fought Ken Norton for the third time. Despite being in pretty good shape, he won only because of a mistake in Norton's corner. Before the last round, the fight was scored even but Norton's coaches advised him to stay away from Ali because they thought Norton had a comfortable lead. Norton did as he was told and gave away the victory although he could have easily won the last round. Ali admitted after the fight that he felt he had lost.
Seven months later, although not much of Ali's 'magic' was left which helped him win against Foreman and Frazier, Ali entered the ring again and defeated the Spanian Alfredo Evangelista.

In the meantime, Ali's second marriage came to an end. He had had a relationship with Veronica Porche since the Foreman-bout. She was one of four poster girls who had promoted the Rumble in the Jungle. This relationship led to Belinda filing for divorce in 1976. One year later, Ali married Veronica.
In September 1977, Ali defended his title against Earnie Shavers at sold-out Madison Square Garden. After being in heavy trouble in the second round, Ali recovered and won the fight. One week after this fight, Ali's long-time doctor Ferdie Pacheco wasn't willing to be responsible for Ali's deteriorating health any more and left the champ's entourage.

Ali's next opponent was Leon Spinks, a no-name with a record of seven professional bouts. There were no doubts that the great Ali would easily defeat him.

Ali trained less than ever for the fight against Leon Spinks that was to take place in Las Vegas on February 15, 1978. He started training at 242 pounds and sparred less than twenty rounds.

This attitude would take his toll. Ali once again tried to be successful with his 'rope-a-dope'-strategy but this time it didn't work. Spinks didn't tire and kept punching on Ali's arms and belly. When Ali went off the ropes to attack, his body refused to obey.

The judges scored 2:1 for Spinks and Muhammad Ali had lost the title in the ring for the first and only time.

Ali commented on his defeat: 'Of all the fights I lost in boxing, losing to Spinks hurt the most. That's because it was my own fault. Leon fought clean; he did the best he could. But it was emberassing that someone with so little fighting skills could beat me.'

After this loss, Ali was determined to win the title back. A rematch was scheduled although the WBC stripped Spinks of their version of the title because he did not fight Ken Norton - the WBA version remained.

While Spinks enjoyed the advantages of being champion - he was, for example, caught with cocain - Ali struggled to get into good shape again.

Ali announced before the fight that he would not 'rope-a-dope' again but try to keep Spinks in distance. This worked pretty good - Spinks also couldn't cope with Ali holding most of the time. Still, it was a pretty boring fight. Ali who dominated most of the rounds won an unanimous decision and became the first boxer in the history of the heavyweight division to win the title three times.

After this bout, Ali retired from boxing.


After his retirement, Ali traveled around the world. He was hosted by heads of states and important politicians all over the world. He also visited Russia where he met Leonid Brezhnev. In February 1980, Ali was entrusted by president Carter to promote the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. However, Ali was not successful.

After his unfortunate negotiations, Ali despite qualms of his entourage (including his mother) planned to return to professional boxing. Beside his need for money, Ali's longing for pugilistic immortality was liable for this decision. His foe was to be Larry Holmes, a former sparring partner of Ali who had become champion in the meantime. Despite being 'only' challenger, Ali was paid eight million dollars, four times as much as Holmes.

Because of various concerns about his health, Ali checked into the Mayo clinic in Minnesota to undergo a medical examination. Ali was granted a license by the physicians although they had spotted a hole in a brain membrane. The fact that Ali also had problems to touch his nose with closed eyes and had told the doctors that he had been speaking inarticulately every now and then, didn ot change their opinion that he was able to fight Holmes. The doctors did not realize that these symptoms were signs of a commencing, severe disease that could be worsened by punches to the head.

Ali weighed 254 pounds when he started to train for this bout but soon started to lose weight rapidly. It seemed that Ali was in the best condition he had been for years. But the cause of his slimming was not hard training or a special diet but a drug that had been incorrectly prescribed by Herbert Muhammad's personal physician to cure a hypothyroid condition Ali did not have. This drug interfered Ali's metabolism. As a result, Ali lost pound after pound but was increasingly exhausted after heavy exertions.

Ali finally weighed 216 pounds when he entered the ring against Holmes. However, he was not in the constitution to fight a professional 15-round bout. His body was dehydrated and the faintest movements made him short of breath. After a few rounds it became obvious that Ali had no chance. Again and again, Holmes signaled the referee to stop the uneven fight because he did not want to hurt the man that he still admired. After round ten, Angelo Dundee did what he doubtlessly should have done much earlier - he liberated his protege from his torture. It was not a fight; it was an execution. Ali was lucky to survive this fight. It indeed seems incredible that the Ali-Holmes fight took place at all.

But the ones who thought this painful defeat made Ali realize that he should not box any more, were taught better. In autumn of 1981, Ali - almost 40 years old - entered the ring one more time to fight Trevor Berbick on the Bahamas because no site in the USA had been found.

It was not an honorable ending for a career that had been that great. At least Ali was not knocked out in his last fight but that is about the only positive aspect one can think of.

The loss against Trevor Berbick was the last of 61 professional fights in Muhamad Ali's unique career that had lasted for 21 years.

After having retired from professional boxing, Muhammad Ali went through difficult times. His health was cause of serious concerns among his fans and family. Fatigue, lack of concentration, and an occasionally occurring slurred speech finally led to Ali undergoing a series of medical checks in New York.

After the eight day examination, supervised by professor of neurology Stanley Fahn, the public was told that Ali showed 'mild symptoms' of Parkinson's Syndrome which is a neurological disorder causing, among other things, a tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity of muscles. It was also said that Ali's life was not in danger due to this disease that possibly could be treated successfully.

The following years brought changes in Muhammad Ali's private environment. In summer of 1986, his marriage with Veronica broke and Ali married long-time friend Lonnie Williams in the same year. Lonnie, occasionally calling her husband 'my baby', had been knowing Ali almost all of her life since their mothers are neighbors and good friends in Louisville. Many intimates of the couple agree that solicitous Lonnie is 'the best that could happen to Ali'.

Two years later, Ali suffered a heavy loss when Drew 'Bundini' Brown, Ali's long time motivator and close friend, died from a stroke. Bundini invented the legendary phrase 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee', he and Ali used to shout out on uncountable occasions, perfectly characterizing the young Ali's fighting style.

Muhammad Ali appeared on global stage in 1990 when he freed fifteen US hostages from the Iraq during the gulf crisis. Negotiations were eased by his being muslim (which however does not narrow this success).

Ali was once again the Greatest in 1996 when he lit the Olympic fire in Atlanta. The confident way he presented himself despite trembling heavily impressed millions around the globe. Fifteen years after his retirement and twelve years after his being diagnosed of Parkinson, he celebrated an impressing comeback on the stage of sport.

Muhammad Ali does not want people to feel sorry for him because of his physical condition. Ali who prays five times a day takes his fate as God's will: 'I had a good life before and I'm having a good life now.' According to himself, Ali has become a true believer in Allah after his retirement from boxing and has been one ever since. Ali believes in freedom and brotherhood of all people. He condemned the terrorists of September 11, saying they spoiled the religion of Islam.

Finally, we have reached the end of a remarkable story, the precedentless story of a sportsman who rose from a cocky country boy from Louisville, Kentucky, to a man who was not only more successful in boxing than anyone before and after, but also influenced thousands of people in America and around the globe by courageously standing up for his personal and religious beliefs. The story of a man who today has one of the most recognizable faces on this planet, a man with millions of admirers worldwide whose door is still open for everyone who needs help of any kind.

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