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Muhammad Ali 1960s

Muhammad Ali 1960s

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Muhammad Ali: My Memories

In 1960 a young man named Cassius Clay came along and made his professional boxing debut. In his first experience as a professional boxer, he took a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker. My Dad remarked about Clay, “I don’t think he’ll go very far. He’s too good looking, he’ll be worried about his face.” But I didn’t think so. “But Dad, why would he become a boxer if he’s gonna worry about his face?” To that my father answered, “Well he’s probably just in it for a short time, to make a few bucks. He’ll get out of the game when the going gets rough.” Dad couldn’t have been more wrong, and he was the first to admit it later on. He said casually after watching Ali win yet again, “You know Tain, (my nickname) I was mistaken about him, I think he’s going to do alright. He can hit like a freight train, and hell, they never GET to his face,” and he laughed. It was a promise of things to come from young Cassius. These are my memories of Cassius Clay, or as he was later known, Muhammad Ali.

Boxing was THE Sport In My Home

My Dad was a boxer in his youth, so of course  we discussed boxing almost daily in our house. No other sport was ever thought about, and certainly not discussed. When I recall our conversations I remember that Dad’s favorite boxer was Rocky Marciano. Marciano was World Heavyweight Champion from 1952 to 1956 and a hard man to stop by his opponents. Even after receiving a blow on his famous “iron chin” that would have knocked a lesser man out cold,  he kept coming. It seemed he couldn’t be stopped, no matter what his opponent did. He was like a runaway Mack Truck on flat out speed. Many boxers facing him suddenly found themselves looking up at him from their position flat on the mat, never knowing what hit them. You can read my story about his second match with Sonny Liston, and the “Phantom Punch” here for more on Ali and his boxing style.


Handsome young Ali, 1966

Handsome young
Ali, 1966

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Cassius Clay: A Different Kind Of Boxer

But this young, handsome black man was a whole different story. He danced, he floated, he bounced, when the man fighting him hit where he was, he wasn’t there! He was like a spirit, now you see him, now you don’t!  And before Clay ever got in the ring with his opponent, he was using psychology on them,  telling them how great he was and how weak they were. He  knew if he them mad enough, they couldn’t think straight and their fight suffered for it.  For a time he made it a practice to tell the world and his opponent, what round he would put them down and at least 12 times he correctly called it.  (Some credit more than that!) He spoke in rhyme with most of his predictions and even his own promotion.

“I done wrestled with an alligator,
I done tussled with a whale,
handcuffed lightning,
thrown thunder in jail;
only last week, I murdered a rock,
injured a stone, hospitalised a brick;
I’m so mean I make medicine sick!” ~ Muhammad Ali

Yeah he was different alright! Witty with a wry sense of humor, not to mention the uncanny ability of calling the round his opponent would lose, before the match ever took place. The quote below was the one before his first bout with Archie Moore. Do I even need to tell you what round Moore went down??

“When you come to the fight don’t block the door, ‘Cause ya’ll can all go home after round four.” ~ Muhammed Ali


Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves are preserved in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves are preserved in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

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Excitement in the Air

Boxing wasn’t the same once Ali came on the scene, because nobody gave the crowd the glowing-hot, crazy excitement like he did. They never knew what he was going to do or say. When he was in the ring, if you blinked you might miss something important. You didn’t dare take your eyes off him for a second. Seeing him and hearing what he had to say about THIS match was always entertaining. He always talked, he was witty, made you laugh, made you think. Since Louisville, KY was his hometown, he was given the nickname of “The Louisville Lip.” But he wasn’t ALL talk! He had a style that made it impossible NOT to watch him. He mesmerized the crowd, even if they came to see THEIR favorite fighter and not Clay, they found such a fascination it was impossible to look away. You wanted to watch him fight, he was quick as lightning, and he truly did “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” But there was more than boxing to Cassius Clay, who would become Muhammad Ali in the mid 1960s.

Converting to Muslim

When Clay converted his religion to Muslim and changed his name, people said it was so he could dodge the draft. No matter what you’ve been told, the draft had nothing to do with his spiritual life. He believed in the religion because he was convinced it was a religion of peace. He was influenced by his close friendship with Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X. His father wasn’t very happy about it because he said, “”Muslims tell my boys to hate white people; to hate women; to hate their mother.” But the man now known as Muhammad Ali said, ” “I don’t care what my father said….I’m here training for a fight, and that’s all I’m going to say.” This was just before his first fight with Sonny Liston in February of 1964. After winning the fight, he said:  “Allah’s the Arabic term for God. Stand up for God, fight for God, work for God and do the right thing, and go the right way, things will end up in your corner.” That was Ali’s true belief. He would fight in the ring, but he wanted peace in his private life.That’s why he chose not to answer the draft, but instead of running to another country, he stood for what he believed and took the label of “conscientious objector.” He said, to the consternation and anger of many Americans, “I got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” And he truly believed that and stood against the war in Vietnam. The government had him arrested on April 28th, 1967, in Houston, Texas, when he refused to step forward for enlistment in the Army when his name was called. He had just committed a felony punishable by 5 years in jail and a fine of $10,000. The New York State Athletic Commission, on that same day, suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other Commissions in other states followed suit. The government took his passport so he couldn’t go out of the country to box. Essentially, they stopped him from his livelihood, but he stood firm. The years went by, and during that time he made speeches at colleges and gatherings, urging young black men and women to have pride in their race. Finally, on June 28, 1971, the United States Supreme Court in Clay v. United States, overturned his conviction by unanimous decision. In 1975, after the death of the head of Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, Ali converted to middle stream Sunni Islam. Ali had more white colleagues than most African American people did at that time.

The Greatest: Only Boxer To Hold Three Lineal Heavyweight Championships

 Muhammad Ali still remains the ONLY boxer to ever hold three Lineal Heavyweight Championships. He won the title in 1964, 1974, and again in 1978. Out of 61 fights, he won 56, 37 of those by a knockout (KO.) I’d say that stacks up pretty good against 5 losses. But besides being a helluva man, he was also a good man, a humanitarian, who gave of himself, donated his time and his money to various organizations. I’ll leave you with these final words from the man himself:

“People don’t realize what they had till it’s gone. Like President Kennedy, there was no one like him, the Beatles, and my man Elvis Presley. I was the Elvis of boxing.”

RIP Muhammad Ali

January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016