Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, along with countless other illustrious opponents have faced the brunt of Muhammad Ali’s glove at some point, but the Louisville Lip’s sheer grit managed to leave a permanent mark on things far greater.
Not only did he break racial barriers by taking pride in his African heritage and inspiring countless, outrageously talented Afro-Americans to shed their colour inhibitions and go on make a name for themselves in a largely white dominated ‘60s United States but also pioneered his infamous brand of trash talk - which continues to be used by nearly every fighter worth his/her salt today. His commendable determination, dazzling talent and gift of the gab – all of which made people root for the perceived underdog – saw him evolve from a mere boxer to an icon of American pop culture.
Having made such an impact on world history, it comes as no surprise that he acquired the title of the Greatest – a title met with little astonishment from the man himself. All in all, it can be safely said that Ali remains undefeated even in death, as his legacy will undoubtedly continue to live on. In fact, one can almost imagining him cautioning the Grim Reaper with the words: ”If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise”. Here’s looking back at Muhammad Ali’s five greatest fights.
1) Clay vs. Sonny Liston (25 February 1964)
Labelled as one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, the bout against world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston was what made everybody sit up and take serious notice of Ali’s credentials as a boxer.
Liston, who once remarked that if he fought Clay – a 1960 Olympics gold medallist - he’d get locked up for murder, entered the match as the undisputed favourite, but as soon as the first bell rang, it was clear that the tide was in favour of Ali – then going by his birth name of Cassius Clay.
Liston began the match by rushing at Clay, hoping to knock out his young opponent quickly, but was soon overcome by the latter’s magnificent speed and jabs, and eventually conceded defeat before the seventh round commenced. As soon as his opponent threw in the towel, Ali uttered the unforgettable line "I am the greatest ... I shook up the world."
There was Clay, the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion, ready to create more history. The unforgettable match was followed by another shocker in the form of Clay’s decision to convert to Islam and change his name into one that he’d be remembered by for the rest of his life – Muhammad Ali.
2) Ali vs. Joe Frazier aka Thrilla in Manila (1 October 1975)
Ali and Frazier – two magnificent opponents – had faced each other twice before, but the third and final bout between them will arguably be their most memorable encounter. Frazier and Ali had both taken turns in triumphing over each other and were eager to prove who was superior once and for all.
Taking place in tropical Manila, the fight began at nearly 11 am in order to accommodate US broadcasters. Both the opponents faced a common enemy in the form of the scorching Manila heat and gave everything they had with neither gaining the upper hand.
The slugfest went on for 14 brutal rounds until Frazier, urged by his trainer Eddie Futch, reluctantly threw in the towel. Ali was a changed man after the fight and went through ten more bouts before hanging up his gloves.
3) Ali vs. Joe Frazier aka Fight of the Century (8 March 1971)
The Fight of the Century between Mayweather and Pacquiao was a disappointment on many levels, but the original one that took place between Ali and Smokin’ Joe was far from a letdown. During Ali’s incarceration for refusing to be enlisted into the army during the Vietnam War, Frazier rose through the ranks and eventually became heavyweight champion before Ali re-entered the fray.
Before the fight, both outrageously talented boxers were unbeaten, making for a mouthwatering showdown. The venue in the form of New York’s Madison Square Garden certainly helped the bout live up to its ambitious title. Besides a thronging crowd, numerous celebrities – Frank Sinatra among them – were drawn to the event.
The fight was extremely even until round 11 when Frazier began employing his trademark power shots. Smokin’ Joe caught Ali with one of his famous left hooks in the 15th round, after which Ali rapidly leapt back up, but the jury had already reached its verdict – awarding the fight to Frazier by unanimous decision.
The aftermath was massive, with Ali being handed the first defeat of his career, while Frazier became the first boxer to defeat the Greatest.
4) Ali vs. George Foreman aka Rumble in the Jungle (30 October 1974)
Another memorable encounter, this time Ali was pitted against George Foreman – who shocked the world when he pounded the strength out of Joe Frazier to win the heavyweight championship.
Taking place in Kinshasa, Zaire, Foreman was highly tipped to emerge victorious, but Ali pulled an amazing win by cleverly dancing about the ring and using his iconic rope-a-dope trick to tire his opponent and eventually exhausted Foreman so much that a series of lefts from Ali was all it took to knock the wind out of the former.
The win not only resulted in Ali retaining his title but also silenced his numerous detractors.
5) Ali vs. Ernie Terrell (6 February 1967)
Ali pulled off a shocker when he decided to convert to Islam shortly after his win against Sonny Liston. However, not everyone acknowledged him by his new name, fellow boxer Ernie Terrell being one of the few. Terrell’s refusal to acknowledge Ali by his new name angered the Greatest, who decided to do his talking in the ring.
Besides establishing superiority over Terrell, Ali taunted his opponent in the ring by repeatedly stating “What’s my name? Say my name”. The fight stretched to 15 rounds before the jury declared Ali the winner by unanimous decision. An incredible encounter indeed!