It’s a difficult task trying to find a name in sport more revered than Muhammad Ali. For his triumphs in the ring, he became one of boxing’s greatest, for his actions outside, he became a global icon.
The legacy of Muhammad Ali only grows with time. It stops at no border and thrives with each generation. ‘The Greatest’ etched himself into boxing lore by defeating the legends of his own era.
At the age of 22, Muhammad Ali – then known as Cassius Clay – was considered nothing more than a brash upstart. This loudmouth, however, shocked the world when he claimed the heavyweight crown by defeating Sonny Liston, one of the most feared heavyweight champions in boxing history.
Years later, when he returned from his forced exile, Muhammad Ali entered a historic trilogy with Smokin’ Joe Frazier, producing two heavyweight classics in The Fight of the Century and the Thrilla in Manila.
Only 32, Ali was already considered past his best, and was given barely any chance of victory in the Rumble in the Jungle. Once again, ‘The Greatest’ proved the entire world wrong by knocking out George Foreman, a stronger and younger champion, in cinematic fashion.
To this day, these fights are lauded and viewed as the pinnacle of heavyweight boxing. These bouts are certainly Ali’s most famous and deserve every ounce of praise they have received. However, Ali’s resume is one of the best in boxing history, and ‘The Greatest’ has battled an exhaustive number of terrific fighters.
This list is dedicated to the unsung warriors who stepped into the ring with Muhammad Ali.
Here are 3 Muhammad Ali opponents that should not be forgotten:
#3. Muhammad Ali vs. Doug Jones
Doug Jones was a well-respected fighter who fought professionally from 1958 to 1967. The New York native finished his career with 30 wins, 10 losses, and 1 draw.
With impressive knockout victories over the likes of Zora Folley and Bob Foster, Doug Jones proved he was more than just a journeyman. Between those ropes, he was a threat.
One of the greatest accolades of his career came on March 13, 1963 when he nearly defeated a 21-year-old former Olympic gold medalist at Madison Square Garden.
Jones entered the bout ranked No. 3 in the world while Muhammad Ali, who was known as Cassius Clay at the time, came in at No. 2. The winner would earn the right to challenge heavyweight kingpin Sonny Liston.
Before the bout, the young Cassius Clay annoyed older and more traditional boxing fans by engaging in plenty of trash talk. He claimed it would only take four rounds to beat the New Yorker.
He was wrong.
In the first round, Jones rocked his overconfident opponent with a powerful right, much to the delight of the New York crowd. Clay quickly found himself in unfamiliar territory, he was engaged in a battle with an opponent who was unfazed by his speed and unorthodox style.
Doug Jones never stopped with the pressure and gave the Olympic gold medalist his toughest fight up to that point. In the last three rounds, Clay picked up the pace and landed stinging jabs and one-twos. The bout was a thrilling 10 round affair that saw both fighters showcase their grit and skills.
After the final bell, the fight was scored unanimously for Clay. The New York crowd was quick to jeer their disapproval. The fight was close and could’ve gone either way. It was one of the first times Muhammad Ali had to dig deep and find the will to win.
Although Doug Jones might have lost, he was one of the first fighters to pose a legitimate challenge to ‘The Greatest’. For that, he should always be remembered.
#2. Muhammad Ali vs. Bob Foster
Bob Foster remains one of boxing’s most underrated fighters. From 1968 to 1974, he dominated the light heavyweight division, defeating the likes of Dick Tiger, Vicente Rondón, and Chris Finnegan.
After winning the light heavyweight titles, Foster would go undefeated in the division as champion, reigning for six years.
As dominant a fighter and champion as he was, Foster had the misfortune of being a light heavyweight during the golden age of heavyweight boxing. He was fighting in the era of Muhammad Ali.
Bob Foster, desiring a more lucrative bout, moved up in weight and met ‘The Greatest’ in the ring on November 21, 1972.
Muhammad Ali was on an 8-fight win streak since his first professional defeat at the hands of Joe Frazier a year prior. The size difference was laughable. Muhammad Ali was clearly the bigger man, coming in at 220 pounds to Foster’s 180.
Foster found some success in the fight. He landed clean blows and even managed to give ‘The Greatest’ his first cut eye. However, Foster was simply too small. Despite the cut, Ali produced one of his most dominant performances by knocking Foster down seven times and stopping him in the eighth round.
Bob Foster was one of boxing’s best. He was a dominant light heavyweight champion who tore through his division. Wanting to chase greatness, and a better payday, he stepped into the ring with Muhammad Ali and lost.
Interestingly enough, today, the light heavyweight division has become far more lucrative and renowned. The division has been graced by greats such as Roy Jones Jr., Andre Ward, Sergey Kovalev, Bernard Hopkins, and even Canelo Alvarez.
It’s a shame the weight class did not have that type of respect or star power during Foster’s prime.
#1. Muhammad Ali vs. Jerry Quarry
When Muhammad Ali returned from his three year suspension, his first opponent was a fighter by the name of Jerry Quarry.
Jerry Quarry was a boxer with terrific hand speed and excellent counterpunching ability. He had a lot of pop in his punches, as evidenced by his 32 knockout wins, and he wasn’t afraid to mix it up on the inside, as proven in his first bout with Joe Frazier.
In a previous era, he might’ve been champion. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as Quarry was forced to contend with some of the greatest of all time. ‘The Bellflower Bomber’ fought Muhammad Ali twice. Their first bout took place in 1970 upon Ali's return.
Ali looked like he hadn’t lost a step. He landed blistering jabs and one-twos at will and looked leagues above Quarry. The fight only lasted three rounds and was stopped due to cuts (Quarry had a propensity for getting cut easily).
Their second fight took place in 1972 and once again, Ali dominated. Instead of winning due to cuts, Ali won by battering Quarry from bell to bell. At the beginning of the seventh, Ali landed a vicious uppercut-hook combo and implored the ref to stop the fight.
Once again, ‘The Bellflower Bomber’, like so many other men, failed to defeat Muhammad Ali. While it may be easy to assume Quarry was just an ordinary contender due to the brutal Ali losses, his resume says otherwise. Take for example the bouts he had with Mac Foster and Earnie Shavers.
Before his first fight with ‘The Greatest’, Quarry knocked out the then-undefeated Mac Foster in the sixth round. Before the rematch with Ali, Quarry stopped the hard-punching Earnie Shavers in the very first round. Both Foster and Shavers would go on to later fight Ali and both men went the distance with ‘The Greatest’. On February 9 1973 Jerry Quarry beat the then-undefeated Ron Lyle by unanimous decision.
Two years later, Lyle fought Muhammad Ali and shocked the boxing world with his amazing performance. He bloodied Ali’s nose and consistently landed sharp punches. Throughout the bout, ‘The Greatest’ struggled with the tough Lyle and was even behind on two scorecards before he secured a surprise TKO victory in the eleventh round.
These examples should prove that not only do styles make fights, but that Jerry Quarry was an elite talent in his own right.