MUHAMMAD ALI | GEORGE FOREMAN
MUHAMMAD ALI, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942, got his first boxing lessons from an Irish-American cop named Joe Martin who thought he was teaching a 13 year-old boy how to protect his bicycle from neighborhood bullies. But by age 16, the young man had won the Louisville Golden Gloves tournament as a light heavyweight and advanced to the quarter finals of the regional championship in Chicago.
After graduating from Louisville's Central High School in 1960, he won the Tournament of Champions in Chicago, as well as the National Golden Gloves competition and the Amateur Athletic Union title. He capped the year with a gold medal at the Rome Olympics. But upon his return from Italy, with the medal literally around his neck, Clay was refused service in a Louisville diner and responded to the hypocrisy by chucking the medallion into the Ohio River.
Sponsored by a consortium of white Louisville businessmen - who required 50% of his earnings in and out of the ring for the six-year term of his contract - Clay had his first professional fight on October 29, 1960, a six round win by decision. Clay took his career development into his own hands at this early juncture by signing Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Under Dundee's tutelage, he rapidly developed his unique boxing style. In November of 1962, Ali defeated a 49-year-old Archie Moore to earn a shot at the heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston.
The young fighter also took charge of his own promotion, recording "I Am the Greatest" and boasting about his boxing, his beauty and his poetry to anyone who would listen. On February 26, 1964, the day after his defeat of Liston to win the World Boxing Association championship, he shocked a public that was already bewildered by his brash pronouncements by declaring that he had converted to the religion of Islam and would hereafter be known as Muhammad Ali - a name whose English translation is "worthy of praise."
His acceptance of the teachings of Elijah Muhammad - and his subsequent dissociation from Malcolm X - alienated many of his fans, black and white. But Ali, constant to his inner voice, remained heedless of those who would not accept the depths of his convictions - even the WBA which displayed its disapproval by refusing to sanction his rematch with Liston, claiming he was fighting under a name other than the one on his boxing license.
In May of 1964, Ali took his first trip to Africa, returning to the U.S. a month later with a new addition to his camp of advisors, Herbert Muhammad (one of Elijah's six sons). Herbert and (through him) his father - were to have a great influence on Ali in coming years. Within two months after his return from Africa, the fighter met and married (within 41 days) Sonji Roi. They would divorce a little more than a year later because of Sonji's refusal to conform to Muslim customs.
In the following year, a controversy over Ali's first-round knockout of Liston during their rematch, left the champ with a tainted crown. Liston appeared to fall from a "phantom punch" and the referee was so busy pushing Ali away from his prone opponent that he neglected to begin a 10 count. Ali spent most of the remainder of 1965 in exhibition matches but did fend off one title challenge from former champion Floyd Patterson, whom he knocked out in the 12th round.
In 1966, his contract with the Louisville businessmen having expired early, his reputation as a fighter quickly catching up to his boasts, and his stature as a respected leader in the black community growing, Muhammad Ali was reclassified 1-A by the Selective Service. He issued his response to Uncle Sam's calling in rhyme,
"Keep asking me, no matter how long
On the war in Vietnam, I sing this song
I ain't got no quarrel with the Viet Cong."
Ali continued to make statements with his fists as well. He defended his title five times in 1966, the last against Cleveland Williams at the Houston Astrodome, a match which, to Howard Cosell, marked "The greatest Ali ever was as a fighter." In February 1967, he returned to Houston to defend his title against Ernest Terrell. But Terrell's taunts - particularly his repeated referral to the champ as "Cassius Clay" - got under the skin of Ali, who punished the challenger in what some writers called a "dirty" fight. Ali had said beforehand that he wanted to "torture" his former sparring partner and, after 15 rounds, it appeared he had kept that promise.
On April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali officially refused induction into the U.S. Army claiming conscientious objector status as "a minister of the religion of Islam." Ten days later, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Houston for draft evasion. The all white jury convicted him and the judge, Joe Ingraham, imposed the maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a ten thousand dollar fine. While awaiting appeal, Ali was ordered not to leave the country and his passport was revoked. Since, as a convicted felon, he was barred from fighting in the U.S., his career was effectively ended.
But Ali's life was far from over. He continued studying and teaching the words of Elijah Muhammad and, on August 17, 1967, married 17-year-old Belinda Boyd. If he couldn't earn a living boxing, he found a way to earn a good wage on the college lecture circuit.
He officially announced his retirement on February 3, 1970, while his appeal was still pending hearing by the Supreme Court. On June 28th, his conviction was overturned in a 8-0 decision based not on any violation of civil liberties, as was argued, but because the FBI had conducted an illegal wiretap on Ali's home phone.
He quickly arranged fights with Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena and won both by knockouts. Then, in March of 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier for the WBA title that had been taken from him. The former champion lost in a 15-round decision at Madison Square Garden that sent both fighters to the hospital. Frazier didn't fight again for ten months; Ali scheduled five three-round exhibition bouts over a period of two days in June, then beat Jimmy Ellis to win the North American Boxing Federation crown in July.
Ali defended his NABF title five times from November of 1971 until losing it in a 12-round decision to Ken Norton on March 31, 1973. Six months later, he regained the title in a 12-round decision over Norton. In January, he beat Joe Frazier - who had lost his WBA championship - in 12-rounds to defend his NABF crown once more. The next challenge was wresting the far more prestigious WBA title away from the imposing new champion, George Foreman.
The Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire earned the Muslim minister the world heavyweight title that would be his for four more years, through 10 successful defenses. He would lose the crown in February 1978 to Leon Spinks, then win it back from Spinks in September of that year, both in 15-round decisions.
Ali announced his retirement in 1979, but was tempted back into one last heavyweight title fight - at the age of 39 - against Larry Holmes on October 2, 1980. The younger boxer pulverized him. Ali fought once more, against the undistinguished Trevor Burbick, losing the non-title fight in 10-rounds in 1981 before hanging up the gloves for good.
In retirement, it was announced that he was suffering from Parkinson's Syndrome which afflicted his motor skills, most noticeably his speech. It is generally presumed the disease was brought on by the accumulated blows to the head Ali received over his career. But the ailment has not affected his mental faculties or his determination. In 1990, just prior to the Persian Gulf War, Ali went to Iraq to talk with President Saddam Hussein to negotiated the release of hostages. Fifteen hostages were released into his custody.
Ali has done most of his legendary philanthropic works anonymously. He has donated millions of dollars to individuals and organizations without consideration for religion or race, including Jewish old-age homes, Catholic churches and numerous colleges.
Muhammad Ali was elected to the boxing Hall of Fame on September 14, 1987.
The career of former heavyweight champion GEORGE FOREMAN spans four decades - but that would be accounting for two George Foremans: one who went to Zaire as the most fearsome and disliked fighter of his day and the second who came out of a two year depression after the demoralizing defeat in Zaire to resurrect his career and reshape his image into that of one of the world's most popular athletes.
Foreman was born on January 22, 1948 in Marshall, Texas, east of Dallas near the Louisiana border. Growing up in Houston, his troubled childhood included arrests for snatching purses and other petty thefts. He was a street tough who might have ended up in jail had it not been for his entrance into the Job Corps and the early influence of football great Jim Brown.
Foreman won the heavyweight gold medal at the 1968 Olympics and began his professional career the following year. The 21 year-old Texan had 13 sanctioned fights that year, winning all of them, 11 by knockouts. The following year he had a dozen bouts, again winning them all, failing to knockout only one opponent. Before his first retirement in 1977, Foreman amassed 42 knockouts in 47 professional fights. No one in the modern history of the sport has been that devastating a puncher.
On January 22, 1973, on his 25th Birthday, Foreman knocked out title holder Joe Frazier in the second round to become world heavyweight champion. He defended the title later that year, knocking out Jose Roman in the first round. In March 1974, he knocked out challenger Ken Norton in round two to defend his crown in Caracas, Venezuela.
The world caved in on Foreman in Zaire, coming to Africa as better than a 3-1 favorite and leaving as victim of one of boxing's most humiliating upsets.
Fighting only exhibition matches in 1975, Foreman returned to the sanctioned arena the following year, knocking out all four of his opponents - including Frazier who this time lasted until round five. In 1977, after the fourth round knockout over a non-contender in January, he lost a 12-round decision to Jimmy Young and, with it, the will to continue fighting. He had found a new calling as a preacher for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Preaching, however, was not as lucrative a profession as punching and, after an absence of 10 years, financial need forced Foreman back into the ring. If it was a new George Foreman who humbly, and with good humor, fielded media questions and warmly endorsed products on television, it looked like the same old fighter with a "KO Win" in the sports pages.
But at age 39, Foreman wasn't the same fighter. From 1987 through 1993, Foreman fought 29 times, winning 27 - 25 by knockout. His two losses, however, came in his only two title bouts: in 1991 against Evander Holyfield for the World Boxing Association title and in 1993 to Tommie Morrison for the World Boxing Organization crown.
Foreman's career record in 76 fights showed 67 wins by knockout, five victories by decision and four losses - only one by knockout. That came from Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974.
SPECIAL THANKS TO STEVE JACKSON ALI COLLECTIBLES FOR THE MEMORABILIA PHOTOS