Five Reasons why Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer who ever held a championship title.
by Jack Corbett
Who was the greatest heavyweight champion of them all?
The verdict of the most respected boxing experts are pretty much evenly divided between Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis.
But let’s forget for a moment that the BBC ranked Ali as the greatest sports personality of the century or that Sports Illustrated called him the sportsman of the century. Forget the fact that during his championship years Ali’s face was the most recognizable face in the world. Forget that he was more famous than the U.S. president or any dictator or king on the planet.
I’m focusing on one thing only, and that’s who was the greatest boxer of all time.
Was Ali greater than Joe Louis, or Jack Dempsey. Or how about Rocky Marciano who retired undefeated as heavyweight champion after winning 49 out of 49 of his fights–43 of them by knockout? Louis, Dempsey, Marciano, and Ali were all heavyweight champions. How about Sugar Ray Robinson who is generally acclaimed as the greatest boxer ever considering all the weight divisions altogether? Well, I disagree, and I’m going to give you five reasons why Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of them all.
First is superior speed.
Muhammad Ali’s hand speed has been timed as being even faster than Sugar Ray Robinson’s and here we are talking about a 215 pound heavyweight against a 165 pound Middleweight. As the old saying goes, speed kills, and since Ali was even faster than Robinson this means his killing speed is even better.
Second is the Ability to take a punch. Ken Norton broke Ali’s jaw, yet Ali continued to fight until the bitter end. Or ask George Foreman about Ali’s ability to take a punch. Prior to being knocked out by Ali, Foreman had won 40 out of 40 fights, 37 of them by knockout.
Third is personal courage.
Certainly Ali’s ability to stand up to the heaviest punches of a George Foreman or Joe Frazier is a huge part of such measurement. But Ali’s personal courage went far deeper than the ability to withstand the heaviest punishment an opponent could deliver.
In his prime years Ali took his stand against the Vietnam War by refusing to be inducted by the U.S. military. As a consequence he was stripped of his heavyweight title while being deprived of his passport which meant that for three years he couldn’t fight anywhere in the world. Had he allowed himself to be be inducted by the military, Ali would have had a soft and lucrative time of it fighting in exhibitions for the entertainment of U.S. servicemen, getting to tour the world, and making money endorsing various products from Wheaties cereal to fashionable cars. He almost had to go to prison for standing up for his rights and his religious beliefs.
Fourth is all around boxing skills.
This includes footwork, the ability to duck and slip punches and the ability to take an opponent out. While I was an adolescent studying Ali’s fights I was firmly convinced that Ali could knock any opponent out, and that when he didn’t, it was simply because he was playing games. Examples of this include both Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell. Ali could have knocked out either man. Instead he chose to humiliate both by dragging each fight out to the end as he toyed with each of them like a cat would with a mouse.
Fifth is, it’s difficult to lose at anything when you are firmly convinced that you have God on your side. Muhammad Ali was a devoted Muslim following the teachings of Elijah Muhammad.
Much of the reason behind his taking his stand against the Vietnam War was
because of his religion which prohibited the killing of other human beings. Undoubtedly whenever Muhammad Ali stepped into the ring he absolutely believed that Allah would not allow him to lose.
Let me go one step further to say that Ali was in every sense of the word, Allah’s or God’s messenger. His sacrifice of his heavyweight title and what would have been his most successful years as a boxer is in my opinion the same type of sacrifice that was made by Jesus Christ or Buddha who sacrificed all of his material wealth in order to teach the principles of Buddhism that he was bringing into the world. I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that Ali would have sacrificed his own life for his principles.
I would classify Muhammad Ali’s career in four stages.
The first is one of establishing himself as being worthy of taking a run at the heavyweight title. This stage of his career starts with his winning the gold medal for the U.S. in the 1960 world Olympics. When he turned professional soon afterwards he fought a number of fights that brought him so much attention that Sonny Liston, who was then the Heavyweight champion could not ignore him.
The second stage of his career are his prime years as Heavyweight Champion before he was robbed of his title.
This starts with his first Liston fight and ends with his last fight against Zora Folley. The World Boxing Association stripped him of his title soon after the Folley fight. Over the next three years, as usually happens to a fighter after a long layoff, Ali’s boxing skills seriously eroded. He’d never be able to reclaim what he had lost in his prime years.
The third stage of his career were his resurgence as Champion.
Keep in mind that even though the WBA had stripped him of his title, Ali never ceased to become world champion in the hearts and minds of his millions of fans across the world. A new champion would arise in the form of Joe Frazier after a series of elimination bouts were established. And although Joe Frazier was certainly worthy of the world heavyweight title, the real champion had always been Muhammad Ali.
In order to be recognized as the real champion by anyone or anything other than the WBA Frazier would have to defeat Ali in the ring.
Which he did. Or did he really? I suppose that Frazier actually did defeat Ali in the first Ali Frazier match up, but he did it by the narrowest of margins. Ali Frazier 1 has been recognized as one of the toughest and best in heavyweight championship History. And for many, Muhammad Ali was still the reigning heavyweight champion regardless of what the referees had to say about it.
Later Ali would go on to defeat Frazier in their next fight. He then knocked out the “invincible” George Foreman and then he finally settled his score with Frazier by scoring a TKO in the last round after another grueling battle.
Ali’s supreme boxing skills never measured up to what they had once been during his prime years,
but during this third stage of his career, Ali showed that as a ring commander he was second to none, and that he could take a punch as well as any man who had ever stepped into a boxing ring.
So in spite of his no longer being as fast or tireless as he had been in his prime,
Muhammad Ali was now at the top of his game.
He had knocked out both Foreman and Frazier. Both men were far more formidable than any of Joe Louis’s or Dempsey’s opponents, with the exception of Rocky Marciano who knocked an over the hill Joe Louis out. Or possibly Gene Tunney who twice defeated a past his prime Jack Dempsey. I mentioned possibly because I’m not sure how well Gene Tunney would have fared against a younger Dempsey or a Joe Frazier or Foreman, who were both extremely powerful punchers.
This is when Muhammad Ali should have quit.
He should have ended his career while he was on top. By now he was simply getting too old. He had absorbed far too much punishment in the ring and it is quite likely that Parkinson’s disease had already set in. I will call stage 4 of Muhammad Ali’s career as “Eclipse”. I will not contribute any videos that fall into this category for many reasons. After all the subject of this piece is, “Five Reasons why Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer who ever held a championship title” rather than a complete history of Muhammad Ali.
I’m putting up a lot of you tube videos here both for my own personal enjoyment and for those who want to revisit the remarkable boxing careers of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
Stage 1 of Muhammad Ali’s Career. Proving he’s worthy of fighting the world champion
Stage II in Ali’s Career. In his prime as world heavyweight champion
Stage III of Ali’s Career Resurgence as World Champion (but past his prime years)
From November 22, 1965 when he defended his title against Floyd Patterson and November 11, 1966 when he TKO’d Cleveland Williams, Muhammad Ali defended his title 8 time. Think about that. Here’s a man who risks losing the heavyweight championship 8 times in a single year when most heavyweight champions fight only twice a year. In his prime Muhammad Ali would fight and beat all comers. Ali knew he was the great
est boxer of all time. He always said he was. And I believe that with the passage of time, he will be regarded as so much more than the greatest boxer ever.