Round One: Cassius Clay vs. Anthony Quinn aka “Mountain Rivera,” 1962
Twenty-year old Cassius Clay was cast as himself in the opening kayoing of two-time Academy Award winner Anthony Quinn in the seventh round of Requiem for A Heavyweight . A few months after this was filmed, Cassius Clay knocked out a real life grizzled ring veteran, Archie Moore, who was one month shy of his 46th birthday.
Round Two: Cassius Clay Proclaims “I Am The Greatest,” 1963
Though it wasn’t widely known, Cassius Clay’s secret ambition was to be an R&B star. Lloyd Price was to be a lifelong friend, and, later, a promoter for Ali’s fights. His album, I Am The Greatest, was recorded and released in 1963, six months before Clay would defeat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship in February, 1964. The liner notes were written by the great poet and sports enthusiast Marianne Moore.
The album is classified as spoken word. One of the tracks was titled “Will The Real Sonny Liston Please Fall Down.” “I Am The Greatest” was released as a single with the album’s only song, Ben E, King’s “Stand By Me” on the B side. I purchased the single with my paper route money, and my father bought the album for $2.99, saying “Maybe it will become a collector’s item.” You can get one on EBay today for 50 to 90 bucks.
Round Three: Muhammad Ali on Broadway, 1969
Ali appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show to plug his Broadway debut in the musical, Buck White, based on a play written by Joseph Dolan Tuotti. The show, with music by Oscar Brown, Jr., premiered December 12, 1969 at the George Abbott Theatre. Despite the boost from Sullivan and the lure of seeing Ali in an Afro, the show ran for just seven performances. Ali played a militant organizing black activist, but his whole performance was never recorded. I’ve never found any other film of Ali singing on national television.
Round Four: Ali’s First Loss, 1970
Boxing historians will tell you that Ali’s first defeat came in 1971 when he lost to Joe Frazier, but that depends on your definition of defeat. Late in 1969, a group of self-appointed boxing experts and computer geeks decided to have a tournament matching up every heavyweight champ up to that time. In the semi-finals, Ali won a decision over Joe Louis while Marciano kayoed Jack Dempsey.
This set up the bout between the only two undefeated heavyweight champions in history. (Marciano had retired unbeaten in 1955, and Ali was undefeated at that time.) Rocky worked out for months and slimmed down into an approximation of his early 1950s fighting weight, and the two fighters recorded every possible scenario. The outcome was determined using probability formulas: Marciano won, knocking out Ali in the 13th round. (Championship fights were 15 rounds then.)
Ali promptly claimed “I got beat by an old man and a computer made in Alabama.”
Shown on closed circuit, the simulated fight grossed a remarkable $5 million. The irony was that Maiciano died in a plane crash in August of the previous year and never knew that a computer had declared him “The Greatest.”
Round Five: Life Magazine, Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier, 1971
Life magazine, March 19, 1971, covered the Ali-Frazier fight with text by Norman Mailer and photos by Frank Sinatra, will set you back as much as $250 on EBay. Mailer’s commentary would later be put between covers for his book King of the Hill.
Round Six: The Scariest Fight With Joe Frazier, 1974
Ali’s three ring matches with Joe Frazier were among the highest grossing fights in boxing history. But people got to see this one for free in 1974 when the two were on Howard Cosell’s Saturday afternoon show on ABC, promoting what would be billed as “Super Fight 2.” Frazier had won the first, which was also the first fight Ali had lost up to that time.
Their rivalry was the bitterest the sport had ever seen. Ali and Joe had been pals in the 1960s; Frazier had even given Ali money to live on when he was stripped on his title for refusing to be drafted and denied a license to box in most states.
Frazier’s pride was hurt when Ali used him as a public foil and called him “the white man’s champion” to build up interest and sell tickets for their first “super fight.” When Ali goaded him on Cosell’s show, Joe’s anger boiled over. Dick Cavett later told Ali that he was watching the show and when Frazier came out of his chair, “He looked like the front end of a locomotive.”
Round Seven: “Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay” 1976
In this, the second entry in Ali’s recording career, he teamed up with The Mouth That Roared and The Chairman of the Board. Howard Cosell and Frank Sinatra joined Ali to help educate children about dental hygiene.
"Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay" was the first in a series of albums in which Ali tackled social issues, it was nominated for a Grammy for Children’s Comedy Record. The next year, Ali upped the ante and recorded an album about cocaine use with assistance from President Jimmy Carter. "The Dope King's Last Stand," also featured Lily Tomlin, Arlo Guthrie, and Billie Jean King.
Round Eight: 1978 Superman vs Muhammad Ali
One of Ali’s greatest victories is known only to comic book readers. In 1978,
DC Comics published a giant special edition where The Champ beat The Man of Steel badly and then teamed up with him to turn back an alien invasion from space. The famous Neal Adams wrap around cover of the two in the ring includes a host of celebrities in the audience, including Christopher Reeve, disguised as Clark Kent. Original purchase price $2.50, worth over $200 today.
Round Nine : The Magic of Muhammad Ali, 1983
In 1983, working on a story for the Village Voice, I went to a twentieth anniversary luncheon for the World Boxing Council. Intending to swipe one of the posters advertising the event, I arrived more than an hour early. Someone else got there early as well. As I was slipping a poster into my case, the elevator door opened and in walked the most famous man in the world. Reaching for a packet of sugar on the coffee table, he handed one to me and asked, “Wanna see a magic trick?”
In back of him, four men carrying briefcases, apparently Ali’s entourage, filed into the room, smiling. I looked the Champ in the eye and said, “Uh, sure.”
He instructed me to rip open the packet and sprinkle the sugar into his cupped hands. He pronounced some kind of medicine show-sounding gibberish and then held up his hands, palms up. No sugar, not even a granule. I have no idea how he did it. I would later find that along with boxing and music, magic was one of Muhammad Ali’s passions.
BTW, the poster, which he signed for me, currently resides on my office wall.
See Ali performing magic in the Tokyo airport:
Round Ten, 2005: Ali and George W.
Muhammad Ali’s career spanned the administrations of nine presidents,
Who would have thought that the most eloquent testimony to Muhammad Ali in his lifetime would be delivered by George W. Bush.
This from the 2005 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony