The following article is a dedicated contribution from Jeff Burns.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, the elder son of Cassius Senior and Odessa and brother of Rudolph Valentino on 17th January 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky.
He started boxing at the age of 12 at a gym run by local policeman Joe Martin where he quickly caught the attention of the local boxing fraternity, winning a host of amateur titles culminating in him representing the USA at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. At 18-years of age he boxed in the light heavyweight division and won his way to the final by beating a Belgian in two rounds outpointing a Russian in the quarter finals and winning a points decision over Tony Madigan of Australia in the semi finals. In the final he met up with the experienced Polish boxer Zbigniew Pietrzykowski and was declared the winner on all five of the scorecards to win the gold medal. On his return to the United States he was bombarded with offers to turn professional and he signed up with a syndicate of local businessmen headed by Bill Faversham whilst boxing coach Angelo Dundee was appointed as his trainer.
Made his professional debut in Louisville on 29th October 1960
He made his professional debut in Louisville on 29th October 1960 outpointing Tunney Hunsacker over six rounds. Hunsacker was a seasoned pro also fighting out of Louisville where he had won fifteen out of twenty five professional starts with one draw. Muhammad Ali who was then billed as Cassius Clay won all of the six rounds by wide margins. By the end of 1961 he was boxing 10-round contests and won all of his 10 bouts, seven of those victories were achieved inside the scheduled distance. His victims included Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, Jimmy Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, big punching LaMar Clark, Duke Sabedong, Alonzo Johnson, Alex Miteff and Willie Besmanoff.
Already, Clay was throwing out challenges and insults to World heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, his ambition was to become the youngest ever heavyweight champion, an honour that was held at that time by the reigning champion who had won the title when he was 21 years and 10-months old.
Became known as the 'Louisville Lip.'
The year 1962 started with a shock for young Cassius because in the first round of his first fight of the year he was dumped on his pants by Sonny Banks before stopping his opponent in the fourth round. By this time he was predicting the round in which he would stop his opponents and it came as no surprise to Clay that the referee stopped the contest true to his prediction. The ‘Louisville Lip’ as he was now known, accurately predicted the ending of his remaining five fights in this year. He stopped Don Warner in the fourth, George Logan in four, Billy Daniels in the seventh, Argentine prospect Alejandro Lavorante in five and the ageless former World light heavyweight champion Archie Moore in the fourth. This was Archie’s 217th and penultimate fight.
Clay’s next fight was in Pittsburgh in January 1963, he predicted big Charley Powell wouldn’t be around for the end of the second - how right he was as the referee came to Charley’s rescue in round two.
Cassius was to feature in the Mecca of boxing the New York’s Madison Square Garden for his next encounter in March 1963. His opponent was New Yorker Doug Jones (see above) who was the leading contender for Harold Johnson’s World light heavyweight title. The ‘Lip’ predicted that he would halt Jones in the fourth but the fight turned out much tougher than expected as the shorter and lighter New Yorker was still around at the final bell. The two ringside judges made Clay the winner by just one round although the referee scored Clay a clear winner giving him eight rounds with one for Jones and one even. Regardless of the score there can be little doubt that Jones had given Cassius one hell of a fight and given his backers one hell of a fright!
Henry Cooper floors Cassius Clay
The experienced Dundee managed to buy his dazed and confused charge some time...
The next venue was Wembley Stadium, London on 18th June 1963 and the opponent would be the British and Commonwealth champion Henry Cooper. In round four ‘our enery’ as he was known, was trailing on points against the clowning Clay, caught his opponent with a terrific left hook sending Cassius crashing to the canvas. The stunned American rose to his feet to the welcome sound of the bell to end round four. He walked unsteadily to his corner where Angelo Dundee frantically went to work attempting to recuperate Cassius for round five. The experienced Dundee managed to buy his dazed and confused charge a few seconds when he called the referee to the corner to inform him that Clay’s glove had split. Repairs were hastily carried out and Cassius was sent out for round five.
The British champion was looking to continue where he had left off but the shaken Clay’s fun and games were over as he went about his business, blinding speed, pinpoint accuracy and electrifying reflexes all part of his armoury as he slashed at the paper thin eyebrows of his adversary. The blood was gushing from the horrendous lacerations around Cooper’s eyes as referee Tommy Little compassionately came to his rescue. The fight had been stopped in round five and ironically that was the round that the "Louisville Lip" predicted the fight would end. This fight and the way it ended would leave a number of unanswered questions, but it is suspected that the late Angelo Dundee deliberately split the glove to allow Cassius a little more time to recover. Cassius promised Henry a return match after he had become World champion.