Was Muhammad Ali the greatest? Part 4 (by Jeff Burns)

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The following article is a dedicated contribution from Jeff Burns.

Ali determined for a rematch with champion Joe Frazier

Muhammad Ali was determined to earn himself a return clash with champion Joe Frazier in an attempt to regain the title he had won from Sonny Liston back in 1964. He began his new campaign by stopping the former WBA heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis in the 12th and last round at the Houston Astrodome just four months after his epic battle with Frazier.

In November he outpointed Buster Mathis over 12 rounds, again at the Astrodome, and on Boxing Day fought in Zurich where he knocked out the German champion Jurgen Blin in the seventh round. In 1972 he defeated Mac Foster, George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry, Alvin Lewis and Floyd Patterson - all rated contenders and in his final contest of the year he knocked out World light heavyweight champion Bob Foster.

Ali's hopes of winning the title back from Frazier were dashed when 'Smokin Joe' lost his title to George Foreman

Ali’s hopes of winning the title from Frazier in a return clash were dashed when ‘Smokin Joe’ lost his title to George Foreman from Houston, Texas in Kingston, Jamaica on 22nd January 1973. Big George, the 1968 Olympic heavyweight gold medallist, was unbeaten in 37 contests when he tangled with Joe and had decked the champion seven times before referee Arthur Mercante called a halt to the proceedings in the third round. Foreman’s acquisition of the title didn’t dampen Ali’s enthusiasm to become only the second heavyweight to regain the heavyweight title after Floyd Patterson who accomplished that feat when he knocked out Ingemar Johannson in the Polo Grounds in New York in 1960.

After beating Britain’s Joe Bugner in Las Vegas on St Valentine’s Day 1973 the Louisville Lip suffered a setback when he lost for the second time in his career, losing a split decision against Ken Norton. After recovering from a broken jaw sustained in that fight, Ali got his campaign back on track by winning an equally narrow points decision over 12 rounds in a return bout five months later. In his fourth and final outing of 1973 Muhammad Ali outclassed Dutch heavyweight Rudi Lubbers to win a twelve rounds points decision by a huge margin.

On 28th January 1974 and now aged 32, Ali was matched with Joe Frazier, who since losing his title to Foreman had appeared at Earls Court in London where in a big last round he floored Joe Bugner to earn himself a points victory. The return fight failed to live up to the tempo and the excitement of the first encounter, the Kentuckian won a clear unanimous decision over 12 rounds. Ali had now reversed the decisions against the only two men to have beaten him. In spite of his victories over Norton and Frazier it was Ken Norton who was offered the unenviable task of challenging Foreman for his crown. His challenge taking place in Caracas, Venezuela where after taking several trips to the canvas he was stopped after two minutes of round two. Foreman had destroyed both Frazier and Norton in two rounds apiece yet both fighters had beaten Ali and took him the distance in return fights. What chance would Ali have against the big punching Texan?

Don King visited President Mobutu with a proposal!

Don KingAn ex-convict Don King visited President Mobutu in the African republic of Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo and proposed to him that he would provide him with the 'greatest event on earth' at that time if he would guarantee him $10million. The president, who was not known to suffer fools stumped up the cash that would finance Don King’s enterprise. He flew back to America then met with George Foreman's team and came up with an offer of $5million to defend his title against Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire on 30th September 1974. Foreman's camp accepted the offer without hesitation and that amount of money was the highest ever earned by any sportsman for one performance. The same offer was put to the challenger Muhammad Ali and was accepted. 'The Rumble in the Jungle' was on!

The 6ft 4in George Foreman was 25 years of age and weighed in at 15st 10lbs. He was undefeated in 40 contests, 37 fights had been won inside the distance. His 6ft 3½in challenger would be approaching his 33rd birthday, had won 44 of 46 outings and would weigh in three and a half pounds lighter. All the smart money was on Foreman to retain his title. Ali however, was confident that he would return to the United States with the heavyweight crown.

ITV4 are currently showing a five-part series about Muhammad Ali and the third part is scheduled for Monday 1st October 2012.

Read More: Was Muhammad Ali the greatest? Part 5 (by Jeff Burns)

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