Was Muhammad Ali the GREATEST? The Answer (by Jeff Burns)

Posted by Paul Moon in Boxing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The following article is a dedicated contribution from Jeff Burns.

Ali's professional boxing career spanned three decades

Ali's professional boxing career had spanned over three decades beginning in October 1960 and ending in December 1981. He was 18 years old when he made his debut and just a month short of his 40th birthday when he retired. He had fought 61 times winning all but five. Three of his five defeats against Spinks, Holmes and Berbick were in his last four contests the other two against Frazier and Norton were both avenged twice over.

Sadly, Ali's brave performances in the latter days of his prestigious career have taken their toll on the great man, leaving him with Parkinson's syndrome denying him of one of his greatest assets his fantastic ability to communicate. The World has been denied great entertainment, valuable spiritual, political and sporting opinion as a consequence of his illness.

Against tremendous odds, Ali first captured the heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston.

He successfully defended the title nine times before he was suspended from boxing and lost three and a half years of what would have been the 'peak years' of his career. He returned to challenge Joe Frazier after having had only two warm up fights and although he fought gallantly but was unable to repel the incessant onslaught of his successor.

This was a different Ali to the defending champion who had knocked out Zora Folley in 1967. The lengthy lay off had clearly robbed Ali of his ability to jab, move and dance for 15 rounds. He was now forced to take breathers by holding on or lying back on the ropes.

Shocked the world beating the seemingly invincible Texan gladiator George Foreman

Incredibly and again against all the odds, Ali shocked the world in that amazing display of cunning and courage when he knocked out and shattered the unbeaten record of the seemingly invincible Texan gladiator George Foreman. He amazed the boxing fraternity when he boxed Smokin' Joe Frazier to a standstill in one of the most brutal heavyweight title fights of all time in the 'Thriller in Manila.'

Leon SpinksIn his second reign as champion he successfully defended the title on 10 occasions before losing to Leon Spinks from whom he regained the title four months later. Ali boxed and beat every heavyweight of note with the exception of Holmes and Berbick whom he fought long, long after he should have retired. He avoided no one, every worthwhile contender that was around got a shot at Ali, and if they wanted and had earned a rematch, they got one.

Early days noted for speed and skill, latterly courage and durability!

In his early days Ali was noted for his speed and his boxing skill, sadly in the latter part of his career his main attributes were his courage and durability. Ali had boxed in a period when there was a glut of heavyweight talent. He boxed six fighters who were undisputed heavyweight champions and four others who laid claim to a version of the title, he had also beaten two light heavyweight title holders. He had fought in the USA, Canada, England, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Ireland, Indonesia, Zaire, Malaysia, Philippines, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, he is not just the most famous boxer, not just the most famous sportsman but the most famous person in the World.

Would he have beaten...

Would he have beaten Johnson, Dempsey, Louis, Marciano, Holmes, Tyson, Holyfield, Lewis or either of the Klitschko brothers or any other of the great champions if they had met when at the peaks of their careers? One can only speculate! How would he have fared if he were a middleweight against the greats of that division Bob Fitzimmons, Stanley Ketchel, Mickey Walker, Sugar Ray Robinson, Dick Tiger, Carlos Monzon and Marvellous Marvin Hagler, who can say? Would he have been victorious if he boxed at the same time and in the same weight categories as Jimmy Wilde, Al Brown, Sandy Saddler, Benny Leonard, Sugar Ray Leonard or Harry Greb?


Ali had the ability, the arrogance, the charisma, the confidence, the courage, the dedication, the eloquence, the humour, the looks, the personality, the wit that as a package cannot be matched! Such characteristics and the fact that Muhammad Ali is the most talked about, the most written about sportsman of all time can only be attributed to the boxer who really was the greatest! JEFF 'BULLDOG' BURNS

Special thanks from The Racing Horse to Jeff Burns

The Racing Horse would like to take this opportunity of thanking Jeff Burns for sharing his views with us. It has been an absolute pleasure and an honour for us to facilitate this article!

Jeff Burns is a man who has boxed professionally, won and been hurt and knows the game inside out. He has an obvious and absolute passion for his sport and just loves to discuss the finer issues. He is also an author and is currently on his second boxing book. His first, called Swansea Boxers 1916 - 2010, was a huge success.

On a personal note, whilst I understood the basic line of Ali’s career I had never had it articulated to me and the piece gave me a much better insight. It made me investigate and watch the fights again and share in those magical and brave moments. It made me realise how dangerous the game can be but also how much society needs it's discipline! It reminds  us of how sport brings races and nationalities together. It proved that any man is able to become great and a history maker no matter the initial disadvantage.

It is hard to imagine another Muhammad Ali. It is hard to imagine another man carrying all those characteristics described by Jeff. For all the reasons given in the piece he surely is the greatest boxer of all time and I have been lucky enough to have witnessed most of it in lifetime!

Thanks again Jeff, we hope he returns to The Racing Horse with his considered thoughts again in the near future. We hope readers will post their views and thanks to Clive Joseph who has already intelligently contributed...

7 Responses to Was Muhammad Ali the GREATEST? The Answer (by Jeff Burns)

  1. Howard J Bernstein says:

    Society is getting desperate. In our search for entertainment, we have found that watching two men beat each other to unconsciousness satisfies our needs. Furthermore, we call it a sport. The “sport” of boxing is inhumane, dangerous, and potentially fatal. Why, then, do we allow it to continue? Because of the preceding reasons, I believe all forms of boxing should be banned!

    As a result of boxing, many diseases and injuries occur. Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease are head-related diseases which affect the memory, thought process, and sometimes even motor skills of the diagnosed. Some fighters affected by these head injuries are the great Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.

    Though much of what attacks the brain cannot be avoidable, many believe that these cases could have been prevented. Yet another common result of boxing is dementia. This is a disease which ‘ages’ the victims up to 30 years. In the case of Jerry Quarry, his life was changed dramatically. Because of excessive punches to the head, Quarry had extreme cerebral atrophy; enlarged cavities filled with fluid in the brain. This condition is what aged him to need help shaving, showering, putting on shoes and socks, and later, changing diapers.

    Lastly, another common result of boxing is becoming comatose. Many boxers such as Jimmy Garcia have gone into a coma after being knocked out during a boxing match. Garcia was in a coma for 13 days until doctors finally took him off life support. Is it not disturbing to think that this 24 year old was deliberately put into that state and later killed? The thought that this young man was being paid to fight for our entertainment surely makes us think about the humanity of boxing.

    Our society, in the last 20 years, has raised standards to such things as people’s health, science, and law. Boxing, on the other hand, is perfect proof that our moral values have dropped significantly. Boxing is one of the most inhumane acts that has ever been viewed as sport. In no other situation does law or moral allow two grown men to beat each other to the ground and furthermore have it often result in head injury or death. Yes, deaths or head injury may occur in other sports, but they are often as accidents. The deliberate objective of boxing is to knock the opponent to unconsciousness; there is no other way to win.

    Secondly, many of the acts people commit as a result of boxing, they would not normally do. One such incident is the catastrophic fight between Mike Tyson and Donovan Ruddock. After the referee pronounced the fight over because of his judgement on Ruddock’s condition, a riot broke out. The riot lasted several minutes, with security trying to hold back the raging mobs – and all as a result of one match.

    Lastly, does it not say something about the people of society when they pay up to $1,000 to watch a savage brawl in which one man ends up unconscious? The money being charged is outrageous, yet people still pay for it. Maybe this is why there is so much violence everywhere, and often, this violence expressed in the ring results in death.

    Since 1945, 349 boxers (amateur and professional) have died from injuries received in the ring. The Racing Horse should remember that the very purpose of boxing is to inflict as much pain or injury to the opponent as possible. There are many causes of these boxing-related deaths, however. One cause of death among boxers is long-term diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. One such case is that of Sugar Ray Robinson. Though he did not die directly after a boxing match, it is believed that Alzheimer’s contributed to his death. He died at the age of 68 in 1989. This adds evidence to the growing relationship between boxing and Alzheimer’s.

    Another prominent cause of death is serious blows to the head during a boxing match. Usually, these people die instantly or shortly after. An example of this condition is Cleveland Denny’s story. After being battered by six straight punches to the head by Gaetan Hart, Denny went down. He died 17 days later, without ever regaining consciousness after the fight. The last prominent cause of death related to boxing is kidney or other organ failure. A recent situation of this is that of Jimmy Garcia’s. Twenty-five seconds into the 11th round of his match against Gabriel Ruelas, Garcia slumped to the mat unconscious. He later lapsed into a coma at the hospital due to extreme kidney failure. He ended up staying alive for 13 days until the doctors finally took him off life support, still deeply comatose.

    These examples raise a question: Why do we let boxing go on when so many people die from it?

    Boxing is an unbelievably inhuman sport and kills people. Not only that, but sometimes the pain of a disease or physical deformity can be much worse than death, and boxing inflicts this pain. Everything else in society that is harmful or life threatening is illegal or has restrictions. You are wrong to say that society needs boxing – it does not!
    Howard J Bernstein of New York

    • Paul Moon says:

      Mr Bernstein

      Thanks for your comments, we really appreciate you taking time out to write to us. Some of your views are obviously true, but not once do you talk about what it gives to those involved.

      Lots of things are inhumane and kill people, unfortunately it is the nature and weakness of man. On that basis you would ban greed, politics, war, poverty, smoking and drinking, and where would you start? We would rather you get annoyed with those who sell our children fast food and make them obese, not those who train, keep themselves fit and learn the art of a disciplined lifestyle.

      You are wrong to want to ban boxing, there is far more out there for you to worry about!


      Paul Moon
      The Racing Horse

    • Jeff Burns says:

      I acknowledge Mr Bernstein’s argument that reinforces his view that boxing should be banned or as is most likely driven underground.I am sure Mr Bernstein appreciated that I have heard and read all the points he has made many times and I accept that they are worthy of debate. My article does not attempt to espouse the virtues of boxing but recognises the World’s greatest sportsman. Mr Bernstein’s arguments are best debated in another forum in which I would be more than happy to participate and address the points he has made. I am pleased that Mr Bernstein took the trouble to read the article, I presume that he did, it goes to show that even the anti boxing brigade are attracted to any material that is written about the great man.
      Thanks to Clive Joseph for his kind comments.

  2. Clive Joseph says:

    Well done Jeff, this article on Ali has been really interesting, although so much has been written about the great man it’s always enjoyable to read alternative views and perspectives, once again well done.

  3. Clive Joseph says:

    Boxing people are a special breed, denizens of a strange world that few outsiders see and even fewer understand, it’s a dark world that takes what’s savage in man and pushes it center stage against a backdrop of exploitation and pain. But beyond the spectacle of violent confrontation, boxing offers courage and beauty, loyalty and stength. It’s adherents live in a world of flattened noses, scarred faces, beautifully muscled bodies, and the will to overcome insurmountable odds. Many people who watch a professional fight are Physically revulsed, they never want to go back again, but for others, boxing is a narcotic-the most pervasive of drugs- and once hooked, they never get it out of their system.____WORDS FROM THE BOOK__” BLACK LIGHTS ” , BY THOMAS HAUSER.

  4. Clive Joseph says:

    As fantastic a fighter the great man was, i honestly believe the world never did see the best of Muhammad Ali. (banned from mar.1967 to oct. 1970)

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