Muhammad Ali and His Ides of March (First of Two Parts)
By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
Sat, 28 Mar 2020
Cassius Clay (R) connects at Doug Jones.
Ides of March was originally simply a Roman date or division of days in a month. But it became a symbol of something ominous when it was on this date Julius Caesar was assassinated by a cabal of senators out to save the Republic from his dictatorial ambition.
For some reasons, Ides of March has come to mean not just a particular date or day but the whole of the month itself. Hence when an accident, tragedy of calamity happens within the month, people are apt to attribute it to Ides of March.
Talking of boxing and one of its biggest figure, in fact widely recognized as the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, the month of March proved not very challenging but even ominous.
In his nearly two decade as pro boxer, Ali figured in seven bouts held in the month of March and while he was victorious in most of these fights, he also suffered two of his biggest defeats. And in the fights that he won, circumstances both inside and outside the ring would test his character and pose questions about his abilities moving forward.
CLAY VS DOUG JONES, March 14, 1963
Ali fought his first March bout in 1963 at the Madison Square Garden in New York against a fellow young heavyweight prospect by the name of Doug Jones. By that time Ali, then still known as Cassius Clay had been presenting himself as a viable challenger to then heavyweight champion Sonny Liston who was even in attendance to witness the fight.
In a fight that had Jones rocking Ali in some eye catching occasions (thereby giving him portent of what Joe Frazier and Ken Norton would do to him years later), Ali was given a unanimous decision win through judges cards of 5-4-1 twice and the referee Joe LoScalso's brow raising 8-1-1 in rounds won. The press was also divided in their verdict with AP having it 5-4-1 Jones and UPI 6-3-1 Clay.
Ali, the 3-1 pre-fight favorite revised his prediction of a knockout win from 8th to 4th round piqued by a photo of Jones reading a "book" titled The Rise and Fall of Cassius Clay.
Not only he failed for the first time with his knockout prediction, he nearly got beat by Jones in front of Liston who as a result was unimpressed.
"Clay showed me that I'll get locked up for murder if we're ever matched," Sonny Liston was quoted as saying.
The Clay-Jones fight nevertheless was watched by capacity arena crowd and thousands more on close circuit television and was named as Ring Fight of the Year.
Ali would need another hard fight and win against UK's Hammerin' Henry Cooper to finally nail a shot at Liston.
Ali would fight Jones again in 1966 after he had wrested the title from Liston in 1964 and repeat in 1965. Although it was just an exhibition, Jones was determined to impress once again to convince Ali and the fans that he deserved a title shot. But he was soundly and roundly "whupped" in all six rounds.
Muhammad Ali dodges George Chuvalo's left.
ALI VS GEORGE CHUVALO, March 29, 1966
Ali was originally set to meet Ernie Terrell in a heavyweight unification that month in Chicago. Terrell had earlier won a tournament for the WBA title stripped from Ali for his "unpatriotic conduct"over the military draft in connection with the Vietnam War. The newly formed WBC continued to recognize Ali as world champion.
"I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcongs," Ali was quoted as saying when he refused military draft on conviction of faith and conscience. He was summoned by the Illinois State Commission but he refused to apologize for the remark nor compromise on his stand.
Illinois would withdraw its sanction and then no state in protest of Ali would allow the holding of the fight. Hence Bob Arum who was assigned to promote the fight went to neighboring Canada for the fight venue and was able to secure Toronto. But Terrell pulled out and to save the promotion Arum had Canadian champion and then world rated contender George Chuvalo on 17 days notice in what would be Ali's third defense of his heavyweight crown.
Ali would often struggle against the brute strength and physicality of Chuvalo but won nevertheless by a breeze, winning all but two of the 15 rounds contest held before 13,540 fans at the Maple Leaf Garden.
Ali had seen Chuvalo in an earlier fight in Louisville where Chuvalo kept on pressing his hapless foe in the ropes and corners like to a washerwoman using a scrubbing board, hence he gave Chuvalo the nickname, "The Washerwoman".
"The gate for the fight was $120,000," Arum said. "We got $40,000 more for closed-circuit revenues, and $20,000 for foreign rights. Of that $180,000 take, Ali got $90,000, Chuvalo got $35,000 to $40,000. Out of what was left, I paid expenses and my credit card. There was no profit."
This was the first and only fight where Ali starred that a promoter failed to earn a net.
Ali would face and be subjected to even more pressures and harassments when he return across the border.
Muhammad Ali raises his arms as he look at the fallen Zora Folley.
ALI VS ZORA FOLLEY March 22, 1967
Amidst growing official pressure, Ali managed to have his ninth world heavyweight title defense against top contender Zora Folley at the Madison Square Garden, the first to be held in the Garden since Ezzard Charles vs Loma in 1951.
Ali was 7-1 favorite.
The fight was televised at RKO General and Madison Garden in more than 150 cities. New York was however blacked out as there was snowstorm on the day of the fight which affected attendance.
Nevertheless, there still was a crowd of 13,780 that produced a gross gate of $244,471 breaking the previous record at the Garden.
Ali collected about $260,000 on his 50 percent of the net gate and $150,000 from ancillary rights. Folley earned his largest purse, about $58,000 on 15 percent of the net and $25,000 from ancillaries.
At the time of the knockout, Referee Johnny LoBianca and Judge Frank Forbes had Ali ahead 4-2 in rounds, and Judge Tony Castellano had the fight even, 3-3. The Associated Press had Ali in front 3-2-1.
It was a popular opinion that Ali just played with Folley the first two rounds, but it is more likely that he was measuring Folley's reactions and the strength of his punches. It wasn't until the third round that Ali began working. His straight left hands—not his jab—kept snapping Folley's head back, and these were the punches that started Folley on his way out. At the end of the third round, Ali told his corner that Folley had begun to tire, that his punches had lost some of their life.
In the fourth, Ali, now punching flat-footed, spun Folley around with a left hook and then banged a right hand in back of his ear. Folley went down; he was flat on his stomach, and then suddenly he was up, his nose streaming blood, and he was kneeling and looking to his corner for the count. Folley raged back, but he had left too much of himself on the floor. Ali, it appeared, carried Folley in the fifth and sixth rounds, but going into the seventh Herbert Muhammad, his manager, told him to "stop playin". He did. Two rights, the first of which traveled roughly six inches, gave Ali his 29th straight victory and his ninth successful title
"There is no one around today who can beat him. I should know, I've fought them all," said Folley "I still think I can beat any heavyweight but Clay. I'm not ashamed of my showing. I fought well. I gave it all I had," Folley added.
"He was a better fighter than Sonny Liston, or Floyd Patterson or Ernie Terrell. He was slick, tricky and a good boxer," Ali said of Folley.
After the fight, Ali planned to fight Oscar Bonavena on May 27 in Tokyo, Japan, and then Thad Spencer on July 22 in San Francisco, California.
However, seven days before the Folley fight, he was ordered to report for induction into the United States Army in April.
Ali, who had unsuccessfully sought draft exemption as a conscientious objector, refused to be inducted.
Due to his refusal and subsequent legal battles, he didn't fight again for three and a half years.
(To be continued)
The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at email@example.com and by phone 09215309477.
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