Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers to ever set foot in the ring. He entertained the masses with the ability to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” He also stung like a bee outside of the ring with the verbal jabs he would give to his opponents.
Thanks to his incredible athletic gifts, Ali created some of the most magical moments in the history of boxing, so let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember some of the best fights of his legendary career.
Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman (Oct. 30, 1974 in Zaire, Africa)
The infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight took place in Zaire, Africa, where the ring temperatures hovered around 85 degrees for the entire fight. Ali became the second man to reclaim the heavyweight title by putting down Foreman in the eighth round.
Ali took a lot of punishment in this fight as he used his “rope-a-dope” strategy to ultimately end Foreman’s reign as champ.
Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks (Feb. 15, 1978 in Las Vegas)
The 1978 Fight of the Year by The Ring featured a massive upset as Leon Spinks won the WBC and WBA heavyweight title after a split decision victory over Ali.
After the fight Ali said, “Next time, I’ll have to get on my toes to beat him. My rope-a-dope didn’t work. He was too strong. It was more a mistake in strategy.”
Which is exactly what Ali would do when the two faced off later that year in New Orleans.
Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks II (Sept. 15, 1978 in New Orleans)
Spinks’ reign as the WBA heavyweight champion would be short lived as Ali dominated Spinks with an outburst of strikes and any time Spinks would try to mount any sort of defense, Ali would simply pull him in.
With the win, Ali became the first man to win the world heavyweight championship three times. This would also be the final win of Ali’s legendary career.
Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton (March 31, 1973 in San Diego, Calif.)
Ali lost his NABF Heavyweight title as he dropped just the second fight of his career.
Despite the lack of knockdowns in the fight, Ali suffered a broken jaw, he also suffered a partially broken ego.
He wore a white robe with rhinestones and jewels that read “People’s Choice” written on the back. It was a gift from Elvis Presley. Ali never wore the robe again.
Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton III (Sept. 28, 1976 in Bronx, N.Y.)
Ali regained his NABF Heavyweight title in his next fight with Norton, but their third meeting would be the creme dela crème of their trilogy, but it wasn’t without a bit of controversy.
Norton said after the fight that he “won at least nine or ten rounds.
Ali wasn’t quite as confident but still believed that he was the winner, “I had just enough to win,” he said. “I know I’m the winner.”
A month later, Ali had a very interesting quote in an interview with Mark Cronin, “Kenny’s style is too difficult for me. I can’t beat him, and I sure don’t want to fight him again. I honestly thought he beat me in Yankee Stadium, but the judges gave it to me, and I’m grateful to them.”
Cassius Clay vs. Zbigniew Pietrzykowski (1960 Summer Olympics in Rome)
Before he was known as “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali was known as Cassius Clay and in 1960, Clay became a gold medalist at the age of 18. Clay won all four of his fights in the light heavyweight division that summer including a win over three-time European champion Zbigniew Pietrzykowski.
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (March 8, 1971 in New York City)
Ali stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden on March 8th, 1971 with a 31-0 record that included 25 knockouts.
He would leave MSG with the first loss of his career at the hands of Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who also entered The Garden with an undefeated record.
Even though Ali was undefeated heading into the fight, he wasn’t the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world because he was stripped by boxing authorities, in 1967, for forgoing his mandatory military service. Ali based his decision on religious reasons.
This fight was the only time that one of the two fighters hit the canvas in their trilogy of fights as Frazier knocked Ali down in the opening seconds of round 11. Frazier would go on to win the fight by unanimous decision.
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier II (Jan. 28, 1974 in New York City)
This is remembered as the least interesting fight of the Ali-Frazier trilogy, because the other two fights are two of the greatest fights in the history of boxing, but it was still a highly entertaining bout.
Ali clearly learned that he needed to fight Frazier differently, so that’s exactly what he did in this fight. Muhammad punched in bunches and would then clinch with Frazier, which didn’t go over well with Smokin’ Joe’s camp.
Ali was awarded an unanimous decision victory.
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III (Oct. 1, 1975 in Philippines)
All that needs to be said is “Thrilla in Manila.”
This was the third and final meeting between the two heavyweights. It was contested in the Philippines at 10am local time and under ridiculous ring temperatures (rumored to be around 120 degrees).
Ali attempted to use his “rope-a-dope” strategy on Frazier, but “Smokin’ Joe” pounded Ali while the champ leaned on the ropes.
During the fight, Frazier’s face became very swollen due to the amount of head strikes he had endured, which was very bad for Frazier because he was almost blind in his left eye.
After the 11th round, Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, told him that he needed to stand more upright as opposed to bobbing and weaving, this ended up being very bad advice as Ali pounded Frazier in the final rounds. Futch decided to stop the fight after the 14th round.
After the fight, Ali said “Frazier quit just before I did. I didn’t think I could fight any more.”