On Feb. 25, 1964, Muhammad Ali, boxing under his birth name of Cassius Clay, was hurting. He couldn’t fight anymore. His eyes were burning and he couldn’t even see. After four rounds against the heavy favorite Sonny Liston, he wanted to give up. His trainer and cornerman, Angelo Dundee, wouldn’t adhere to Clay’s request to call off the fight. Dundee’s decision paid off.
Muhammad Ali’s boxing career
Cassius Clay was born Jan. 17, 1942, and took up boxing at the age of 12. In 1960, Clay was a gold medalist in the light heavyweight division of the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Later that year, Clay turned pro. In 1964, Clay converted to Islam and took the name Muhammad Ali.
On Oct. 29, 1960, Clay made his professional boxing debut, defeating Tunney Hunsicker in a six-round decision. Clay won 15 of his first 19 fights by knockout. One of those victories was against Archie Moore, who was his former trainer. Clay went into the fight saying “Archie Moore must fall in four.” Sure enough, Clay knocked Moore out in the fourth round.
Citing his religious beliefs, Ali refused to serve in the military as the Vietnam War was going on and was banned from boxing for three years. In 1970, his boxing license was reinstated. Ali went on to finish his boxing career with a 56-5 record, winning 39 bouts via knockout. Ali was considered one of the best boxers of all time.
Ali was quite the trash talker
When it came to talking trash, Muhammad Ali was the king. He talked before fights. He talked after them. Ali would always find a way to talk trash and get into the head of his opponent. Ali would always find a way to back up the talk.
In his famous Rumble in the Jungle fight with George Foreman back in 1974, Ali went into the fight talking quite a bit. It was a bold move as he was ready to face Foreman, the unbeaten heavyweight champion of the world. He entered the fight with some classic Ali poetry, saying “if you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whip Foreman’s behind.”
Prior to the Foreman fight, he also said, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.” Before his 1964 bout with Sonny Liston, he came in as a huge underdog and called Liston an ugly bear before the fight. He then followed it up with, “Liston even smells like a bear. I’m gonna give him to the local zoo after I whup him.”
Angelo Dundee makes a winner out of Cassius Clay
A very confident Cassius Clay came into the ring against the heavily favored Sonny Liston in their first meeting in 1964. During the fourth round, Clay was unable to see as his eyes were suddenly burning. When he returned to the corner, he told his trainer Angelo Dundee to “cut the gloves off” and end the fight. Dundee, knowing that it might take years for Clay to get another shot at a title, didn’t fulfill Clay’s wishes.
“He wanted to tell the referee, but I said, ‘Sit down; you can’t fight without gloves — this is for the title,’” Dundee said two years before he died in 2012 at the age of 90. “I put my finger in the corner of his eye and put it into my eye, and it really burned. I filled the sponge with water and ran it into both of his eyes, then wiped them clean. I made him get up because I didn’t want the referee to see him sitting down, shaking his head.” Dundee then pushed Clay toward the center of the ring, telling him, ‘C’mon, now. Box this guy, box this guy move, run!’”
By the sixth round, Clay’s vision returned and so did his aggressiveness. He pummeled Liston into quitting after Round 6. Had Dundee give in and cut off Clay’s gloves, “there never would have been a Muhammad Ali,” insisted Ferdie Pacheco, the fighter’s former physician.