Throughout his illustrious boxing career, Muhammad Ali was never one to lack any confidence in his ability in the squared circle. He fought all opponents over the years that saw him experience much success in the process. Ali didn’t back down from a challenge, and that came from all places given his dominance in the ring. That included Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain being one that wanted to get a piece of the all-time boxing great during the prime of his career.
Muhammad Ali and Wilt Chamberlain nearly fought in 1967
In March 1967, the two had appeared on Howard Cosell’s show on ABC with the talk around a potential fight. Ali had denied signing the deal then as he pointed out that he wanted to fight a few people first before he would agree to a match.
What had factored into that path, for the time being, was that Ali’s manager, Herbert Muhammad, elected to pass on the deal. However, that talk was delayed for just a little over three years from March 1967 to October 1970 due to Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the military. That saw his boxing license in every state in the country get denied, and his passport stripped. It wasn’t until 1971 when things were overturned so that he could get back into the ring.
Once Ali was able to resume his boxing career, the dialogue started up once again, centered the two potentially working out a match.
Ali and Chamberlain almost came to a deal in 1971
Ali was never one to back down from trash-talking from anyone throughout his entire career.
That was the case against future Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain in 1971 as there was some real dialogue toward a potential fight between them. The 35-year-old Chamberlain had already retired from the NBA after 13 seasons with multiple records to his name and a championship.
Meanwhile, Ali was in the prime of his career at age 29, holding a 31-0 record with 25 knockouts, but had suffered the first loss of his career against Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden for the heavyweight title. Despite that, the matchup against a match that was supposed to take place at Madison Square Garden and had been set up former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown.
ABC had set up a special segment for both Ali and Chamberlain to promote the fight after the former had finally agreed to the NBA star’s challenge behind a significant amount more money offered. It had reached the day of the press conference, where Ali waited for his opponent, but things fell apart after a meeting before the conference.
Why didn’t the fight happen?
There are various reports with things hedging on both sides of the coin for why it didn’t happen.
It was a situation that initially saw Ali turn down the fight, but once it garnered enough money, he had pushed to go forth with the bout. There was dialogue that his loss to Frazier took a hit to the entire situation happening as he no longer had the heavyweight championship to put on the line.
However, the official reasoning for Chamberlain’s withdrawal from the fight from his attorneys was that the after-tax money he would receive was only $500,000. That made the money received from that bout too small for the future Hall of Famer to deem to be worthwhile.
There may have been plenty of chatter around the situation, but it was clear that Ali was up for the bout but, things simply didn’t transpire in the manner that was hoped for one reason or another. It’s simply one of those situations of what could have been.