Tag Archives: wilt chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain vs Ali~50th Year Anniversary Tribute

In 1967, Wilt Chamberlain contracted  to challenge Muhammad Ali for his undisputed heavyweight title in Madison Square Garden. ABC and Howard Cosell arranged a special sports segment with Ali and Wilt appearing jointly to announce the fight. Jim Brown was supposed to have been the promoter and had enough money lined up on the table that enticed the Ali team to enter into contract negotiations. The abbreviated story is that Ali’s manager, the Nation of Islam, son of Prophet Elijah Muhammad, Herbert Muhammad, passed on the deal without comment, so Ali refused to sign the contract as verified by the public ABC youtube footage shown here. Ali did put on a credible act of talking about a fight, yet couldn’t be induced to pen his John Henry to paper.

Instead, Ali’s last title defense of 1967 was a milquetoast affair against grizzled long time contender Zora Folley before being stripped of his titles in 1968 for refusing to be drafted into the US Army. That led to a 3 year exile from boxing and a pending case before the US Supreme Court before Ali was able to make his 1970 comeback against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia. Not many boxing fans know a gang of Northeastern big city thugs crashed Ali’s elite Atlanta victory celebration filled with Atlanta’s most renown political icons,  media big shots, and various celebrities to rob the well heeled bunch at gunpoint. Got away with it for a huge harvest too, but slowly the underworld extracted a payback of sorts since these were just two bit punk gangsters, not the real gangsters who would never dream of pulling that kind of public relations nightmare heist. 

The 1960s through the 70s was quite an era for sports fans. Boxing’s big fights usually aired over “real” free terrestrial TV as did the Olympics, World Series, Superbowl and many of their regular season games. Then you had the Kentucky Derby, Indy 500 and Daytona 500 and so on. Ripe, passionate sports fans of all ages, sex, and races grew on trees into the furthest reaches of America ready to be plucked for viewing every sports weekend.

What could’ve been the biggest sports splash of the Century slowly ebbed out of existence. Oh, to be sure there was a brief flare up in 1971 had Ali pulled off the win against Joe Frazier in the Fight of the Century. The closed circuit fight was to be in the Houston Astrodome with posters actually printed up.

Ali instead got well whooped by Frazier, so Wilt canceled their contract since the heavyweight title was no longer Ali’s to defend as most of the money backing the deal also fled for greener pastures. I don’t know who the promoters were, but Jim Brown talks about the fight in his Siri interview below where he laughs about the Ali shouting “Timber” story that supposedly killed the fight. He may have been part of the promotion, or at least close enough to deny “The Timber” moment ever happened as reported. Ali once again entered  into his wanderings in the wilderness of being yesterday’s news even as he was ultimately reaffirmed with a favorable Supreme Court ruling and could now box free of Federal charges against him. Wilt was in his last two creaky knee years of an all time career in the National Basketball League, so he was less inclined to further pursue an assbackwards sport, boxing, rife with so many contractual problems and other boxing monkeyshines magnified by the political instability of Ali himself.

At any rate, Ali never had had full control over his career with Herr Herbert at the helm. Ali wisely recalled the fatal fate of  Malcolm X after getting crossed up with the NOI. He picked a later date after his retirement after NOI founder, Elijah Muhammad,  passed away before Ali felt safe to leave that sect.

Nonetheless, Wilt did his part in trying to make this fight, and he had more than just financial backers that included substantial boxing support from Cus D’Amato. The future HOF trainer had long made a study of the Ali style and was training Wilt in secrecy just how to leverage his immense gifts of size, strength, reach, athletic ability, and, yes, it must be stated frankly, Wilt was substantially more intelligent. Substantially! Ali may have been a naturally gifted fighter, yet he was physically inferior to Wilt with Ali further burdened by a limited boxing style that only he ever used to success that served him ill has he aged. Cus knew how to crack his style and famously showed Ali how in a documentary just how Frazier was going to break him down. That prophecy was fulfilled on March of 1971 in the Fight of the Century.

Ali fans naturally scoff and deride the notion of a basketball player being able to beat Ali, but they typically show ignorance in understanding just how gifted Wilt was compared to every other athlete in the world. He would’ve preferred track and field or the Harlem Globetrotters over pro basketball, and yet he set all those still unbroken basketball records because that’s where the money was. Now, seriously, think about it. For sure boxing promoters and trainers hounded him from day one as a pro with the Globetrotters, and eventually a rumor here or there would surface about him in training and of course his two contracts to fight Ali.

As stylistic matchups go, in some notable boxing “exhibitions” against athletes from other sports, Ali looked not only very poor, but vulnerable as well. Ali also looked vulnerable against legit contenders using their own personalized awkward boxing styles.

The Ali/Antonio Inoki fight in Tokyo netted Ali a cool $6 million, but also landed him in a Tokyo hospital on a critical condition after Inoki kicked his leg into a throbbing mess that threatened to send a fatal blood clot to his brain. This a fight where Ali had full access to boxing rules, yet Inoki was limited to only 10% of his arsenal and had to be pulled off  take downs of Ali by the American ref, Gene Lebell, a notoriously famed Judo expert and all around street and Hollywood tough guy.

Then there was the farcical encounter with 400 lb Gorilla Monsoon who quickly popped a vicious body slam on Ali that I’m certain was not supposed to be part of festivities. Ali luckily escaped without injury, but only because the match was immediately stopped.

And then the also ill advised exhibition against Denver defensive lineman, Lyle Alzado, who was likely pumped up on steroids. Ali had nothing to keep Alzado off him and was mauled throughout.

Most fighters are trained in a traditional, upright boxing style that overall is the best style to use in boxing, but boxing has always had a cast of “awkward-savants” who dished out serious punishment to great success. Ali used his own awkward style to great success against traditional fighters, but struggled mightily against other awkward fighters no matter who won. Just think Karl Mildenberger, Buster Mathis, Joe Frazier, Oscar Bonavena, Rudi Lubbers, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Chuck WepnerRon Lyle, Earnie Shavers, and Leon Spinks.

Wilt, with his huge physical advantages, would be the King of Awkward. Wilt had already proven that he could outrun the NFL’s premiere running back of the era, Jim Brown, twice in a row in fact. Wilt turned pro early, an action that was forbidden in his day, but not for the Harlem Globetrotters whom Wilt loved for the rest of his days. He played a 7-1 guard, now think about all that crazy ball handling he got in as a key part of the comedy troop. While no doubt he met many intellectual equals or even greater than his own considerable intelligence, I doubt he ever met his physical equal in his life. If that athlete existed, he’d be in the public record, but nope, just the usual greats of every era, but no Wilts. There are only two other of the most celebrated all around athletes in their day that could match Wilt’s all around ability, yet both would be as equally dwarfed in size and strength as was Ali. The first being the greatest all around athlete ever in this world, Jim Thorpe, and Babe Ruth who still holds Major League Baseball pitching and hitting records, neither of whom lived long enough to meet with Wilt because of age differences. No doubt, they would be mightily impressed.

As to my opinion then and now, well then I was a punk kid pumped for the fight. What’s not to like about such a pairing? I was still raw and unstudied, but instinctively I knew Wilt had a decent chance. I still like the fight today knowing so much more about both Wilt and Ali. I didn’t know who would win when I was young, but now I strongly favor Wilt because of all those physical and mental advantages with Cus D’Amato lined up in his corner focusing on one specific Ali style only. Ali could not study Wilt boxing because there was zero tape, and more importantly, zero sparring partners who could replicate Wilt. Cus claimed that during his childhood Wilt boxed in the amateurs for a short duration, but no record exists that I know of.

Chamberlain loved physical challenges as his varied sport interests are a testament to, but what a shame the public didn’t get to see one of the greatest “what if?” fights in boxing. Cus D’Amato is supposed to have made him an offer to box Ali in 1965, the first of the 3 fights with Ali offered to Wilt. The Philly 76ers talked Chamberlain out of the match with more money, but the idea of the fight never died and gets talked about on boxing forums to this very day 50 years later.

Cus D’Amato trained Wilt Chamberlain vs Angelo Dundee trained Muhammad Ali, who ya got?

 

 

 

Top of the Food Chain, Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali?

 

These kind of discussions over the internet tend to favor moderns who are want to express opinions without context or factual basis as to why their hero is is #1.

Bert Sugar perhaps infamously chose Cleveland fullback Jim Brown for his all time greatest athlete. Never mind that teammate Marion Motley has a higher career rushing average and did it basketball hightops because no football cleats could be found then to fit his monstrous feet. Motley could also clear out the defense in support of his running back and quarterback, hard, gritty work that was beneath Brown, and Motley also pulled fulltime duty as linebacker, a two way, 60 minute player, something the coddled Brown was never good for. But of course Brown was also such a great lacrosse player, never mind that Wilt Chamberlain proved in two footraces that he was significantly faster than Brown and could turn him upside down to shake all his change loose at will not to mention being a collegiate, multi-event track and field star during his down time from basketball. Wilt a world class volleyball player in his retirement, the best in his day. Wilt didn’t even like basketball because of it’s stupid rules and the stupid media always pestering him, but it was the most lucrative option for him, so he made the best of it as a record setter both on offense and defense. Even did a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters before his NBA career, damned hard to top that.

Now modern media “experts” claim Michel Jordan is the best athlete ever, never mind he wasn’t even a mediocre division B minor league baseball player and only a modestly endowed golfer. Jim Thorpe, fresh off an Indian reservation, won both Pentathlon and Decathlon Olympic gold medals in Sweden, then played major league baseball for several years before co-founding and becoming the first ever star of the National Football League. It don’t get any better than that as an athlete, but moderns just shrug and say, Jim Who?

So, here we go, Bobby Mac’s Facts Update, just the facts ma’am, so:

What are the career records of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali?

Joe 66-3, 52 KO vs Ali 56-5, 37 KO

OK, clearly Joe is vastly superior, but there are records and then there are RECORDS, so let’s delve deeper.

ProDebut:

Joe, age 20 yrs, 1 month, 22 days, coming off winning the United States National AAU tournament with a final record of 50-4, 43 KO, debuted @ 181 lbs against Jack Kracken, 27-7-3, in the “city of the big shoulders,” Chicago, July 4th, 1934, US Independence Day. Drops Kracken in the opening seconds and then blasts him through the ropes into the lap of the shocked Illinois commish to formally announce to the world the transformation from Joe Barrow to Joe Louis. Has there ever been a better boxing debut than that? Prior he was no more than a po’ sharecropper’s boy from Podunk, Alabama. The $59 depression purse went a long ways in those days, the most money he had ever earned in his life.

Ali, age 18 yrs, 9 months and 12 days, coming off Olympic Lightheavy Gold glory with a multitude of final ama record claims, debuts @ 192 lbs, October 29th, 1960, in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky against Tunney Hunsaker, 16-9-1, a Sunday School teacher and police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia. Ali touched up Hunsaker some with a bloody nose and cut eye for a 6 round unanimous decision and a healthy $2000 purse for the day. Solid hometown pro debut for such a young kid, but no comparison to the spectacular 4th of July fireworks set off by Joe.

Da Preem vs Joe Louis

Da Preem vs Joe Louis

Longest Title reign and record:

Joe 11 years, 252 days, 26-0, 23 KOs vs Ali three combined title runs of 3 years, 63 days + 3 years, 108 days + 284 days = 7 years, 90 days, 22-2. OK, but Joe had three more title fights, 1 competitive decision loss to Charles in his comeback and a knockout of Lee Savold who held the BBBC version of the split title + the last white heavy belt, and a competitive KO loss to Marciano for a final title record of 27-1 vs Ali’s humiliation KO loss to Holmes for a final title record of 22-3.

Now, if we extend out the Ali years up to the first Frazier fight, they’d be just short of Joe, but, remember, Ali also relinquished his Ring belt early so his good buddy Jimmy Ellis could fight for it. Ring never awarded the belt to Ellis yet kept Ali as Champion through 1969. Joe is still superior.

First and last Ring Top 10 ratings:

Joe #1 in his first year of eligibility, age 20 vs Ali #9 in his first year of eligibility, age 19.

Joe #1 when he challenged Champion Charles in 1950, age 36, and #6 against #2 Marciano in 1951, age 37. Ali was last ranked as Champion in 1978, age 36.

Joe clearly superior though Ali managed to slide into Ring ratings a year earlier than Joe because of his earlier debut.

HOF fights:

Joe 13 such fights, 10-3 9 KO vs Ali 14 such fights, 11-3, 8 KO. Joe with 2 KO losses vs Ali with 1 KO loss.

Joe earliest HOFer and win @ age 21 yr, 4 month, 11 days over Baer vs Ali earliest HOFer and win @ age 20 yr, 9 months, 28 days over Moore.

Joe last HOF win @ age 37 yr, 3 month and a day over Blivins vs Ali last HOF win @ age 34 yr, 8 months, 11 days over Ken Norton, a hotly disputed decision.

Ali with tiny edge in total HOF fight, Joe with KOs, and Ali with one less KO loss. Joe a few months older for first HOF fight vs Ali a bit younger, but Joe considerably older for last HOF win than Ali. They both lost their last HOF fights by KO, but Joe in his 8th fight over 10 months in his 37th year gave Marciano all he could handle for 8 rounds vs Ali out of retirement carried mercifully by Holmes trying to get the fight stopped with no damage to Ali. Joe definitely finished the stronger fighter overall.

Controversial fights:

Joe only had two, the first Buddy Baer and JJWalcott fights which he quickly avenged with savage KOs in the rematches vs far too many controversial fights for Ali, really too embarrassing to mention that he always benefited from every controversy. Big advantage Joe who consistently took care of business in a more professional way than did Ali who needed a lot of help from the suits.

Unified America behind him:

Joe

Split up America over him:

Ali

Won a Supreme Court Decision:

Ali, of course, major props and maybe the highlight of his life.

Young Cassius

Young Cassius “The Greatest” Clay

Summoned to the White House by the President for consultation on impending military desegregation policy:

Joe, the one and only.

Inspiration for the two most prominent black civil rights spokesmen in history:

Both Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela count Joe Louis as providing the inspiration for a higher dignity and purpose of what their people people might achieve if allowed their civil rights.

Who loses to Leon?

Ali, of course. Joe on his worst day in shackles and blindfolded could never lose to Leon.

Now, lest this take on a wholly one sided analysis, in general most fans would agree that Joe Frazier and George Foreman are better than the best Joe took on, but Ali never really showed he was better than Frazier. Most can finally admit Joe whooped the holy jinn out of him the first fight, and did it in spite of referee Mercante near poking out his only good eye midway through the fight. The second fight was competitive and close, and the third a happenstance of incredible good fortune when Frazier’s scout couldn’t make it from Ali’s corner to Frazier’s corner to tell them Ali was quitting. Joe was on his feet bouncing around like a rubber ball waiting to be unleashed when Eddie Futch pulled the plug as Ali stood up and collapsed. Nor could the terribly grievous conditions in Zaire that all favored Ali ever be replicated, thus no rematch with George who only spent 9 seconds on the canvas in his first career knockdown, yet was counted out. Compare to Ali who collapsed seconds later for a 30 count that took his legions to elevate him over to his corner.

Yeah, and maybe Sonny Liston was better than Joe’s best too, but Joe could easily beat a fighter who quit on his stool and take a dive as well as the next guy, so let’s keep it real…over and out.