Why Do Boxers Like Muhammad Ali Continue Boxing Too Long?
By: Ken Hissner
There have been some great boxers that have continued boxing too long such as Muhammad Ali. Was it money or more stardom or just what that causes boxers to continue when they are no longer the boxer they once were?
In Ali’s case he was 29-0 when he had his license suspended for refusal going into the service. His last fight was March of 1967 defending his WBA world heavyweight title and defeating contender Zora Folley 74-7-4 at Madison Square Garden. It would be 43 months before he returned to the ring in October of 1970 stopping Jerry Quarry 37-4-4 in Atlanta, GA. In his next fight he stopped Oscar Bonavena, 46-6-1, for the vacant NABF title at Madison Square Garden. It was the only time Bonavena was stopped in a sixty-eight fight career.
Wins over Quarry and Bonavena set the stage to re-gain his title from WBA & WBC champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0 at Madison Square Garden in March of 1971. This writer had scored the bout 7-6-1 going into the fifteenth and final round in favor of Frazier. The two judges and referee Arthur Mercante had Frazier ahead at the end of the fight. In rounds Mercante had it 8-6-1 the same as this writer with Ali getting knocked down in the final round.
While Ali was under suspension his former Louisville, KY, friend Jimmy Ellis entered a WBA tournament in August of 1967 defeating Leotis Martin, Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry to win the WBA title. After a defense defeating Floyd Patterson he went on to fight Frazier for the vacant WBC title and was stopped losing his WBA title. After coming back scoring three wins Ellis would meet Ali would for the vacant NABF title in July of 1971 with Ali stopping Ellis. Both had been trained by Angelo Dundee and Dundee chose to work in the corner of Ellis which would be the only time Dundee was not in Ali’s corner.
Ali would go onto win ten straight including the win over Ellis before losing to Ken Norton while suffering a broken jaw in March of 1973. Ali would win the re-match with Norton six months later to re-gain the NABF title. Two months later at Madison Square Garden in January of 1974 Ali would defeat Frazier who had lost his world titles to George Foreman.
In Ali’s next fight some nine months later he would re-gain the WBA & WBC titles stopping Foreman in October of 1974 in what was called “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali would go onto defend his title three times before having a third match with Frazier entitled “The Thrilla in Manila”. Ali would retain his titles when Frazier couldn’t come out for the last round in one of the greatest heavyweight title fights in the history of title fights in that division.
Ali would go onto defend his title six times before taking on 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist Leon Spinks who only had seven fights sporting a 6-0-1 record. It was February of 1978 when Ali would lose his titles by split decision to Spinks. In their re-match in September Ali would defeat Spinks in their rematch regaining his WBA title. This is when this writer felt it was time for Ali at age 36 to retire. Ali’s cut-man Ferdie Pacheco chose not to again work Ali’s corner claiming it was time for Ali to retire.
This writer was at Ali’s training camp in Deer Lake, PA, when Ali decided to continue his career and face his former sparring partner Larry “The Easton Assasin” Holmes, 35-0, some twenty-five months later. After being off for that time period I questioned Ali why he was fighting Holmes by saying “look at you (fat). You and Max Baer had two of the greatest physics among the heavyweight champions so why would you continue by fighting Holmes? He replied while rubbing his large stomach saying “I like my ice cream”. Ali would go onto lose for the first and only time in his career by stoppage against Holmes losing the WBC title he had retained over that two year period. The writing had been on the wall that Ali was not the Ali of old and should have never taken this fight.
It would be fourteen months later when Ali took but another fight in the island in Nassau losing to former WBC world champion Jamaican Trevor Berbick, 19-2-1, in December of 1981 in what would be his final appearance in the ring. It was a career for Ali from October of 1960 after winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome in the light heavyweight division until December of 1981 over some twenty-one years. His final record was 56-5, 37 wins by stoppage, some nineteen successful title defenses and regaining the world title a record three times.
Even the greatest boxer pound for pound “Sugar” Ray Robinson hung in there much to long let alone his good friend whom I consider the greatest heavyweight of all time “The Brown Bomber” Joe Louis who turned to wrestling after doing all those free shows for the military only to have the IRS bring him down.
Robinson was 129-1-2 when he lost to Randy Turpin in the UK. He ended up 174-19-6 which means he was 45-18-4 after winning the rematch with Turpin. Too many overseas fights and losing his fourth time to Ralph “Tiger” Jones you knew it was time to call it quits.
Louis had 25 successful title defenses which is still a record among heavyweights. Between 1942 and 1946 when he entered the Army he had one “exhibition” which was considered an official fight. He came back and was never the same. He won four straight and lost to Ezzard Charles. Then he won eight straight ending his career being stopped by Rocky Marciano. He was broke from losing money on the golf course among other things. Frank Sinatra bailed him out making him a “greeter” in Las Vegas.
What a way for “The Brown Bomber” to end!
More Boxing History
Boxing Insider Interview with Alicia Ashley
Boxing Insider Interview with Alicia Ashley
By: John Freund
“Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.”
The above quote, attributed to the late, great, Muhammad Ali, encapsulates the mindset of reigning WBC world super bantamweight champion, Alicia Ashley. For the 48-year-old prize fighter, age is just a number.
“I feel like I’m just now a teenager in the sport,” grins Ashley.
Although she can easily pass for 20-something, Ashley is nearer to retirement age than she is to the legal voting age. The five-time world champion and current Guinness Book of World Records holder for oldest professional boxing champion didn’t even start her boxing career until she reached her early 30s.
“I started out as a dancer, and when I got injured, my brother was doing karate at the time so I got into martial arts. I always tell people I love performing — the dancing aspect of it — so I’d go to a lot of tournaments, and it was like, ‘What’s next? Can I do something more?’”
Ironically, it was Ashley’s first kickboxing match that propelled her into the world of boxing. During the fight, her opponent moved in close and began throwing punches, leaving the inexperienced Ashley bewildered.
“I really didn’t know what to do. I pulled out a win, but I was like, ‘OK I need to get my hands better,’ and that’s when I started getting into boxing.”
Sturdy and toned, the 5-foot-5 Ashley is unassuming in nature. That is, until you realize what she does for a living.
“Early on, when people used to find out, they’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re too pretty to box.’ But now it’s a little more mainstream.”
The Jamaican-born fighter is quick to point out that she never felt intimidated occupying space in what is essentially a hyper-masculine, testosterone-driven world.
“I come from a matriarchal family,” her smile widens as she reminisces. “Women are really strong, they’re always telling you what to do. So being in a male-dominated sport never fazed me. I do feel like I am a strong, individual woman in a strong, individualized sport.”
We are sitting in a back office of the iconic Gleason’s Gym, in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where Ashley is currently training for her upcoming title defense against Yesenia Tovar, set to take place in Santiago, Chile, in the summer of 2016.
I ask her if she’s ever been to Chile. “My first time,” she replies.
There’s something heartening in the fact that female fighters are flying across the globe to ply their trade on international television, just as their male counterparts do. Maybe women’s boxing is on the rise.
No one can doubt that women’s combat sports are experiencing a “cultural moment,” with the rise of UFC fighters like Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate. Female MMA athletes can earn seven-figure payouts per fight, and their celebrity statuses garner even bigger bucks outside the ring, through sponsorships and merchandise deals. One would assume there would be a natural spillover effect to the women of boxing, but Ashley isn’t so optimistic.
“Because UFC and MMA are showcasing women so much, it’s going to pull the women out of boxing.”
Her reasoning is not unsound. More air time means higher pay for athletes, which in turn means more fighting females are likely to shirk boxing altogether and flex their muscles inside the UFC octagon.
“It really shouldn’t be a competition,” says Ashley. “But more female boxers that I know are drawn into MMA because they’re getting shown and getting paid.”
So far, boxing has yet to match the UFC in terms of showcasing its female fighters. So while big time male boxers like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin rake in the big bucks, the lack of brand awareness for female boxing is reflected in the fighters’ salaries.
“As a female, even as a five-time world champion, I’m not getting paid what the guys are getting paid. Not even a tenth of the amount,” laments Ashley. “It’s the love of the sport that’s kept me in it.”
Ashley, for her part, credits her discipline, lack of alcohol consumption and avoidance of red meat as factors in her longevity. She’s also quick to credit her genes.
“Thank you mom and dad!” she beams.
I ask about her plans for the future, assuming, you know, she won’t still be boxing in 20 years. She says she wants to own her own gym to train others to fight and mentor them to become world champions.
I wonder if she bears any enmity towards a sport that has failed to reward her with the requisite fame and money her male counterparts have received. But Ashley strikes that notion down as quickly as she jabs an opponent in the ring.
“You really have to love the sport to continue in it,” she deadpans. “I mean, you’re getting hit in the face.”