Each month we look at Muhammad Ali’s fights in that particular month. This time we examine February, the month of Ali’s star-making performance, and some of his most memorable quotes – including one from his most hurtful defeat.
6 February 1967 – Ernie Terrell, Astrodome, Houston
Result: Ali UD
In February 1967, in ‘The Battle of Champions’ between two champs in their prime, Ali and Terrell met to end the confusion about who was the legitimate heavyweight champion.
The WBA title had been stripped from Ali for giving Sonny Liston a rematch, but at that time his lineal status was taken more seriously than the WBA strap now held by Terrell. To add to the puzzlement, the WBC recognised Ali.
In the heated build-up to the fight Terrell refused to call his opponent Ali and instead referred to him as Cassius Clay.
In the hotly-anticipated bout, Ali responded again by hurting his former sparring partner badly in the seventh round, but rather than finish Terrell off, Ali asked the challenger; “What’s my name?” between punches. Bleeding from cuts around both eyes, Terrell suffered a wide unanimous decision. Two of the Judges scored the bout 148–137 and the other had it 148–133 all in favour of Muhammad Ali.
7 February 1961 – Jimmy Robinson, Convention Center, Miami
Result: Clay KO1
Cassius Clay won by knockout 1 minute and 34 seconds into the first round of his 4th pro fight. ‘Sweet Jimmy’ was a last-minute replacement for Willie Gullat who failed to show up.
10 February 1962 – Sonny Banks, Madison Square Garden, New York
Result: Clay TKO4
Before the fight, Clay said, “The man must fall in the round I call. In fact, Banks must fall in four.”
Banks became the first to put Clay on the canvas when he knocked him down in the first round, but the prediction came true as Clay won by TKO 26 seconds into round 4 of this 10 round fight. This was Ali’s first fight at Madison Square Garden. In his career, Ali fought eight times at The Garden in New York – which makes it the most used arena for The Greatest.
“That was my first time knocked down as a professional. I had to get up to take care of things after that because it was rather embarrassing, me on the floor,” said Clay after the fight. “As you know, I think that I’m the greatest and I’m not supposed to be on the floor, so I had to get up and put him on out, in four as I predicted.”
14 February 1973 – Joe Bugner, Convention Center, Las Vegas
Result: Ali UD
A date connecting The King with The Greatest.
The King of Rock n Roll Elvis Presley visited Muhammad Ali before the fight against ‘Aussie Joe’ Bugner in Las Vegas to give him an ‘Elvis Style’ robe that said ‘People’s Choice’ on the back in rhinestones and jewels.
However, Ali did not wear his new ‘Elvis robe’ for his fight that night against Joe Bugner, but wore it a month later on March 31, 1973, for his clash with Ken Norton in San Diego, California. As we know, Ali lost the fight against Norton and never again wore the robe into the ring.
Bugner and Ali fought twice; in 1973 and 1975 – Ali won both on both occasions through unanimous decisions.
15 February 1978 – Leon Spinks, Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas
Result: Spinks SD
Ali-Spinks I: Ali lost a split decision in Las Vegas to Spinks (The Ring magazine’s upset of the year), a 1976 Olympic gold medallist. Upon that fight Ali had beaten all Olympic gold winners he had previously faced; Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, George Foreman.
Spinks became the only fighter to take a title from Ali in the ring – after just eight fights – as Ali’s other losses were either non-title bouts or world title fights where Ali was the challenger. Spinks was unranked at the time and picked as an opponent because Ali was looking for an easy fight. Spinks who idolised Ali famously said after the fight: “I’m the latest, but he’s the greatest.”
Ali trained less than ever for the fight against Spinks. For once Ali’s opponent had shown more will and stamina: “Of all the fights I lost in boxing, losing to Spinks hurt the most. That’s because it was my own fault,” Ali told years later.
20 February 1976 – Jean-Pierre Coopman, Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Result: Ali KO5
Ali’s first boxing bout after the thrilling and punishing ‘Thrilla in Manila’. He needed a breather and got one in the shape of Belgium’s Jean-Pierre Cookman also known as ‘The Lion of Flanders’.
It probably affected Coopman’s performance negatively that he had been drinking champagne in his dressing-room and between rounds as described in ‘Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times’. After four rounds, Ali leaned over the ropes to the ringside television producer and yelled according to The Independent: “Have you got your commercials away yet, because I can’t hold this bum up much longer.”
Ali won the fight after knocking out Cookman in the fifth.
25 February 1964 – Sonny Liston, Convention Center, Miami Beach
Result: Clay TKO7
On this date, 22-year-old Cassius Clay became the world heavyweight champion, defeating ‘The Big Bear’ Sonny Liston in a major upset. A star was born, Clay took the planet by storm.
Clay was an Olympic champion who had won his first 19 professional fights. A promising young boxer, but few gave him a chance against heavyweight champ Sonny Liston, who had famously knocked out Floyd Patterson twice before facing Clay who was a 7–1 underdog. Clay said: “If you want to lose your money/ Be a fool and bet on Sonny/ If you want a good pay-day/ Bet it all on Cassius Clay.”
Clay survived a tough opening round, but he was right in his advice to bet it all on the challenger.
Liston gave up at the opening of the seventh round after being clearly dominated in the sixth – in the fifth, he was mysteriously blinded by a substance that many believed came from the paws of ‘The Bear’ – with his sight restored, Clay was able to attack again and eventually force a disillusioned Liston to retire on his stool. It was the first time since 1919 that a World Heavyweight champ had quit sitting on his stool.
The new champion shouted and screamed at the top of his voice: “I’m the greatest thing that ever lived. I don’t have a mark on my face, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned 22 years old. I must be the greatest.
“I shook up the world! I shook up the world!”
28 February 1962 – Don Warner, Convention Center, Miami Beach
Result: Clay TKO4
The win, in Miami Beach Convention Hall, was Clay’s 12th in a row. Ali predicted the fight to go five rounds but said he ended it in the fourth because Warner had refused to shake his hand when they met prior to the fight. Warner would later serve as a sparring partner for Joe Frazier.
The Muhammad Ali Trophy:
The Muhammad Ali Trophy is also known as the Greatest Prize in Boxing and it is being awarded to the winner of each weight class of the World Boxing Super Series. Ali gave his blessings to the WBSS and agreed to give his name to its prize created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.
Ali Trophy winners:
Season I: Aleksandr Usyk (Cruiserweight), Callum Smith (Super-Middleweight)
Season II: Josh Taylor (Super-Lightweight), Naoya Inoue (Bantamweight), Mairis Briedis (Cruiserweight)