The rivalry between Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and even Ken Norton made the 1970s the greatest era in the heavyweight division. And if there is anything Ali should be thankful for, it is the presence of Frazier, Foreman and Norton, and even Earnie Shavers and Jerry Quarry during his era, because without those prolific fighters, he would not have established himself as “The Greatest.”
Ali was never the perfect boxer (and I said that in the first part of this column-series) because he had a number of flaws, and there are boxing pundits who still believe he abused his ability to take a punch. Joe Louis was a better boxer from a technical standpoint, but the “Brown Bomber” suffered from lack of opposition that at one time, he was criticized for fighting “bums.”
But Ali – he had to deal with fighters who packed a mean wallop like Foreman, Frazier, Norton, Shavers and Quarry, among others. Even the Sonny Liston, from whom he won the title from in 1964, was also a mean puncher.
Although there is still this belief that Liston was no longer formidable when he fought Ali twice, it is worth noting he racked up after his defeats to Ali 14 straight wins with 13 by stoppage/knockout before getting decked by one punch from Leotis Martin in 1969.
But don’t compare Foreman to Liston. So when Ali and Foreman met in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” many thought Ali would become another knockout victim of Foreman. But Ali stopped Foreman in the eighth round. Foreman would later reestablish himself as one of the biggest punchers in heavyweight history when he won in November 1994 at 46 years old two heavyweight title belts by knocking out cold Michael Moorer. He ended his career with an impressive 76-5 with 68 knockouts.
So great with talent was Ali’s era that there would emerge from the ranks of fighters “uncrowned” heavyweights, one of them Norton. While Norton won the crown after Leon Spinks refused to challenge him, his reign ended after a month after Larry Holmes beat him by split decision. But Norton will best be remembered for actually beating Ali three times and breaking the jaw of “The Greatest” in their first fight that Norton officially won. While Ali was declared the winner in their second and third fights, Norton landed more punches than Ali or about 90 more based on Compubox analysis.
But even if Norton actually beat Ali thrice, “The Greatest” should be admired for trying to avenge his loss to Norton.
While Norton’s fans can lay the claim of him beating Ali thrice, it is Ali’s bouts with Frazier that validated in a big way why Ali was indeed “The Greatest.”
Except for their second bout, their first and third bout – “Fight of the Century” and “Thrilla in Manila” – are forever enshrined in boxing history as among the greatest. In the “Fight of the Century” both boxing greats traded blows for 15 rounds until Frazier decked Ali for the clincher in the final round. And in the “Thrilla” Ali was said to be on the verge of qutting until Frazier’s corner capitulated.
While Shavers and Ali fought only once, it is worth noting Shavers was acknowledged as one of the biggest hitters of all time and his scoring 68 knockouts or stoppages from his 74 wins clearly attest to that. Another fighter worth mentioning in Ali’s time was Quarry, an undersized heavyweight who was beaten by Ali but was able to score wins over Shavers and Ron Lyle. Quarry also lost to the best like Norton and Frazier, and Foreman claims he feared getting into the ring with him.
So just imagine if Ali fought in era without Foreman, Frazier, Norton, Shavers and Quarry? Maybe he can still be called “The Greatest” if Shavers and Quarry were not around. Ali not only got into the ring with them, but he agitated all of them with his style of trash talking to a point things got personal between him and Frazier and Foreman.
Today, the heavyweight division is filled with fighters who are bigger than the heavyweights of Ali’s era. Wladimir Klitschko, Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Louis Ortiz, all standing at least 6’6,” weighing at least 230 pounds and possessing knockout power, can bring back the limelight to the heavyweight division. But sad to say, none of them are like Ali and the prominent boxers of his era who were all willing to mix it up.