Four deaths in six months - Is enough being done to protect boxers inside the ring?

By Sports Desk October 17, 2019

Boxing has been rocked by a number of deaths in the last few months, begging the question, is enough being done to protect the boxers. The Zone Blitz team asks the question.

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  • Muhammad Ali: The night 'The Greatest' shuffled towards perfection Muhammad Ali: The night 'The Greatest' shuffled towards perfection

    Muhammad Ali's most famous nights in the ring are so revered that their promotional titles carry the evocative heft of any Hollywood blockbuster or Broadway show.

    The Rumble In The Jungle and The Thrilla In Manila will forever echo through the ages.

    Those celebrated triumphs over George Foreman and Joe Frazier arrived with Ali in his 30s, after his refusal to take part in US military operations in Vietnam brought about a three-and-a-half year boxing exile.

    For the best example of his pure athletic brilliance, the man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee cast his mind back to November 14, 1966.

    "Against Cleveland Williams," Ali told his biographer Thomas Hauser. "The night I was at my best."

    Before a record indoor boxing crowd of 35,460 at Houston's Astrodome, Ali unveiled his aesthetic calling card during a three-round demolition of Williams, a dangerous 32-year-old slugger.

    Football has the Cruyff Turn and athletics has the Fosbury Flop; that night in Texas a capacity crowd pondering the legitimacy of the reigning heavyweight champion's self-proclaimed greatness were treated to the debut of the Ali Shuffle, as the whirring feet of this renegade dance move peppered a brutal ballet.

    Williams began with commendable orthodoxy, approaching an opponent who jogged almost gleefully from his corner at the opening bell, and thrust out a firm left jab towards the champion.

    Unfortunately for the hometown favourite, Ali was operating a long way from the textbook. He slipped extravagantly away from the blow and circled away to his left – dancing on the balls of his feet, hands slung low.

    It was the first time Williams, who survived a police shooting in 1964, would be bamboozled during seven minutes and eight seconds of exquisite punishment that must have felt like a lifetime.

    Ali's constant, dazzling movement contrasted marvellously with Williams' stiff, high guard, soon penetrated by rapier lefts.

    Midway through the opening round, the Ali Shuffle made a first fleeting appearance. Williams took this as an invitation to come in on the attack, only to be hammered by precise left hooks to body and head.

    Overhand rights began to accompany the Ali jab for an already beleaguered Williams, who absorbed a seven-punch combination, watched a shuffle hesitantly from centre-ring and shipped four more.

    Williams dutifully plodded after his quicksilver foe for much of round two until Ali, virtually fox-trotting backwards, landed a short right off the jab to send the challenger tumbling.

    It was a canvas with which he would become well acquainted.

    If the first knockdown demonstrated a sublime marriage of grace, timing and power, Ali showcased the savagery of his trade by concluding a follow-up onslaught with a left-hook to place Williams on the seat of his trunks.

    The "Big Cat" rose and pawed at his battered nose. A sad left arced well short of Ali, whose precise one-two, double jab and crushing right had Williams splayed flat on his back as the bell sounded.

    Pride overrode sanity as the challenger ambled back to his stool with the help of three cornermen, who patched him up for round three.

    Against a foe now struggling to place one foot convincingly in front of the other, Ali almost mockingly broke into his most prolonged shuffle of the evening – the precursor to a succession of unerring head shots. Williams fell again.

    Somehow he continued, skittering about like the town drunk under Ali's barrage.

    Referee Harry Kessler saved Williams from his own bravery in the face of an awesome presence, dancing and punching close to perfection.

    "The greatest Ali ever was as a fighter was against Williams,” celebrated American sports broadcaster Howard Cosell reflected.

    "That night he was the most devastating fighter who ever lived."

  • Muhammad Ali: The numbers behind his greatness Muhammad Ali: The numbers behind his greatness

    Muhammad Ali's record-breaking boxing career helped him transcend the sporting arena and become one of the planet's most recognisable icons.

    The three-time world heavyweight champion was not only a master in the ring, but also a strong advocate for human rights and racial equality in the United States.

    Ali's great fights against the likes of Joe Frazier and George Foreman draw emotion and passions from fans and commentators alike, but the numbers behind his career are equally as impressive.

    On the fourth anniversary of his death, we run down some of the stand-out facts and figures of Ali's greatness.

    91.8 per cent - Ali's win rate, having emerged victorious in 56 of his 61 professional fights. Three of his five defeats came in his final four bouts.

    37 - Ali won 37 fights by way of knockout. He suffered just one stoppage defeat - to Larry Holmes in his penultimate matchup in 1980.

    3 - Victory over Leon Spinks in 1978 made him the first three-time world heavyweight champion. Only Evander Holyfield has since surpassed Ali's mark, earning heavyweight glory on four occasions.

    548 - The number of professional rounds Ali fought in his career.

    1,315 - Ali did not fight for over three years (1,315 days to be exact) over his refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Ali was 25 at the time of his exile starting, robbing him of some of the peak years of his career.

    31 - Defeat to Joe Frazier in 'The Fight of the Century' at Madison Square garden in 1971 was Ali's first professional loss after 31 consecutive wins.

    12 - Ali fought in 12 different countries, across four continents. Need a sign of how times have changed? Floyd Mayweather Jr fought all 50 of his pro bouts in the United States - and 26 of them in Las Vegas.

    37 - Ali graced the cover of Sports Illustrated no fewer than 37 times. Only Michael Jordan tops him with 50 appearances.

  • Muhammad Ali: Remembering 'The Greatest' Muhammad Ali: Remembering 'The Greatest'

    "Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them," according to the famous Shakespearean quote.

    Muhammad Ali chose to brashly thrust greatness upon himself and then spent a lifetime living up to it.

    It was the annotation to most of the three-time world heavyweight champion's towering exploits in the boxing ring.

    "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 twenty-two years old," the exuberant new king of boxing's glamour division said after his stunning triumph at Miami Beach Convention Center in 1964. "I must be the greatest. I shook up the world!"

    A decade on and the other side of a three-and-a-half-year boxing exile that robbed the man born Cassius Marcellus Clay of a chunk of his prime, he was similarly unsparing when addressing the doubters, having knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round of the Rumble in the Jungle.

    "I told you today I'm still the greatest of all time," he growled down the camera. "Never again make me the underdog until I'm about 50 years old.

    "I told you I'm the real champion of the world. All of my critics crawl! All you suckers bow!"

    In purely boxing terms, those suckers still disagree slightly. The imperious Sugar Ray Robinson tends to edge Ali in all-time polls, such as ESPN.com's 50 Greatest Fighters in History from 2007.

    But if Robinson is the man for the pugilistic purists, it is Ali who breaks out to the wider sports fan – a transcendent figure who continued to represent the celebrated glory of boxing's compelling brutality, while showing the bleak consequences of its inherent darkness through his long and dignified battle with Parkinson's disease.

    You might not know football, but you will recognise Pele. Golf might bore you, but you will know the entertainment supplied by Tiger Woods. Even if basketball is not your sport, Michael Jordan will not have passed you by. You may loathe the spectacle of two men punching each other, but you will know Muhammad Ali.

    A key ingredient for the transcendent sporting great is an irresistible narrative. Ali might not dominate boxing through sheer weight of statistics as, for example, Don Bradman does in cricket; in terms of narrative, he outdoes them all.

    Pele and Brazil were kicked and fouled to an early exit at the 1966 World Cup before earning dazzling redemption with a third winners' medal at Mexico 1970.

    Woods emerged from a prolonged fallow period, featuring debilitating injuries and revelations over his private life, to win a 15th major at the 2019 Masters. Even Jordan interrupted his mastery of the court to toil dutifully in minor league baseball.

    Ali's wilderness years were of an infinitely more serious and therefore resonant nature – denied licenses to box in the United States for rejecting military service on the grounds of his religious beliefs and the fact he "ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me n*****".

    By 1971, when the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned a conviction on charges of draft evasion, Ali was much more than a lion-hearted boxer who would rail against declining skills with success and unfathomable bravery to twice more regain the heavyweight title.

    He was a proud Muslim, peace campaigner and black American who stood defiantly against the venomous abuse and discrimination such designations drew. Inside and outside the ring he was an unbowed inspiration. On this fourth anniversary of his death, those deeds arguably shine brighter than ever amid the lamentable gloom of our present moment.

    Any attempted beatification of Ali should take into account his mercilessly nasty humiliation of Joe Frazier around their epic contests. He was no saint.

    However, he was a hostage negotiator - helping to secure the release of 15 US hostages in Iraq before the first Gulf War, the man who lit the 1996 Olympic cauldron in a moment of unforgettable poignancy, a recipient of the presidential medal and countless millenial "greatest sportsman" gongs.

    Sport is never stronger than when its heroes are embedded in the popular consciousness. Everyone knew of Muhammad Ali's brilliance and beliefs, with each as unflinching as the other, and of his successes and struggles.

    Greatest or not, he was an irreplaceable one-off.

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