With the recent death of Muhammed Ali there have been a tremendous number of articles written in the media along with televised comments from a wide range of people regarding their remembrances of this boxing champion. His reign in the boxing world occurred during an era when professional boxing was at its’ peak in popularity and before the rise of televised mixed martial arts fighting.
Although I never participated in boxing I have loved watching boxing matches dating back to the mid-1950’s when Pop and I frequently watched televised boxing matches together. It was a time I especially loved, because it was something we regularly did together and seldom missed one of the Pabst Blue Ribbon Fights on Wednesday night or the Gillette Friday Night Fights. This was before the introduction of color television, and we would either choose the “black trunks” or the “white trunks” as our favorite for any particular fight.
As far as I can remember Cassius Clay (aka Muhammed Ali) never had one of his bouts televised on a public television channel. As his popularity rose quickly when he became the heavyweight champion one had to pay a high fee to watch one of his fights. They were on a closed circuit which was transmitted to theaters and large auditoriums and not through cable television which had not been developed.
One particularly expensive and disappointing match for me was his first fight with Sonny Liston on February,1964 in which he won the heavyweight championship. I was a senior in medical school and had very little extra money available for expenses and certainly none set aside for boxing matches. Jim Weedman, a fellow senior medical student and I paid $25 each to watch the match on a closed circuit screen at Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock. We were hoping to watch Sonny Liston demolish the brash talking Clay, but just the opposite happened. Clay scored a TKO in the seventh round over the seemingly invincible Liston when Liston couldn’t answer the bell for the round. In today’s economy the $25 we spent is equivalent to $190!! Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammed Ali when he joined the Nation of Islam shortly after becoming the heavyweight champion.
Fast forward to 1974 when Muhammed had lost his heavyweight crown because of his refusal to serve in the military. Now at the top of the heavyweight boxing world was the dominant fighter George Foreman. He was huge, menacing and mean with knockout power in both hands. Muhammed Ali appeared to be past his prime, but was proclaiming wherever anyone would listen he “was the greatest boxer who ever lived.” I always hoped some fighter would knock out “The Louisville Lip” as he was often called.
Our family was on vacation in Fort Lauderdale in October visiting Cathy’s family and enjoying the warm weather of South Florida. On the return trip in our car we decided to stay overnight in Montgomery, Alabama which was approximately half-way to El Dorado. We arrived in Montgomery around 5 P.M. and were getting settled into our motel room when I read in the local newspaper about the heavyweight championship fight between Foreman and Ali that night. It was being held in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Republic of the Congo). I noted in the advertisement the fight was entitled “The Rumble in the Jungle” and was being shown on closed circuit television in a downtown auditorium. I asked Cathy if she would mind if I took John Aaron, who was seven years old and go to the auditorium to watch the fight. She said, “You can take John and go, but don’t count on us girls to go with you. We’re staying here to rest and watch a movie on TV.”
The fight was scheduled for 7 P.M. Montgomery time, so John and I got directions from the motel to the auditorium and set out. We arrived forty-five minutes before fight time, and a large crowd had already gathered outside. The crowd was mostly grown men aged 40 or more, and I estimated the racial mix included approximately 65% Black American. I was very uneasy being there, because this was six to eight years past all the racial unrest in Alabama, and Montgomery was the city where lots of demonstrations and riots had occurred.
I stepped up to the counter to purchase a ticket and told the agent, “One adult and one child, please.” He said abruptly, “There ain’t no child tickets.” “You mean I have to pay $25 for a seven year old?” I asked. “If you want to take him inside you do.” I grudgingly paid the $50 for our tickets which were general admission since there were no reserved seats. I found two seats as near the aisle as I could about half-way down front. I looked around at the guys close to us for a man who appeared might have some compassion for a Dad and young son in case of any riot-like event. I spotted at least two large men near-by who fit the profile, but I didn’t introduce ourselves.
The fight began on time, and I don’t believe it was any louder at ringside in Zaire than it was in the Montgomery auditorium. Our crowd which numbered about three hundred and fifty seemed to be split about half for Ali and half for Foreman. As all boxing enthusiasts know Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round because he used a defensive technique he called the “rope-a-dope.” It was designed to cause Foreman to wear himself down with multiple punches at Ali’s forearms and hands.
In typical Ali bragging fashion he said after the fight he learned the technique from Stepin’ Fetchit a Black American movie actor of the previous two decades. He always seemed to have a funny poem or quote to punctuate each fight, and this was one of his best. I still wanted to see him knocked out because of his anti-war sentiments.
John and I made it safely back to the motel about the time the girls finished their movie, but I believe we had a better time than they did. I just had to keep putting it out of my mind how much we had to pay for our “good time.” I definitely would do it over again, because John and I were watching an exciting boxing match together like Pop and I did many years before.
PS: What really saddens me about Muhammed Ali is his final destination. The Bible clearly teaches those who are not for the Lord Jesus are against Him, because the god of this world has blinded their eyes. All who have not received Him as Savior and Lord in this life will be condemned into eternal punishment forever. All the accolades of men will not change the result of one’s earthly choice regarding Him.