Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali: Boxing Oracle

It was with sadness I received news of the death of Muhammad Ali. I had followed his professional career since I was a young boy. Brokenheartedly I watched as he overstayed on the boxing stage.

In keeping with the spirit of my blog, I wanted to post something about Ali's uncanny ability predict his victories: "They all must fall in the round I call."

This little shtick of his began very early in his career, while he was still know by his birth name, Cassius Clay. He had gone to a professional wrestling card in a packed-to-overflowing arena that was barely half-filled for his fight the next day.

The difference was in that master of self-promotion, Gorgeous George. Ali took notes and soon began employing the arrogant and obnoxious persona that earned him the nickname, the Louisville Lip.

His first prediction was in his sixth fight against LaMar Clark on 19 April, 1961. Ali predicted Clark would fall in two, and he did.

Several fights later he took on the ill-fated Sonny Banks (who later died of brain damage after another boxing match) and predicted a fourth round stoppage. Although he had to pick himself up off the canvas after his first professional knockdown, Ali did fulfill his prediction.

His very next fight was against Don Warner. Of that fight Ali (Clay) afterwards said:  "I would have let it go five as I predicted, but he wouldn't shake my hand and that made me mad."

George Logan was next in April 1962. Of him the prediction was for an end in four rounds. Logan did fall in four.

However, a month later his prediction failed for the first time when he faced a game Bill Daniels. In Associated Press coverage of the fight it was noted that Daniels was cut on the eye and bleeding from the third round on. The prediction was for a round five stoppage, but the fight went on until round seven. Correct outcome, wrong round.

In his very next fight Ali took on Alejandro Lavorante, another fighter who was later killed in the ring. The prediction was for a fifth round stoppage and that is exactly what went down. Next up. was to be former light heavyweight champion Archie Moore.

Here is where it get interesting, and the above well photograph which has appeared in books, newspapers and magazines everywhere attest to the fact that Ali had the future mapped out. It was to be Moore in four and the then heavweight Champ Sonny Liston in eight.

That latter prediction seemed particularly ludicrous, as Liston seemed near invincible. He had only lost once, a decision he dropped while fight with a broken jaw.  But Moore did indeed go in four. But a Liston fight was still in the future.

Next Ali took on a former pro footballer named Charley Powell. The newspaper coverage of this fight proclaimed Ali the "Champ of Prophecy" for calling for and delivering a third round KO of Powell.

On 13 March 1964 Ali faced the very tough Doug Jones in the famous Madison Square Garden. A tough crowd. Ali had predicted a sixth round KO. But it went the distance. It was a close and controversial decision that went to Ali. He was loudly booed another prediction failed.

Now Ali went to England to battle the rugged slugger Henry Cooper. He was predicting a fifth round knockout (It's no jive, Henry Cooper will go in five"). Yet it was Cooper who floored Ali in the third round. He was in bad shape upon rising to his feet, but a delay caused by the need replace his torn glove gave Ali time to recover. He fought on busting up Cooper's eye and forcing a stoppage in the predicted round.

Finally it was time for his title shot against Liston. He had been predicting he would beat "the Big Ugly Bear" in eight. I have found newspaper reports that he also predicted "Sonny will be all mine in nine."

Few gave the Louisville Lip a chance. Liston had a prediction of his own: Clay (Ali) would fall in two.

In fact Liston lost his title in a colossal upset, retiring at the end of round 6.

Ali would say Liston quit early to just to foil his prediction. There is little doubt had Liston not quit when he did, he could not have gone on much longer as he was out of gas and banged up pretty severely.

After this and especially during the time when he was facing prosecution as a draft dodger the predictions faded from his act. Later he offered predictions again after his three and a half year forced exile from boxing, but the magic was gone. His predictions failed time and again.

At the very least I have to think Muhammad Ali enjoyed a finely tuned intuition. It must be remembered that Ali was the light-heavy weight, not heavy weight champion in the 1960 Olympics. He was light for heavyweight (often under 200 pounds) in his first pro fights. He was never known as a devastating puncher. He didn't usually set for a punch, choosing instead to dance on his toes and throw punches in bunches. He could wear an opponent down through sheer accumulation of punches, or maybe cut him up, but was not know as man who would you out with one punch. Which makes his correct knockout predictions all the more remarkable.

I'm not arguing for anything paranormal about Ali's penchant for calling his early fights. I don't think intuition is anything other than natural. But I feel he did once possess a unique psychic gift. Perhaps one might think of the Law of Attraction, the philosophy of willing things into existence. It's fair to point out that there are records of his forecasts of fight outcomes he was not involved in and he was clearly poor at that.

I just can't convince myself that sheer luck can account for Ali's ability to accurately predict his fight outcomes in his early career. I think he once was a true oracle.

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