Sport: Bull v. Butterfly: A Clash of Champions

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(7 of 10)

Fall Moore did, in the predicted round—right before a crowd of more than 15,000 in Los Angeles, who had turned out to see if Gaseous Cassius could pull off his coup. Even Jack Dempsey was impressed. "I don't care if this kid can't fight a lick. I'm for him. Things are live again." Cassius then lit out after Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston, verbally assaulting "the big ugly bear" at his training camp, at the airport and even at Sonny's home at 3 a.m. When they finally tangled on Feb. 25, 1964, Listen failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, and Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was the new heavyweight champion of the world.

The next day Clay announced that he had been converted to the Black Muslim faith and would henceforth be known as Muhammad Ali. Many whites immediately dismissed him as a dupe of black racists. The boxing establishment backed off. In 1966, the draft-exempt classification he had been given three years previously for flunking a mental exam ("I never said I was the smartest; I said I was the greatest") was suddenly switched to 1-A. Rather too quickly for the law, Ali was made a Muslim "minister" in order to claim a clerical exemption. He also infuriated thousands of Americans by ingenuously remarking, "I ain't got no quarrel with those Viet Congs." A year later, he was convicted of draft evasion, fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in prison, pending appeal. "What can you give me, America?" said Ali after the W.B.A. hastily stripped him of his title. "You want me to go fight a war against people I don't know nothing about. You want me to go get some freedom for other people when my own people don't have freedom at home?"

What Clay had, Frazier wanted. In the scramble for a share of Ali's vacated title, he defeated his old nemesis, Buster Mathis, to become the recognized champ in seven states. The rest of the country belonged to "World Boxing Heavyweight Champion" Jimmy Ellis. Nettled by his title of "partial champ," Joe took on Ellis last year and dropped him with two paralyzing left hooks in the fourth round; Jimmy's manager threw in the towel. Arms raised, Frazier cried as he leaped around the ring: "Free at last! Free at last!"

But he wasn't. Ali-e-e-e was still very much around. No matter whom Frazier was boxing, Trainer Durham kept telling him, "That's Cassius out there you're fighting." Says Joe: "From the beginning, Clay has been the man. That's all I heard when I was coming up—Clay's this and Clay's that. When I came from the Olympics, he told me, 'Come on up, work hard and I'll make you rich.' You know what? I came up, I got rich and he got poor."

Champion of Peace

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