CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Muhammad Ali rumbled in the African jungle, put on a thriller in Manila, charmed them in London and taunted them in Tokyo.
Like no other boxer before or since, Ali took the big bouts to the furthest corners of the globe, away from the bright lights of Las Vegas and New York. Ali didn’t need those lights. He had his own dazzle.
He enraptured people wherever he went: Zaire, the Philippines, Japan, Britain, even Lewiston, Maine. He was brilliant, brash, foolish, and sometimes the bad guy. But by the end, fans everywhere cheered him as if he was their own hometown hero.
Some of Ali’s most memorable fights across the world:
ALI vs. SONNY LISTON REMATCH. Lewiston, Maine, May 1965
Ali had already “shook up the world” when he beat Liston the year before for the heavyweight title. The rematch came at the oddest of places after a deal with the Boston Garden fell through. Lewiston, a mill town, was the replacement venue and the biggest fight of the day took place at a small hockey arena.
Many locals couldn’t afford to see it. Some of the tickets were $100 — a huge sum in those days.
“There was a lot of excitement even though the venue didn’t sell out,” said Paul Marcotte, a Lewiston newspaper reporter who now lives in Florida. Some free tickets were distributed to locals to ensure that the venue looked fuller than it was, he said.
The fight ended up being quick, and left some shouting “Fix!”
Ali knocked out Liston in the first round, with the moment immortalized as photos captured Ali, muscles straining, looming over Liston and shouting at him to get up. Ali’s victory generated controversy over whether he’d really connected, or whether it was a “phantom punch” and Liston had taken a dive. Several sports writers insisted it was a clean hit, a punch so fast you could easily have missed it.
The image of Ali taunting Liston was captured by the AP’s John Rooney, who won the World Press Photo award for best sports photo in 1965. It was also captured in color by Neil Leifer of Sports Illustrated.
AP Writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine.
ALI vs. HENRY COOPER. London, June 1963 and May 1966
Ali first took his boxing circus outside the U.S. in 1963, when — as Cassius Clay — he fought Englishman Henry Cooper at Wembley Stadium, London, in front of 55,000 people. He returned to fight Cooper again as the champ in 1966. Both bouts were brutal, and both won by Ali, although in the first, Ali was knocked down by a left hook known as “‘Enry’s Ammer.” Trainer Angelo Dundee apparently engineered a tear in his gloves and called for them to be replaced to earn the shaken Ali time to recover.
“That 1963 fight is one of my earliest memories of childhood,” said Trevor Beattie, an advertising executive and film producer who owns the gloves and about 50 other Ali artifacts on display in London.
“I remember my dad ranting about the split gloves, and praising this magic man from the States,” recalled Beattie, who was 4 at the time. “What made Ali so special for me was my dad said he was a hated man and yet my dad loved him. So I knew even as a child there must be something special about him.”
Away from the fighting, Ali won British hearts over the years with four entertaining appearances on a popular talk show. Surrounded by the soft furnishings of a British television studio, a relaxed, charming and witty Ali took center stage, sometimes flustering host Michael Parkinson with his quick retorts. After one, Ali stood up for his host and turned to the giggling audience and said: “You think it’s easy? Come take his position. You’ll find out that I’m a witty person and it’s kinda hard to talk to a man like me.” The Brits loved it.
AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas in Manchester, England, and AP Writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, Ireland.
ALI vs. GEORGE FOREMAN, Kinshasa, Zaire, October 1974
“The Rumble in the Jungle.” In Africa, Ali tapped into the psyche of the people like no other place, and the fight against Foreman in Zaire — now Congo, a vast country in Central Africa — established much of his mystique.
None of the experts gave Ali, then 32, a chance against the strong, young and undefeated Foreman, who had destroyed everyone in his way. Foreman had the title, but Ali was the people’s champion, creating a crescendo of support for himself from the local fans.
Weighed down by colonial oppression and now the dictatorial rule of Mobutu Sese Sesoko, the people identified with Ali, the fighter who defied authority and challenged the system. Ali milked it. On his training runs through Kinshasa, he would be trailed by kids in ragged clothes mimicking his shadow boxing. He threw off his fancy clothes and wore simple shirts and pants. Ali picked up a chant he heard, “Ali bomaye!” — “Ali kill him!” — and used it wherever he went, waving his fist as he yelled it. When he did, crowds roared it back at him.
The fight was at a soccer stadium, with tens of thousands packed in. Already written off before, Ali adopted what reporters thought were suicidal tactics, the “rope-a-dope,” backing into the ropes and inviting Foreman to pummel away. Foreman punched himself out. Choosing his moment at the end of the eighth round, Ali whirled away and knocked Foreman out with a lightning combination.
It resulted in pandemonium as people from all sides rushed in to the ring and mobbed Ali. As Ali, champion again, eventually left surrounded by riot police in bright white helmets, he waved his right fist in the air for the fans one more time. “Ali bomaye!”
AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray in Cape Town, South Africa.
ALI vs. JOE FRAZIER, Manila, Philippines, October 1975
“The Thrilla in Manila.” Ali’s punishing rivalry with Frazier was finally settled in the Philippines in their third battle, when Frazier’s corner retired him before the 15th and final round. The bout got its name from Ali’s boast that it would be a “killa and a thrilla and a chilla, when I get that gorilla in Manila.”
Regularly rated one of the best fights ever, the “thrilla” put the Philippines on the map, said Ronnie Nathanielsz, a sports commentator assigned by then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos to act as a government liaison to Ali. Accompanying Ali from Hawaii on board a plane, Nathanielsz said Ali was welcomed by tens of thousands of Filipino fans “like the pope.” The fight, at a jam-packed Araneta Coliseum, lived up to all expectations. Afterward, the ecstatic owner of the arena told Ali he would build a shopping mall and name it after him. The popular Ali Mall still stands in Manila.
AP Writer Jim Gomez, in Manila, Philippines.
ALI vs. ANTONIO INOKI. Exhibition. Tokyo, June 1976
Bellowing “There will be no Pearl Harbor!” on arrival, Ali played the American invader who must be beaten in his exhibition with Japanese wrestler Inoki. Ali had fought and beaten McArthur Foster in Tokyo four years earlier but his second fight in Japan was one of his weirdest.
There was meant to be a script and Ali, having beaten up Inoki, was supposed to turn to the referee to plead for him to end the fight. Inoki would seize his chance, leap on Ali from behind and pin him. Ali, completing the story he set up with his arrival comments, would yell: “It’s Pearl Harbor all over again!”
But the two camps never agreed on whether it was going to be a real fight or an act. It became a farce.
It was at a sold-out Nippon Budokan, a martial arts arena, and tickets cost as much as $2,700 — a huge price for the 1970s. The fight was wildly popular in Japan in the buildup but, ultimately, Inoki spent most of it lying on the canvas kicking out at Ali, who didn’t land a punch until the seventh round. The fight went the distance and was called a draw. Fans booed, a real rarity in Japan, but there was a legacy: Ali and Inoki became good friends.
“I’m so sad to see my former rival leave us,” Inoki said Saturday.
AP Sports Writer Jim Armstrong in Tokyo.