Two icons of boxing, a sport that according to historians was born some 7,000 years ago in Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, were born this month: one of them, the late Muhammad Ali, “The greatest and most beautiful of all”, as he liked to proclaim himself, and Bernard Hopkins, aka The Alien and The Executioner, for many the greatest middleweight of all time, with the permission of Marvin “Wonderful” Hagler.
They are worth remembering now, for those who saw them in action and for today’s fans.
FROM KENTUCKY TO THE WORLD.
The former was born on Friday 1/17/42 in Louisville, Kentucky. Coincidentally he also died on a Friday, 3/6/16 in Scottsdale, Arizona, felled by Parkinson’s Disease, which he battled for more than three decades-with the same courage he fought in the ring since he was diagnosed in 1984, three years after his last fight, which he lost on points to Trevor Berbick in Nassau, Bahamas, on 11-12-81.
He was Olympic champion in Rome in 1960 at Light- heavyweight and later he was sovereign in four different stages at full weight in the professional field.
He called himself “The Greatest”, the one who “stung like a bee and floated like a butterfly”, creator of a different fighting rhythm from the slow and monotonous of the majority of the heavyweights before him, with a style in which he lowered his hands without stopping to dance in the ring in retreat and on the attack. He was known in his early days as ” The Louisville Lip” or “The Big Mouth” for his incessant chatter, hated and loved in his early days for his petulance and for his censored and, in equal parts, celebrated habit of predicting the round in which he would beat the opponent of the day.
He fought between 1960-81 and won 56 of 61 fights, with 37 KO’s, five losses, of these only one by KO against his exsparring Larry Holmes, in a record in which he confronted and defeated, among many, rivals like George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Henry Cooper, Archie Moore, Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena, Jerry Quarry, to mention only those 7, all names of high sonority in the boxing world.
Ali was stripped of his WBA and WBC belts in 1967 by the government authorities of his country because of his refusal to join the army to fight in Vietnam, which was at war with the United States.
On March 6, 1964, 10 days after he had dethroned Sonny Liston in 6 rounds in a fight in Miami, he had announced to the media that he was part of the Nation of Islam and that his name was Muhammad Ali (the Beloved of God ) and that he repudiated that of Cassius Clay, “a slave name.”
Ali-argued that he was a “conscientious objector” and that he would not go to Vietnam “to kill any Vietcong, because no Vietcong has called me a nigger,” he said, which was welcomed in numerous countries around the world–cost him the loss of his fighter’s license and he was banned from boxing for 3.1/2 years. During that time he dedicated his efforts to fight for the civil rights of his African-American and religious brothers, a role that won him admirers and followers throughout the world, efforts in which he remained until his final days, seen as an exemplary citizen of the world.
He returned to the ring in 1970 and after three victories in a row, on March 8, 1971, he lost his undefeated 15-round points victory over Joe Frazier – later his great adversary. They fought 3 times, 2-1 in favor of Ali- in what many consider the real Fight of the 20th Century, at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
But on October 30, 1974, after adding a new string of victories, he received the opportunity to face the seemingly invincible knockout George Foreman and in the 20 de Mayo stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire, today Democratic Republic of Congo, he stunned the boxing world with a KO in 8 rounds in a fight that was watched by some 300 million spectators around the world, a record audience for a sporting event, which we believe still stands today.
HOPKINS, AN EXAMPLE OF SELF-IMPROVEMENT
As for Hopkins, we must clarify that he is truly an example of uncommon self-improvement as a human being. An outspoken, violent and dangerous juvenile delinquent, in prison he found in boxing the path that took him away from the bad steps and for that reason he won the admiration of the fans of the world,
He was born on Thursday 15, 1965 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that is, he has just celebrated his 59th birthday. He was middle and light heavyweight world champion in a career that lasted from 11-10-88 to 17-12-16. In that long road of 28 years of activity he won 55 of 67 fights with 32 KOs, lost 8, drew 2 and in 2 he had no decision.
As middleweight champion he reigned from 1995 to 2005, with 20 defenses. He won the IBF belt on 7/16/95 against the Ecuadorian Segundo Mercado on points and lost it as undisputed WBA, IBF, WBC, WBO champion–the first in history to hold all 4 belts at the same time and defend them–on July 16, 2005, by decision against his fellow countryman Germain Taylor, in his 20th defense.
He is the oldest fighter to be world champion, a feat first achieved when he was 46 years and 126 days old, 24 days older than George Foreman (now the second oldest), which he did on May 21, 2011 when he defeated Canadian Jean Pascal in Montreal by 115-113, 116-112 and 115-114. Two years later he surpassed himself on March 9, 2013, date when he dominated at Madison Square Garden in NY his compatriot Tavoris Cloud, 31 years old, with cards of 117-111 and a double 116-112, already with the weight on the backs of 48 years and 52 days.
For now we shall leave this story up to here. On another occasion, as soon as possible, we’ll detail the most important milestones in the career in and out of the ring of these two immortal figures of the sport of the 16 ropes in a ring (circle, in Spanish) where two athletes fight.