Muhammad Ali Vs. Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams - “The Greatest’s” Punch-Perfect Fight

muhammed ali11.08.07 - By James Slater: Just over two years into his first reign as heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali danced and punched his way to victory in absolutely blistering harmony against his big-hitting challenger, Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams. Ali was making his seventh defence and his speed and athleticism never looked better as he did so.

Though Cleveland was past his best as a fighter, his decline assisted by the bullet wound he had suffered in his stomach, he was still a good contender. He could also punch extremely hard. The Ali of the 1960’s, however, was almost impossible to hit cleanly, as Williams was to painfully discover.

Unveiling the “Ali Shuffle” for the very first time, Muhammad was truly a thing of beauty in the boxing ring inside the cavernous Houston Astrodome. And while some say the Shuffle was nothing more than a gimmick, Ali begged to differ. Claiming the blurring motion of his feet rapidly levitating above the canvas was designed to distract his opponent enough into looking down,
he could then strike with his equally fast punches. Certainly, in the Williams fight such thinking proved to be correct.

Four times in total Cleveland hit the mat, before being stopped in the third and final round of action. Whether or not he was beaten as a direct result of Ali’s new weapon was irrelevant, for Ali had put to rest another common assertion regarding his ability as a fighter - namely that he couldn’t really punch too hard. Such a notion was as blown to smithereens as Cleveland Williams had just been.

Coming out for the opening round, Ali danced effortlessly. Never before or since did the great man make his poetic claim of “Floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee” so apt. His reflexes at their lightning fast peak, Ali was the very epitome of an unbeatable looking fighter. How could any other heavyweight stand a chance with him when he was so damn fast? Cleveland Williams was, unfortunately for him, a man who had to try and answer that question when Ali was at his absolute best. He couldn’t do so. The fight was a complete one man show right from the get go.

Then, in the second round, Ali came down off his toes and opened up with dazzling shots to the head. Connecting with both stunning accuracy and jarring power, Ali soon had his challenger down. And then again, and then for a third time. Bravely beating the count three times inside as many minutes, Williams was showing great courage. The man he was attempting to hit back, however, was showing great everything.

The bell ended round two, one of the worst rounds Cleveland had ever suffered in his fighting life, and the beating was temporarily halted. But not for long. In the third session Ali’s couldn’t miss punches ravaged Williams again, sending him south for a fourth time. And on this occasion, despite the challenger again rising inside ten seconds, the bout was stopped
for good by referee Harry Kessler.

The world had just seen the very best display by the man who now holds the distinction as the finest heavyweight champion of all-time. Ali’s three round demolition of Cleveland Williams was a show of mesmerizing boxing brilliance that was never to be repeated.

And to think, there are actually readers on this site that foolishly believe today’s (IBF) ruler, Wladimir Klitschko, would have a prayer of beating Ali if the two men met in a “dream-fight” scenario. As good as Wladimir is, he would have been no match for the heavyweight king poor Cleveland Williams had to face some forty-one years ago.

Article posted on 12.08.2007

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