In an amazing boxing career filled with so, so many great moments, the one and only Muhammad Ali really did shock, surprise and amaze us. But it could be argued that it was over a 19 month period, from March of 1973 to October of 1974, when Ali pulled off his most unlikely, truly admirable achievement: this of regaining the world heavyweight title.
At the time of his big upset loss to Ken Norton in March of ’73, Ali looked to be close to finished. His jaw broken by whopping great underdog Norton (legend says the break occurred in the second round, other people saying no, the injury was inflicted late, in the 11th round), Ali had now been beaten twice, in a punishing fight with Joe Frazier and now one with “The Fighting Marine.”
Appearing on talk shows with his jaw wired shut, Ali was generally looked at as a deluded former champion, one past his best by some way, when he hollered out loud how he was “just starting” and how he would avenge the loss to Norton, then the loss to Frazier and then fight and defeat new champion George Foreman to rule the world all over again. The odds, and the opinion of most fight fans and experts against him, Ali as we know DID IT.
After rededicating himself to “proper training, with no distractions,” Ali indeed avenged the loss to Norton, just six months after the loss and the bad jaw break. This was astonishing in itself, but then, after what we would today call a “stay busy” fight with Rudi Lubbers (Ali winning on points), Ali put right the loss to Frazier, winning a unanimous decision in January of ’74.
But then came the really tough part of Ali’s chosen assignment: beating the “invincible” Foreman, the man who had utterly destroyed both Frazier and Norton. Fans actually feared for Ali’s health, for his life even. But Ali proved his greatness, there could be no further doubt from anyone. KO’ing Foreman in the celebrated “Rumble in The Jungle,” Ali completed the circle. He was back on top, bigger and more respected than ever.
Ali might have failed to convince many, if not most people, back in the spring of 1973, when he was healing from the Norton loss and was, at age 31, some years beyond his Cleveland Williams peak, yet he was as good as his word. “Never again make me an underdog, until I’m about 50, then you might get me,” Ali bellowed into the T.V cameras in Africa after taking out Foreman.
Indeed. The Ali show was back up and running in fine style. It would be four years before Ali lost again, but even here, in yet another big accomplishment, the great man avenged the defeat, becoming a three-time king. This was the icing on the cake. What Ali managed to do during that 19-month, four-fight spell in ’73 and ’74 was his finest time.