by James Slater – During his career, Muhammad Ali earned himself a reputation for giving every single worthy opponent out there a chance. Sometimes fighting the same guy twice, even three times, Ali ducked no-one and fought all manner of nationalities. Ali saw off the best Germany had to offer (Karl Mildenberger, Willi Besmanoff), the best Canada had to offer (George Chuvalo, twice), the best America had to offer (too many to list) and even the best Belgium had to offer(!) (Jean-Pierre Coopman)..
In short, Ali fought EVERYBODY, and he boxed all over the world. He was, in the truest sense, a world champion. In this article, I pay attention to the British fighters Ali met. Ali was/is phenomenally popular in The U.K, and he himself liked/likes the British people. Before and then during his first reign as heavyweight champion, “The Greatest” had three big fights against British opponents. When he was still known as Cassius Clay, Ali met Henry Cooper, then, as world champion, Ali fought Cooper a second time and he also gave Brian London a shot.
Before and during his second reign as champion, Ali met Joe Bugner twice – once in a non-title bout, once in a title defence – and Richard Dunn. It could be argued, the first Cooper fight aside, that Ali was never overly troubled by any of the Brits he met, but he gave them a chance nonetheless. Let’s look back at all six fights now.
The first Clay-Cooper fight, from June of 1963, has had so much written about it over the years you would think everyone knows what happened that summer evening at Wembley Stadium in London. Apparently, though, this is not the case. To this day, the false story is told of how Clay, having been heavily decked at the end of the 4th round, was given well over a minute of extra time to recover. In fact, as anyone who studies the tape will see, Clay is given no more than SIX seconds of extra time – time that was afforded him due to corner-man Angelo Dundee having worsened an already torn right glove belonging to his fighter.
How anyone can still repeat the false claims that Clay got anywhere from 1 minute to a minute-and-a-half extra time is beyond me. Yes, Dundee did use illegal smelling salts to help revive his boxer, but no new gloves were ever sought. In fact, a new rule that saw to it that a spare pair of gloves were at ringside in British fights was put into place soon after the bout. Then the bell went for round 5 and Clay made a complete mess of Cooper’s cut prone skin, making his prediction of a 5th round win a reality. The two men would meet again though.
Just over three years later, Ali, by now world champion, made his fourth defence – against the man who had put him down with his vicious left hook. This time in London there was no such drama and, despite a brave Cooper once again trying his best, Ali won on cuts once again. This time the beloved Englishman went out in the 6th.
Ali made his very next defence in London, too. Putting paid to the challenge of the woefully overmatched Brian London in just three rounds, Ali looked a number light years ahead of the man from Blackpool. Getting rid of London with a blisteringly fast series of blows as his opponent tried to cover up in a corner, Ali made one of his easiest title defences.
It would be a long time before Ali met a British fighter again.
A lot had happened in Ali’s life by the time he met Hungarian-born U.K citizen Joe Bugner in Las Vegas in February of 1973. First and foremost, Ali had been stripped of his world title and had endured a forced exile of over three years. “The Greatest” had also been beaten for the first time. A confident Bugner, who was about to box two of his best-ever fights, felt he had a real chance. The curly haired non-title opponent did well, going the full 12 rounds, but in the end he was unanimously out-pointed. Still, this performance, and the one that followed it against Joe Frazier, proved Bugner could fight.
By the time he met his next Brit, Ali was champion again. Having “Shook up the world” with a KO win over George Foreman to regain his crown, Ali again met Bugner, this time in Kuala Lumpur. Making the 3rd defence of his second reign, Ali was taken the distance by Bugner one more time. On this occasion, however, Bugner appeared to be simply attempting to do nothing but last the course, which he did. Upon doing so, the challenger was declared a very wide points loser – with one of the three judges scoring the bout 73-65 for Ali. The champion was exhausted afterwards and was reportedly put on a drip due to his dehydration. Bugner, though he later said he was happy with his performance, was no way near as tired. The press universally condemned his lack of effort.
Ali moved on and made a further three defences, before he met British opponent number four, Richard Dunn. In what turned out to be Ali’s final KO win, the ageing champion all but toyed with Dunn for four rounds in a fight held in Germany, before the ref saved a brave but embarrassingly outclassed Dunn in the 5th round. After the fight, Ali gave Dunn credit and refused to belittle him. Indeed, “The Greatest” did this with each and every one of his British opponents.
Going up against the best of British, Ali was a different person to the man who met guys like Joe Frazier. Nowhere to be seen was the mean spirited, boastful and abusive Ali that “The Gorilla” and “The Mummy” ran into. Ali displayed respect and more than a little admiration for his U.K opposition.
He beat them all, mostly with ease, but Ali pleased his many British fans by giving fighters Cooper, London, Bugner and Dunn a chance.