The perception had by many casual sports fans and also by some fight analysts is that Muhammad Ali was, when in his prime and at his best, the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in history. Whether or not that is the case is something that will be debated for decades and probably long after anybody reading this piece has left this floating orb. What cannot be denied is that Ali was involved in some of the best fights that anybody will ever behold. Those wars unfortunately left Ali a shell of his former self after he was retired from in-ring action, but they did help create a legacy that will live on for generations.
It should come as no surprise that some of the best heavyweight boxing matches to ever occur involved Ali and the man who was his fiercest rival. That rivalry existed for decades after the two last met in the ring, and some would even claim that the other man involved in this feud took his hatred for Ali to his grave. While that is a shame, everybody involved in the world of combat sports would do well to remember that rivalries and feuds sell fights and sell pay-per-view cards. Ali knew that, and he wasn’t concerned about hurting feelings or making enemies when he was promoting a fight. That is one of the many reasons Ali truly was “The Greatest.”
10. Ali vs Quarry I
There are certain things once must remember about the first fight involving Muhammad Ali and Jerry Quarry. Ali had been suspended for roughly three years over his decision to not fight in the Vietnam War, and thus he was tasked with shaking off ring rust heading into his bout against Quarry in 1970. It also should be noted that Ali was not beloved among many Americans who saw him as a coward for not fighting for his country. Ali was unmoved by all obstacles, however, as he took care of Quarry in three rounds as if he had never been suspended.
9. Ali vs Leon Spinks II
Nobody would have been blamed for not giving Muhammad Ali much of a chance to defeat Leon Spinks when the two met for a rematch in September 1978. Spinks had already notched a win over Ali, and Ali was no longer anywhere close to his physical prime. What Ali was able to do, however, was keep Spinks distanced with pinpoint jabs, and this strategy prevented Spinks from obtaining any momentum during the rematch. Ali defeated Spinks and became the first man to win the heavyweight championship three times, but this would be the final victory of Ali’s legendary career.
8. Ali vs Floyd Patterson 1
Muhammad Ali became such a revered figure among those who did not personally know him that it became a forgotten fact that Ali had quite the mean streak. That mean streak was put on public display during Ali’s fight against Floyd Patterson. Patterson refused to use the Ali name leading up to the fight, instead referring to his opponent as Cassius Clay. Ali had abandoned his birth name before this bout, and he then punished Patterson throughout the encounter when he probably could have knocked Patterson down and out early on. Patterson likely didn’t forget Ali’s name after this match.
7. Ali vs Liston 2
The two words that will forever be associated with the second bout between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston are, as you probably know, “Phantom Punch.” Ali downed Liston with a snap of his right hand in the first round, and some in attendance did not even see the blow that knocked Liston down and out. It has, thus, been suspected to this day by some that Liston took a dive and conceded the fight for whatever reason. We will probably never know for sure what happened on that infamous night, as both Ali and Liston are sadly no longer with us.
6. Ali vs Cleveland Williams
Those who are looking for visual proof of why Ali was the best heavyweight in history could examine his fight against Cleveland Williams in 1966. This was before Ali was banned from fighting due to his decision to not get involved in the Vietnam War, and Ali was in his physical and mental prime as he battered Williams time and time again. Ali knocked Williams down multiple times, and he also introduced what was known as the “Ali Shuffle” during this encounter. Williams, no disrespect meant, looked like he did not belong in the ring against Ali.
5. Ali-Frazier II
It is somewhat humorous to think that a fight featuring Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier could be considered to be “forgotten,” but that is the case with the second bout of this classic rivalry. The importance of this fight cannot be undersold, though, as it was assumed before the bout that the winner would go on to earn a championship match. While this was technically the “worst” of the three matches involving these two legends, Ali and Frazier still managed to produce a memorable and entertaining bout. There was, however, no question that Ali was the winner when all was said and done.
4. Ali vs Liston I
Sonny Liston was the reigning and defending heavyweight champion of the world in 1964 when he defended his title against a big-mouthed young fighter named Cassius Clay. Clay, who, of course, became Muhammad Ali, was too quick and too much for Liston, and Liston clearly could not keep up with the challenger throughout the first six rounds. Liston was clearly banged up before the start of the seventh, and he refused to leave his corner for that round. To be fair, Liston had complained of an injured shoulder, but those who watched the fight could see that Liston had no chance of beating the superior Ali.
3. Ali-Frazier I
Muhammad Ali lost multiple years from the prime of his career due to fighting against the United States government over his decision to not take part in the Vietnam War. Ali was eventually able to return to the ring, and that return was cemented by Ali battling with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971. The bout labeled “The Fight of the Century” did not disappoint, as both men had opportunities to emerge victorious. Frazier knocked Ali down with a vicious left hand late in the bout, and it was Frazier who had the last laugh on this memorable occasion.
2. “Rumble in the Jungle”
The fight involving Muhammad Ali and George Foreman known as “The Rumble in the Jungle” is one that will be viewed by boxers, fight fans and reporters for generations to come. It was on this fateful night when Ali utilized his famous “Rope-a-Dope” technique to evade Foreman’s punches and tire out the then-champion. Foreman, not understanding what Ali was doing, punched himself out, and he was left fatigued and there for the taking when a combination of Ali punches knocked Foreman down and out in Round 8. Ali, a heavy underdog heading into the fight, notched maybe the best victory of his career against Foreman.
1. “Thrilla in Manilla”
The third and final fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was maybe the greatest heavyweight boxing match in history. Both Ali and Frazier gave everything they had, and both men left the ring and the arena worse off afterward. Frazier’s corner decided to stop the bout before the start of the 15th and final round, and an exhausted Ali required help to remain on his feet after learning that he had won. Ali-Frazier III was a war between two rivals, and we may never again see two men go toe-to-toe as Ali and Frazier did in a fight that exceeded expectations.