“If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So, I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
Those powerful words were proudly and elegantly articulated by the late great Muhammed Ali after refusing to be drafted into the United States army during the Vietnam War. Before we look into why there was a third break in the Lineal timeline lets pick-up from where we left off in 1956.
Rather than simply order a fight between the top two contenders following Rocky’s early retirement the International Boxing Club chose to order an elimination tournament to crown Marciano’s successor.
Floyd Patterson who was ranked as the number one light heavyweight by Ring Magazine, outpointed Tommy Jackson in his first ever heavyweight fight to setup a showdown with Archie Moore for the vacant title.
The ‘Gentleman of Boxing’ produced one of his finest performances as a heavyweight in 1956, stopping the ‘Old Mongoose’ in the fifth round to become the first Olympic gold medalist and youngest World Heavyweight Champion in history, at the tender age of 21 years.
Not too different to today’s era Patterson who was guided by Cus D’Amato – the same Cus that introduced a young Mike Tyson into boxing – decided to ease his new champion into the division by carefully selecting fringe contenders for his first defenses. D’Amato was clearly avoiding a certain rising star Sony Liston who was starting to make a name for himself by demolishing the better opposition.
In 1959, Patterson was supposed to make light work his of Swedish opponent Ingemar Johansson, but bad judgment resulted in a third-round stoppage after the American was knocked down seven-times, losing his world heavyweight crown. Johansson became a national hero overnight and was cheered by 20,000 fans when he returned to his hometown in Gothenburg.
On June 20, 1960, in New York City Patterson knocked Johansson out in the fifth round to become the first man to recover the world undisputed heavyweight title. The left hook that Patterson landed was so devastating that Johansson remained flat on his back for a further five minutes after being counted out.
After a rubber match victory over the Swede by a sixth-round knockout, Patterson defended his title once more before number-one contender Liston could not be avoided anymore. D’Amato did not want to entertain a fight with Liston because of his mob connections but to get the fight signed Patterson removed his manager from handling his business affairs.
Before Patterson fought Liston the National Boxing Association (NBA) rebranded themselves as the WBA on August 23, 1962, a year before the WBC was founded in July 22, 1963.
In Chicago, 1962, Liston was in a destructive mood knocking out Patterson in the first round, the third-fastest knockout in boxing history. A year later the rematch took place in Las Vegas and Liston once again ended the contest in round-one becoming the first to hold the newly named WBA title and first official new WBC heavyweight champion.
A young brash Olympic gold medalist from the 1960 games in Rome would be Liston’s second defense in 1964. Cassius Clay was his name, but he would later become Muhammad Ali the ‘Greatest of all Time’. Many pundits favored Liston, but Ali produced a massive upset to win the fight after the champ failed to emerge from his corner in the seventh. “I am the greatest! I shook up the world,” Ali shouted to those that doubted him.
On May 25, 1965, the stupidity of boxing’s Governing Bodies emerged when the WBA stripped Ali of their title because the new heavyweight champion refused to fight their mandatory in favor of a rematch with Liston. Ernie Terrell defeated Eddie Machen to collect a version of the title, but everyone knew who the real champion was. Ali won the rematch against Liston to retain the WBC title and his Lineal status in 1965 with the famous, “phantom punch” which was officiated by Jersey Joe Walcott.
In 1965 Ali defeated Floyd Patterson by technical knock-out in the twelfth-round before traveling to Canada and Europe to defend his titles against George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London and Karl Mildenberger. Ali returned to America in 1966 and stopped Cleveland Williams in three-rounds, unify and outpoint Ernie Terrell and knockout Zora Folley in seven.
At the age of 25-years-old, Muhammed Ali was stripped of his titles and passport, had his boxing license suspended, sentenced to five years in prison and hit with a $10,000 fine for refusing to be inducted into the armed forces during the Vietnam conflict. The champ paid his bond and remained free until his case worked its way through the appeal process. He did not lace-up a glove to compete in the ring from March 1967 to October 1970, robbing Ali of his prime years.
So, what of the Lineal title? Well, the WBA chose to stage an eight-man tournament that featured most of the top contenders while the WBC strap remained vacant until 1970.
Check out the next installment of The Lineal Heavyweight Championship Timeline from 1967-1979. Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin Boxing with Billy C Show and follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23