Fifty-two years ago today, Muhammad Ali would fight his last fight prior to being suspended from boxing.
The match took place at Madison Square Garden in NYC and he was fighting Zora Folley. Folley and Ali went seven rounds before Ali knocked him out. The vet went down suddenly, but Ali’s win couldn’t have been much of a surprise, as the heavyweight world champion was undefeated in the ring.
“I went to New York to win the championship. I wouldn’t have gone if I did not think I could win,” Folley said at the time. “I was confident. But Ali beat me at my own game…the right hands Ali hit me with just had no business landing—but they did. They came from nowhere…this guy has a style all of his own.”
Ali defended his title but at the time he was also fighting for his life, having been reclassified as eligible to serve in the Vietnam war.
In April of 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the United States military—consequentially, his license was suspended by the New York State Boxing Commission and he was stripped of his title, with other states following suit.
The following month, Ali would be indicted by a federal grand jury, who accused him of violating the Selective Service Act. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison with an added fine of $10,000.
“I’m the champ. I can beat any man alive. I don’t have to prove it to anybody. It doesn’t make any difference if they take my name off a few bits of paper. You can’t brainwash the fact that I am the champ out of the minds of the people. If I thought it would bring freedom, justice, and equality for 22 million so-called negroes, they wouldn’t have to draft me. I’d join tomorrow,” he is quoted as saying after exiting the courthouse.
The champ would never serve the five year prison sentence, as he remained free during court appeals, with the Supreme Court overturning his conviction in 1971. As we all know, Muhammad Ali passed away in 2016 at the age of 74 and his death devastated the world.
In 1975, Ali was asked by Playboy how he thought he’d be remembered. He responded:
“I don’t know, but I’ll tell you how I’d like to be remembered: as a black man who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could– financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality. As a man who wouldn’t hurt his people’s dignity by doing anything that would embarrass them. As a man who tried to unite his people through the faith of Islam that he found when he listened to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And if all that’s asking too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxing champion who became a preacher and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
Man, we miss you Ali. Rest in peace.