Muhammad Ali, who died Friday at 74, is widely considered one of the greatest boxers off all time. After defeating Zbigniew Pietrzykowski for the gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ali would win 56 of his 61 professional bouts — 37 by knockout.
In his first professional bout, Ali won all six rounds against a 30-year-old Tunney Hunsaker at Freedom Hall in Kentucky, but that only started his journey to becoming a boxing legend. Here are the five fights that made him “the Greatest,” ranked in order of which bouts increased his ranking the most.
Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston in 1964 by TKO on Feb. 25, 1964 (increased BoxRec rating by 1,214 points)
The biggest fight of Ali’s career was his first against against Liston, who became the heavyweight champion after knocking out Floyd Patterson. Liston was a big favorite over Ali, then Cassius Clay, with 43 of 46 sportswriters polled at the time picking Liston to win.
Clay’s histrionics would start to appear in earnest, with the Post’s Shirley Povich describing Clay as “a man in hysterical seizure or successfully imitating it.” But Clay would pull off “one of the biggest upsets in boxing history” after a shoulder injury would keep Liston from coming out in the seventh round, making Clay the winner by technical knockout.
A little more than a week after the Liston bout, Clay said he would be renamed Muhammad Ali.
Foreman had won a gold medal of his own at the 1968 Olympics and quickly ascended the ranks of heavyweight fighters, culminating in a title bout against Ali, the No. 1 contender at the time. This event would also be the first for infamous boxing promoter Don King, who promised each of the fighters a $5 million payday.
Suckered in by Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” strategy, a left hook-straight right combination would send Foreman to the canvas in the eighth round, and seven years after being stripped of the title for refusing to enter the U.S. Army, Ali was once again the heavyweight champion of the world.
Clay knocks out Liston in the first round on May 25, 1965 (increased BoxRec rating by 543 points)
The rematch with Liston produced one of the most iconic sports photographs of all time. It also wasn’t without controversy.
Midway through the first round, Clay seemingly knocked down Liston with a lightning-fast right-handed punch. However, referee Jersey Joe Walcott could not get Clay into a neutral corner, so there is a discrepancy as to whether or not Liston was indeed counted out. Some are not even sure Clay landed a punch at all.
Clay calls his shot against Archie Moore, wins by TKO on Nov. 15, 1962 (increased BoxRec rating by 518 points)
Ali was known for predicting when he was going to dispatch an opponent, and he famously told fans in attendance, “Don’t block the aisle and don’t block the door. You will all go home after round four.”
True to his word, Ali knocked Morre down three times in the fourth round, and eventually won by TKO.
Clay defeats Henry Cooper by TKO in Round 5 at Wembley Stadium on June 18, 1963 (increased BoxRec rating by 451 points)
Once again Clay showed he was the world’s greatest prognosticator, guaranteeing “It ain’t no jive, Henry Cooper will go in five!” But it wasn’t easy, and contained its fair share of controversy, too.
Cooper unleashed “Henry’s Hammer,” his devastating left hook that knocked Clay to the ground. Then, as legend goes, trainer Angelo Dundee alerted the referee to Ali’s torn right boxing glove, which allowed Clay more time to recover.
Clay would come out swinging in Round 5 and get the TKO.
Honorable mention: The “Thrilla in Manila” on Oct. 1, 1975 (increased BoxRec rating by 450 points)
The first bout between Ali and Frasier was at Madison Square Garden, which saw Frazier win by unanimous decision after 15 rounds. Ali went 17-1 after that, with his only loss a split decision to Ken Norton. When Ali and Frazier met again at MSG, Ali would be the victor by unanimous decision after 12 rounds. This third match, widely considered one of the greatest bouts of all time, would settle things once and for all. Ali, in his fourth title defense of the WBA and WBC world heavyweight titles, would last just one more round than Fraiser, whose trainers stopped the fight in the 14th round.
The Post’s William Barry Furlong wrote Ali “came near defeat tonight, if not death” during the fight, showing signs of fatigue in the sixth round. “No longer did he dance,” wrote Furlong. “No longer did his punches snap at the bobbing and weaving head of Joe Frasier.”
“At the end of Frasier’s face was a mask of lumps,” the AP reported. “His eyes looked like glass and there were nearly swollen shut. The 31-year-old man simply was finished.”
Did we miss a fight? Think another one of Ali’s bouts contributed more to his greatness? Let us know in the comments.