In another thread, there’s an off-handed references to beating Muhammad Ali at his peak. It got me wondering: what does everyone consider to be his peak?
To my mind, the guy had maybe three distinct periods: there was a span of years where he relied on tactics that exploited his overwhelming speed advantage – and then came years when he’d lost a step, but didn’t yet have anything else to fall back on, and – and then came years when he excelled at playing the clinching blocker, a champ who could lean on the ropes and his opponents to get the win. And I’m at a loss as to exactly which point, in that framing, represents the best combination of speed and skill; is there a consensus?
Ali’s fight against Cleveland Williams in 1966 is often held up as his peak amongst boxing fans. He fought Ernie Terrell the year after and brutally humiliated him (the ‘what’s my name fight?’). Then he lost his license (67).
It’s certainly true that Ali’s mega fights of the 70s that everyone knows about all took place when he was past his peak, in physical terms. But there’s more to it than that - would a 24 year old Clay, for example, have had the boxing craft to beat a monster like Big George the way the 32 yo Ali did? Doubtful IMO - it’s a great question.
Ali lost 3 years of his sporting career when he would have been at the absolute pinnacle of physical condition. That he still went on to achieve all that he did just adds to his legend.
The boxing establishment took away Ali’s title unjustly for a few years in the Sixties, They made up for it later by letting him keep it unjustly for a few years in the Seventies.
Ali lost several fights (most notably to Jimmy Young), but was allowed to keep his title by judges and refs who pretended that he won.