In And Out Of The Wilderness
For three-and-a-half years, Muhammad Ali endured the public outcry and the loss of his livelihood, and numerous death threats, while his case wound through the courts. He managed to support himself by public speaking engagements on college campuses. Finally, in June of 1970, the Supreme Court reversed his draft-dodging conviction on a technicality. In September of that same year the NAACP successfully sued the New York State Athletic Commission for the restoration of Ali's boxing license.
It was a heady victory, and the beginning of a long climb that would make Muhammad Ali a national hero once again. In November, 1970, in Atlanta, he fought his first professional match in almost four years, knocking out Jerry Quarry in the third round. In March of 1971,
he returned to New York to fight Joe Frazier, who had risen to the world heavyweight championship in Ali's absence. The fight between the two "champions" was long anticipated, and both were promised an unprecedented $2.5 million. After a long and bruising battle, Joe Frazier knocked Muhammad Ali down in the fifteenth round. Ali managed to get up from the staggering blow, but he lost the match on points. It was Ali's first defeat as a professional boxer.
On January 28, 1974, Ali returned to Madison Square Garden for a rematch with Joe Frazier. By this time, Frazier had lost the crown and Ali had been beaten once again, by Ken Norton. But the fight was highly anticipated by boxing fans. Again, it was a grueling match, with both men taking a lot of punishment. But this time the decision went to Muhammad Ali, who had earned his shot against the new champion, George Foreman.
In one of the biggest spectacles in boxing history, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman met in Kinshasha, Zaire, for the "Rumble in the Jungle." The very air of Africa seemed to give Ali a lift, and wherever he went, enthusiastic crowds followed him. The setting had the opposite effect on George Foreman, in those days known as "the surly champ." The fight took place on October 30, 1974, before 60,000 spectators and millions of payper-view customers. Most experts expected Ali to fall to the legendary Foreman punch, but after absorbing blows for six rounds, Muhammad Ali sent an exhausted George Foreman to the mat in the eighth round. Muhammad Ali was back on top.
The next year, in September of 1975, after easily besting such lesser lights as the "Bayonne Bleeder," Ali met Frazier one last time, for the "Thrilla in Manilla." Many look back on this as the finest boxing match in history. As Gerald Suster wrote in Champions of the Ring, "In the first five rounds, Ali did enough to stop or even kill any strong heavyweight. In the succeeding five rounds, Frazier broke through Ali's guard to pound him to the body and whack him to the head, in turn doing enough to stop or even kill any strong heavyweight." Finally, in the 11th round, Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, threw in the towel. Afterwards, a number of fans signed a petition asking that these two never fight each other again, so brutal had it been.