Friday, April 28, 2017

April 28th

Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali is stripped of his title when he refuses induction into the military services, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Viet Nam War. ("I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.")  He was arrested for draft evasion and will not fight again for the next three years.  He is taken at the prime of his career, with a record of 29-0.  Ali will appeal the decision numerous times during his hiatus, eventually winning an overturned decision in The Supreme Court in 1971, officially ruling him a conscientious objector.  During his time away from boxing, he would become a world figure, traveling the globe to promote peace.  Many would argue that he was the most recognized man on the planet during this time when he was supposed to be out of the spotlight.  

Ali, formerly Cassius Clay of Louisville, Kentucky, was one of the most colorful sports figures in history … and would go on to be named The Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated Magazine.  He won the Olympics Gold Medal for light heavyweight boxing in Rome in 1960 and, as a amateur, posted a record of one hundred wins and only five losses.  He started his professional boxing career with a string of nineteen straight victories, fifteen of which came via knock-out, prior to being given his first shot at The Heavyweight Title.

By the time he was finally eligible for a title bout against Sonny Liston (scheduled for February 25th, 1964, in Miami … you may remember shots of Clay clowning around with The Beatles, who were in town for an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show), most sports enthusiasts felt he didn't have a chance … and many were anxious to see the brash young "Louisville Lip" silenced once and for all.  (Clay came into that fight a 7-1 underdog.)  

However, it was Clay who prevailed, winning by TKO when Liston couldn't answer the bell for the seventh round.  Shortly after winning The Heavyweight Champion of the World Title in 1964, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali and proclaimed his affiliation with Islam.  (Ali would retain his crown in a rematch with Liston in May of 1965, scoring a stunning knock-out less than two minutes into the bout.  Many reporters and spectators sitting ringside referred to it as a "phantom punch" ... nobody seemed to see it!  Howard Cosell, long tied to Ali's career over the years later said, "I saw it ... it wouldn't have split a grape.")   

No stranger to headlines, Ali would go on to pummel some of his opponents in the ring, asking them "What's My Name?" when members of the press and other fighters refused to call him "Muhammad Ali".  Ali said many times that "Cassius Clay was my slave name", again causing controversy yet all the while gaining him more fame and notoriety in the process.  

He was, without question, one of the most charismatic characters the world has ever seen, entertaining us with his quick wit, poetry, and catch phrases like "I Am The Greatest" and "Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee".  He constantly proclaimed his beauty and pointed out to anyone who would listen that, despite numerous heavyweight bouts, he still didn't have a mark on his face.  He invented "The Ali Shuffle" and would bewilder his opponents with the lightning speed of his jabs and ability to dance out of the way of a punch.  ("I'm so fast that when I turn out the light, I'm already in bed before the room is dark.")  In 1964, in addition to a successful comedy album of poetry, Ali (as Cassius Clay) recorded a serious version of "Stand By Me" that hit the pop charts.  (#86).  

When he was finally allowed to box again (against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in 1970, after the city granted him a boxing license) he fought as "The People's Champion".  Quarry was gone by the third round.  Ali then fought a couple more "warm-up" matches before finally getting his shot against Champion Joe Frazier in 1971.  (I remember watching that fight via a closed-circuit broadcast at The Hillside Theater with my dad.)  Billed as "The Fight Of The Century", two unbeaten champions facing off against one another in the ring, it was a massive payday for both boxers.  (Ali always liked to name his big bouts … "The Thrilla In Manila" … and "The Rumble In The Jungle" when he fought George Foreman for the title in Africa in 1978.) 

Ali clowned around during the early rounds of the Frazier fight … but Frazier's punches were doing damage.  When he knocked Ali down in the fifteenth round, it was pretty much over.  

Ali would fight Joe Frazier a total of three times.  After the winning a decision in the third bout he proclaimed Frazier to be "the greatest fighter of all times, next to me.")  In between, Frazier would lose his title to a mountain of muscle named George Foreman.  (Yeah, the grill guy!)  He was described as unbeatable … yet Ali was able to reclaim his crown through his rope-a-dope knock-out of Foreman in 1974.  Ali went on to become the only heavyweight boxer in history to win the crown for a THIRD time when he defeated Leon Spinks in 1978.  He officially retired (after two consecutive losses) in 1981 with a professional record of 56 - 5.  

Diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1984, Ali seemed to lead a pretty quiet life from that point forward.  (Many at the time said he was "punch drunk" from having taken too many blows to the head … but Ali's condition has been well documented in the years since.)  In a very moving ceremony, Ali lit the torch at the 1996 Summer Olympics.  At a 2012 Olympics appearance he was too frail to carry the flag so (with the assistance of his wife) simply stood before it.  In fact, throughout the 2000's it seemed like every couple of years we were prepared to say goodbye to The Greatest, but Ali seemed to bounce back from every ailment.  He finally left us on June 3rd of last year.  It was the whole world's loss.

It took two years but Gary Lewis and the Playboys' 1965 #1 Hit "This Diamond Ring" (cowritten by Al Kooper) is finally certified gold.  

The World's Fair, later dubbed "Expo '67", officially opens to the public.  As tipped here yesterday, the first person thru the gate was Al Carter of Chicago, IL!  

The original movie version of "Casino Royale" has its US premier.  More of a James Bond "spoof" than part of the Ian Fleming legacy (Bond is coaxed out of retirement to fight SMERSH), it stars Peter Sellers and Woody Allen (who both contributed to the script), David Niven, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress, and features a total of SEVEN characters playing Bond … James Bond.  Hal David and Burt Bacharach did the film score and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass had a modest hit (#21) with the title track.  A proper, more Bond-esque remake was done in 2006 starring Daniel Craig in his first role as 007.  

A new Elvis Presley single is released … "Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On)" / "That's Someone You Never Forget".  The A-Side comes from Elvis' latest motion picture, "Double Trouble", released in theaters three weeks earlier.  The B-Side dates back to his 1962 album "Pot Luck".  Sales fall short of 200,000 copies.