Tag Archives: Heavyweight champion

50 Years Ago Today: Cassius Clay v Sonny Liston

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Ali Jab (versus Patterson)

Muhammad Ali v Oscar Bonavena, 1970 (Amazing LIFE Photos)

As was perhaps befitting of a man who had evolved from merely a cosmically gifted champion into a genuine global superstar, by the 1970s Muhammad Ali’s fights had become so much more than merely international sports events. As his fame grew and grew, so his fight-nights morphed into something extraordinary, almost surreal, somewhere between a catwalk show, a film premiere and a Harlem grindhouse. They became an irresistible whirlpool for celebrities, hustlers, pushers and pimps. Where the rich and not-so-famous came to strut, jive and swagger. To be seen and photographed. Where vanity and ego swelled cavernous arenas, the smell of greenbacks and chinchilla threatened to overwhelm. And where, frankly, what happened in the square ring was almost incidental.

The zenith of this ringside showboating was almost certainly Ali’s iconic 1971 championship fight against Smokin’ Joe Frazier, at Madison Square Garden, NYC (famously photographed, again for LIFE magazine, by a ticketless Frank Sinatra.) But here are some fantastic photographs of a slightly earlier contest, from 1970, against the cast-iron Argentine Oscar Bonavena, also at MSG.

They are a wonderful document of the time, the place…and the intoxicating attitude.

(For the record, Ali knocked out Bonavena in the 15th round. The only time the Argentine was stopped in his craeer.)

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Gene Tunney

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Gene Tunney was heavyweight champion from 1926-1928. He defeated the brilliant and ferocious Jack Dempsey twice. Once in 1927, and again 1928. The second,  The Night of the Long Count, remains one of the most controversial fights in boxing history.

Tunney had impeccable technique, a solid chin, fast feet and was an excellent counter-puncher. He was one of the first fighters to dedicate serious time to studying film footage of his opponents, allowing him to neutralise styles and then dominate as the rounds passed. He was never knocked out.

A friend of Ernest Hemingway, he was widely disliked for his intelligence and literary ambitions. He was regarded with suspicion by many traditionalists, who saw him as effete and lacking in true vigour. This made him an unpopular victor over Dempsey, who was adored for his raw, masculine aggression and exceptional power. Popularity did come later however, and deservedly so. He retired as champion after defeating Tom Heeney in 1928.

Gene Tunney was a very fine fighter.