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Gerald Early

Despite the considerable achievements of such important African American athletes as Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Wilma Rudolph, Jim Brown, and Jackie Robinson, the young brash prizefighter from Louisville, Kentucky, may very well have eclipsed their significance. He surely eclipsed their fame as, at the height of his career in the early and middle 1970s, Muhammad Ali was, without question, the most famous African American in history and among the five most recognized faces on the planet.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in 1942 (named after both his father and the famous Kentucky abolitionist), the gregarious, handsome, and extraordinarily gifted boxer garnered world attention by winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. He further stunned the sports world by beating the heavily favored Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight title in 1964 and shocked white America by announcing right after that fight that ...

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John Gennari

As the dominant heavyweight boxer of the 1960s and 1970s, Muhammad Ali won an Olympic gold medal, captured the professional world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions, and successfully defended his title nineteen times. Ali's extroverted, colorful style, both in and out of the ring, heralded a new mode of media-conscious athletic celebrity. Through his bold assertions of black pride, his conversion to the Muslim faith, and his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, Ali became a highly controversial figure during the turbulent 1960s. At the height of his fame, Ali was described as “the most recognizable human being on earth.”

Ali's 1981 retirement from boxing did not diminish his status as an international public figure. Despite suffering from Parkinson's disease, Ali remained on the world stage as an adherent of the Nation of Islam an advocate of children and war victims and a proponent of international understanding ...

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Gerald Early

world champion boxer and political activist, was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, the eldest of two sons raised by Cassius Clay Sr., a sign painter and something of a frustrated artist, and Odessa Grady, a domestic. Young Clay began to take boxing lessons at the age of twelve because someone had stolen his bicycle and he was determined to exact revenge against the perpetrators. He never discovered who stole his bike, but he did blossom as a young fighter, taking instruction from the Louisville policeman Joe Martin. His brother, Rudolph Arnette Clay (Rudolph Valentino Clay in some sources and later Rahaman Ali), also took up boxing, but, lacking his brother's talent, never became a significant presence in the sport.

Clay became a gym rat feeling that he could succeed in boxing as he never could in school Although he showed no special ability in his ...

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Luther Adams

boxer, civil rights activist. Perhaps one of the most recognized people in the world, Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. to Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. and Odessa (Grady) Clay in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named in honor of his father and the white Kentucky abolitionist Cassius M. Clay. Clay attended the all-black Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky, graduating 376th out of a senior class of 391. Ali has been married four times: to Sonji Roi, Kalilah Tolona (formerly Belinda Boyd), Veronica Porsche, and Yolanda Ali. He has been married to Yolanda since 1986, and has seven daughters and two sons, including Laila Ali, a boxer in her own right.

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Boxing  

Michael Ezra

Perhaps no sport has influenced African American culture and society more than boxing. Long before the sport was formalized, slaves worked as prizefighters, sometimes gaining their freedom if they earned their masters enough money and prestige through their exploits in the ring. The first American to compete for the world heavyweight championship was Bill Richmond, a black man and former slave, who took on and lost to England's Tom Cribb in 1805. The former slave Tom Molineaux, who gained his emancipation through pugilism, also challenged Cribb for the crown, losing bouts in 1810 and 1811. Long before their official participation in other professional sports, African Americans were making their mark in the prize ring.

Although boxing was the most popular spectator sport in the United States from the late 1840s until the Civil War blacks were excluded from the big money contests that captured the public ...

Article

Patrick Stearns

professional boxer, actor, product spokesperson, and minister. George Edward Foreman was born in Marshall, Texas, to J. D. Foreman and Nancy Foreman. By the seventh grade he had dropped out of school, engaging in petty crimes, such as muggings. At age sixteen he enrolled in a Job Corps training program in Oregon. While working at a conservation camp affiliated with the program, Foreman found that he had a talent for boxing, and he won the Corps Diamond Belt Boxing Tournament.

In 1968 Foreman made the U.S. Olympic boxing team and won the gold medal in the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Vietnam War protests, the rise of black nationalism, and episodes of civil unrest in U.S. cities after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination earlier in the year were a sign of the times. The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City were also the scene ...

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Eric Bennett

George Foreman grew up in Houston, Texas, and had a rough early life, dropping out of high school, drinking heavily, and committing petty larcenies. In 1965 he turned his life around by joining the Job Corps, where he encountered Boxing. Showing exceptional natural skill for the sport, Foreman won his first official amateur fight in 1967 with a first-round knockout. His talent developed quickly, and in 1968 he won a gold medal for the United States at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City.

The following year Foreman launched his record-breaking professional career. By 1973 he had knocked out thirty-six consecutive opponents and won the title of heavyweight champion from Joe Frazier. Foreman defended his title until 1974, when underdog Muhammad Ali knocked him out in Kinshasa, Zaire.

After a fight in Puerto Rico in 1977 Foreman experienced a religious awakening that led him to ...

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Joseph William Frazier, known as Joe Frazier, became professional heavyweight Boxing champion. His bouts with Muhammad Ali were among the greatest and most famous fights in the sport's history. At 5 feet, 11.5 inches and 205 pounds, young Joe Frazier seemed an unlikely candidate for heavyweight champion of the world. He grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he trained with Yancy “Yank” Durham. Frazier won thirty-eight of his forty amateur bouts, ending with his heavyweight triumph at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, where he won the gold medal. He turned professional the following year.

Frazier, known as “Smokin' Joe” or “Joltin' Joe,” launched his professional career with a string of knockouts. His first eleven opponents went down within six rounds. Frazier became the heavyweight champion on February 16, 1970, after knocking out Jimmy Ellis in five rounds The following year ...

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Alonford James Robinson

Marvin Hagler, the eldest of seven children, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Boxing as an amateur, he won 57 bouts, winning the Amateur Athletic Union middleweight title in 1973. At 5 ft 9 ½ in (176 cm) tall, Hagler was a powerful 160-lb (70-kg) left-hander. He turned professional in 1973, winning his first 26 fights by knockout. He legally changed his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler so that he could be announced that way in the ring. He defeated Alan Minter in 1980 to become middleweight champion of the world. Hagler defended this title 12 times before he was defeated by Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987. He retired in June 1988. He later moved to Italy, where he enjoyed a second career as an action movie star.

Article

Larry Holmes's long reign as heavyweight Boxing champion was marred by conflicts among the sport's governing bodies, which resulted in the recognition of as many as three different heavyweight champions at a time.

Holmes was born in Cuthbert, Georgia. As a young boy he dropped out of school in Easton, Pennsylvania, and worked as a laborer while learning to box at a youth center. He turned professional in 1973, and after 26 straight victories defeated veteran Ken Norton for his first World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight crown in 1978. By mid-1979 he had made three successful title defenses. In October 1980 he defended his title against former boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Fighting frequently and successfully, Holmes built his record to 48 wins and no defeats by 1985, one victory short of the 49-0 record of heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano Holmes then faced light ...

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Evander Holyfield, the youngest of eight children, was born in Atmore, Alabama, and raised by his mother, Annie Holyfield. When Evander was three, his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia. He began Boxing at the age of eight at a local boys club, and although small for his age, he won several tournaments. He also played football, but gave it up after being relegated to the bench because of his small stature. After graduating from high school, he held a job fueling airplanes and during his off-hours pursued a disciplined training schedule.

In 1983 he won the light heavyweight championship at the National Sports Festival and a silver medal at the Pan American Games. The following year he entered the Olympic Games (in Los Angeles) as the favorite in the light heavyweight class. After crushing several opponents, he met New Zealand's Kevin Barry in the semifinals Barry ...

Article

William Carney

boxer. Born in Pensacola, Florida, and trained for much of his career by his father, Roy Jones Jr. was once considered by many boxing analysts to be the best “pound for pound” fighter in the professional ranks. Jones was a three-time U.S. boxing champion at the 156-pound weight class and was considered the United States’ best hope for a gold medal in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. In a controversial decision, however, Jones's South Korean opponent was awarded a decision in a fight many observers felt Jones clearly won.

Upon turning professional in 1989, Jones won titles in the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions, and he earned a lifetime professional record of fifty-two wins and four losses. Perceived by some sportswriters and commentators as dominating rather weak lighter-weight classes, he moved up to the heavyweight ranks in 2003, defeating John ...

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Roanne Edwards

Don King has emerged as the most powerful and controversial figure in American Boxing. By the late 1970s he had come to dominate the boxing industry—traditionally controlled by white brokers—and since then has raised millions of dollars for such prizefighters as Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Mike Tyson. A flamboyant public figure, King's visibility has extended far beyond the field of boxing, and some commentators have likened him to the infamous gangster Al Capone. As Sports Illustrated noted in 1997, “King, who has beaten tax evasion charges and countless allegations of contract fraud over the years, is nothing if not resourceful.”

The fifth of seven children born to Clarence and Hattie King Don King was born reared and educated in Cleveland Ohio After his father a steelworker died in a workplace explosion King s mother moved the family to ...

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Daniel Donaghy

boxing promoter. Donald King was born to Clarence King, a steelworker, and Hattie King, in Cleveland, Ohio. Don King's father died in 1941 in a steel foundry explosion. In spite of his father's premature death, or perhaps because of it, King sought a life for himself beyond the poor neighborhood in which he grew up. He dreamed of becoming a lawyer, and in order to pay for his education at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University), he worked as a numbers runner for local illegal gamblers, transporting illegal betting slips to various bookies in the Cleveland area. Before long, King rose to become one of the city's leading bookmakers. He made more than enough to pay for college, but he quit school after one year to focus on a career in gambling.

King had many run ins with the law in his teens and early ...

Article

Patrick Stearns

professional boxer, entrepreneur, boxing promoter. Born in North Carolina, Ray Charles Leonard grew up in Palmer Park, Maryland. At the age of fourteen he started boxing. As an amateur, he won 145 of 150 matches. In 1975 he won a gold medal in the Pan American Games. He would then win a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

In the midst of labor unrest that year, resulting in strikes in the automotive, newspaper and magazine publishing, and brewing industries, the United States looked to the bicentennial celebrations and American success in the Olympics as much-needed sources of pride. Leonard's outgoing personality and skills made him popular in the media that summer. Leonard turned professional in February 1977. Angelo Dundee, who trained Muhammad Ali, would serve as his trainer. On 11 November 1979, Leonard fought and knocked out Wilfred Benitez ...

Article

Sonny Liston was born in St. Francis County, Arkansas, to a poor cotton farmer who had twenty-five children from two marriages. In 1945 Liston moved with his mother to St. Louis, Missouri, where his juvenile delinquency progressed into adult crime. In 1950 Liston was sentenced to nineteen months in prison for armed robbery. A chaplain at the prison guided Liston into Boxing, and, after his release, Liston won the Golden Gloves championship in 1953.

Liston went fourteen and one as a professional before returning to prison in 1956 for assaulting a policeman. Upon his release, Liston amassed a thirty-three and one record with twenty-three knockouts and was named the number-one heavyweight contender in 1960. In a 1962 fight he knocked out heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in the first round. In a 1963 re-match Liston again knocked out Patterson in the first round.

Liston was known for ...

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Michael Ezra

the longest-reigning heavyweight boxing champion in history. Born Joseph Louis Barrow on 13 May 1914 near the rural town of Lafayette, Alabama, in the Buckalew Mountains, Louis was the seventh of eight children born to Munrow and Lillie Reese Barrow. Munrow Barrow, a cotton sharecropper, left the family when Joe was two years old and was never seen by them again, leaving Lillie to work the land and raise the children alone until she married Patrick Brooks, who also sharecropped.

Tiring of scratching a meager living out of the land and enthralled by stories of prosperity and freedom in the North, Brooks moved the family to Detroit in 1926 settling in a black neighborhood on the east side Things were not much better there however as the Great Depression began to slow the nation s economy Brooks was laid off from his city job as a street ...

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Gerald Early

“We gon do our part, and we will win, because we are on God's side,” Joe Louis intoned on 10 March 1942 at a dinner/show sponsored by the Navy Relief Society. In seven years, Louis had transformed himself in the eyes of white America from a sullen, unlettered, somewhat threatening black boy from the ghetto of Detroit to a transcendent symbol of patriotism and democratic nationalism, something more than a mere sports hero or champion boxer, although this transformation would not have been possible had he not become a champion athlete who dwarfed the competitors of his era. Born in Alabama on 13 May 1914, Joseph Louis Barrow migrated with his family to Detroit in 1926. He took to boxing as a teenager, had a successful amateur career, and turned professional in 1934. He won the heavyweight title in 1937 and successfully defended it twenty five ...

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Joseph Louis Barrow was born on a sharecropper's farm near Lafayette, Alabama, the seventh of eight children. His father, Munroe Barrow, was committed to a psychiatric hospital soon after Louis's birth. The family was told that Munroe had died, but in fact he lived for two more decades. Lillie Barrow remarried another farmer, and when Louis was ten the family followed the Great Migration north to Detroit, Michigan, where Louis's stepfather found work. Because of Louis's poor schooling in the South, he attended school in Detroit with students much younger than himself. Louis was reportedly humiliated by the experience and developed a stammer. Later he attended a trade school to study carpentry, but his real interest lay in Boxing. He spent hours watching boxers spar at a local gym, and after leaving school at age seventeen, he began training on his own.

Although Joe Louis lost ...

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Jalane Schmidt

Born in Waco, North Carolina, Floyd Patterson moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, as a young boy. He experienced a difficult childhood, and was sent to the Wiltwyck School, where he learned Boxing. When he returned to New York City, he entered Golden Gloves competitions, winning national titles in 1951 and 1952 as a middleweight. At the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, he won all of his fights and the gold medal. After the games, he turned professional.

In his first thirty-six professional fights Patterson lost only once, and in 1956 he beat Archie Moore for the heavyweight title. Patterson became the youngest heavyweight champion and the first Olympic gold medalist to hold the title. He made four successful title defenses before losing to Sweden's Ingemar Johansson in 1959 Johansson knocked Patterson down seven times before the fight was stopped A year later ...