If you are known as being the greatest at anything then two things are invariably true. First, there are always those who are gunning for your spot. Furthermore if someone actually usurps the greatest position then the O.G is going to come for revenge, especially if this all goes down in public. Few athletes have had the ego the size of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He was scarier to he American public than even Mike Tyson, rejected his Christian name and talked more smack than anyone before him. America likes their heroes humble, therefore Ali was despised as much as idolized. But even the greatest went down and tasted the mat a few times. Some of Ali’s greatest fights were about getting even. Few industries can provide the satisfaction of pummeling an enemy repeatedly in the fact and body but in boxing, revenge is part of the sport, its physicality locked into individual one on one combat. Ali remains the greatest but those who bested him eventually got what was coming to them.
Ali first went down on March 8th, 1971 when he lost the then titled “Fight of the Century” to the equally undefeated Joe Frazier. In front of a crowd that boasted everyone from Woody Allen to Frank Sinatra, the counter culture, antiwar, boxing king went down hard after a grueling 15 rounds. Ali held a nasty grudge and his competitive nature boiled at the forefront. Three years later a rematch was scheduled. The two boxers at a pre-fight screening began arguing after Ali called Frazier ignorant. In order to get his title back he stomped over Frazier on his way to the Rumble in the Jungle. Ali fought hard and took back his spot, leaving Frazier and his career in the dust.
If Ali’s first loss seemed a blow to his ego his second would be even more painful. Right after his comeback revenge bout victory over Frazier, he came up against Ken Norton in 1973, known at the time as Black Hercules. Norton went at Ali so hard that he broke the champ’s jaw in the second round. Ali held out as long as he could, going 10 more rounds in immense pain but ultimately tasted the canvas in defeat. Ali had a lot to prove, if he couldn’t defeat Norton in a rematch scheduled six months later. The two rivals bitterly fought but Ali, the Greatest, kept his claim by a split decision.
By 1978, a 36-year-old Ali really didn’t want to work too hard to defend his world champion title. With boxing invested in its hero they set him up with challenger Leon Spinks. With only eight professional fights to his name this fight was supposed to be an easy win for Ali. Instead, Spinks tirelessly outfought Ali, took his belt and left him a beaten up mess while becoming the fastest rising star in boxing history in the process. Needless to say, Ali wanted nothing more than to wipe the floor with the only challenger who actually took his belt from him (his other losses were non-title matches). A few months later, a renewed Ali mopped the floor with Spinks, regaining his title and as world champion for the third time. Spinks disappeared shortly thereafter.