Muhammad Ali’s crowning as the World Heavyweight Champion of boxing coincided with his decision to join the Nation of Islam. Now the Ali haters had a significantly larger base. From being an overtop the top, media and opponent bashing boxer he had graduated to being a loud mouth media and opponent bashing World Champion who was part of an organisation whose views were labelled as radical by most of the world and which promoted hatred and separatism. Ali’s version of Nation of Islam was different but his only feasible view of an action was letting his gloves do the talking which he duly did.
His fight first as the defending champion was against the man he conquered Sonny Liston. The controversial nature of the first fight led to the rematch being in Lewiston where only 2300 people could attend the fight. The result was no less controversial, though. Barely halfway through the first round, Sonny fell on the caravan with a punch which in no world was a knockout punch. He did not get up for a few seconds, even Ali did not think he had knocked out his opponent. He stood over him yelling get up and fight, the captured image has become one of the most famous moments in the sport. After 20 seconds Liston got up and was ready to fight again only for the ringside authorities to inform the referee that the limit to get up and fight had expired handing over Ali a first round knockout.
Ali’s next opponent was Floyd Patterson who had declared his fight as a crusade to reclaim the championship from the Black Muslims. This merely infuriated Ali who played with Patterson for 12 rounds before winning on a technical knockout. Ali was next scheduled to fight Ernie Terrell but the bout was called up when Ali openly declared that he would refuse to serve in the US Army in the war against Vietnam if called upon.
In retaliation, Ali travelled the World instead to defend his championship. His next four bouts were against George Chuvalo (In Canada), Henry Cooper (In England), Brian London (In England) and Karl Mildenberger (In West Germany). Ali won all four extending his unbeaten streak as a professional boxer to 26-0.
Ali returned to the US to defend his title against Cleveland Williams in November 1966. Williams was once a good fighter, but various accidents in his life had greatly damaged his health. As per many critics, this was Ali’s best performance this date. He ended the fight in the third round concerned with Williams health.
Ali’s next opponent Ernie Terrell again made the mistake of constantly taunting Ali with his old name Clay, a name Ali referred to as his slave name. Terrell was supposed to be Ali’s toughest opponent since his title win against Sonny but once again he was too good. He taunted Terrell round after rounding shouting before every punch “What’s my name, What’s my name Uncle Tom?”. The fight has been described as one of the most barbaric fights in boxing history and for Ali’s critics, this was another display of his arrogance.
Ali’s next title defence was the first in Madison Square Garden for almost 1.5 decades. He took on Zora Folley. Before the fight Ali lost his appeal against the 1A classification which drafted him as eligible to serve in the US Army.
He defeated Zara in 7 rounds to extend his professional record to 29-0. This was to be Ali’s last fight for three and a half years, for what happened next not only changed Ali’s view towards the world but also on how the world viewed Ali.