Tag Archives: Boxing

An Unappreciated Legend: Michael Spinks Was One of Boxing’s Best

2 Jun
Michael Spinks

Former world Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight champion Michael Spinks gives his acceptance speech after being inducted into the Atlantic City Hall of Fame.

Thanks For The Memories

With his induction into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame, Michael Spinks reminisced about his stellar career.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

For many casual sports fans, one of the most vivid memories of Michael Spinks was his being on the receiving end of a devastating first-round knockout from a Mike Tyson en route to becoming the youngest Heavyweight Champ.

For Spinks, it was the only blemish on an otherwise stellar boxing career. Before winding up on the wrong end of that Tyson knockout blow in Atlantic City on June 1988, Spinks was the undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world and had become the first light-heavyweight to become heavyweight champion when he upset a then unbeaten Larry Holmes.

Spinks was in Atlantic City last Sunday as an inductee in the inaugural class of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. He was inducted beside some of the guys he bested in the ring –Holmes and Dwight Muhammad Qawi—and the one guy who beat him—Tyson.

Spinks retired with a record of 31-1 with 21 knockouts and championships in two weight divisions.

SpinksvsQawi

One of Michael Spinks most notable wins was his 15-round unanimous decision over Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1983.

And oh by the way, Spinks was also a part of the nation’s greatest Olympic boxing team, the 1976 squad that won five gold medals, one silver and one bronze. In addition to Spinks, that team included Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael’s brother Leon, Leo Randolph and Howard David. In fact, the Spinks brothers became the first brothers to win gold medals in the same Olympics. Five members of that team—Leonard, the Spinks Brothers, Leo Randolph and bronze medalist John Tate—won world titles as professionals.

Spinks had a strong overhand right known as the “Spinks’ Jinx” He also had a solid left jab and could just straight knock you out.

But the thing that stood out to me was Spinks’ toughness in the ring against top-notch competition.

That toughness in the ring as a pro was forged in part by being a member of that 1976 Olympic Boxing team, Spinks said. The competition on that team was as strong as any he would face in his pro career, he said.

“Every guy on that team was an ass-kicker,” Spinks said. “They kicked ass and took names. It prepared me (for the pros) for sure. We learned how to compete fiercely. We learned not to take no for an answer. We learned not to take any butt-whippings from everybody. We learned how to fight hard.”

Another thing that made Spinks a tough guy in the rink was his older brother Leon. Michael told me that he knew he was getting better when he took Leon to a local gym in St. Louis, sparred with his brother, and actually beat him.

“We did three rounds and I whupped my brother’s butt for the first time,” Spinks said with a smile. “ I said, ‘Leon, I kicked your ass. … That gave me confidence that I got a little better.”

While Leonard, Leon Spinks, and Davis, who was named the most outstanding boxer of the Montreal Olympics, garnered most of the attention, Spinks was relatively unknown and got to the finals via a pair of forfeits.

But Spinks overwhelmed Rufat Riskiyev of the Soviet Union in the gold medal match  and dominated him with a third-round TKO to win the gold medal in the middleweight division. Spinks had lost to Riskiyev earlier that year.

“After he beat me in Russia, I said I think I can beat him. It’s just so happened that I got him in Montreal and I had it in for him,” Spinks said. “Every time I thought of (Riskiyev), I got down and did 10 pushups (during training). It was him and I in the finals and I got him.”

As a professional fighter in the light heavyweight division, Spinks took on all comers, went up the rankings and beat everybody they put in front of him in an era when contenders for crowns actually fought each other.

To get an opportunity to fight for the World Boxing Association light heavyweight crown, Spinks had to fight a former world champion in Marvin Johnson, whom he beat with a fourth-round knockout in March 1981. Four months later, Spinks took on Eddie Mustafa Muhammad for the World Boxing Association light-heavyweight title and defeated him in a brutal 15-round unanimous decision

Spinks unified the title in another, hard fought 15 round unanimous decision against his former sparring partner Dwight Muhammad Qawi. He also added the International Boxing Association title. He was unbeaten in world title fights at the light heavyweight division.

Of course, the signature fight of Spinks career came against Holmes, the then-unbeaten heavyweight champion who appeared to be on his way to breaking Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 wins without a loss.

To boxing observers, Spinks was attempting to do the impossible as a light heavyweight…defeat the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. While he admitted to being extremely nervous before the fight,  something in him clicked and told him to relax and fight his fight—defense and counterpunching.

“I told myself you haven’t gotten your ass whipped and to stop thinking that way,” Spinks said. “I just do what I do best. I moved on Larry and I threw punches to let him know that was there. I fought in a circle and made it difficult for Larry to hit me.”

Spinks would beat Holmes in a 15-round unanimous decision and would beat Holmes again in the rematch. He would beat every other heavyweight he fought, except for that loss to Tyson. At the time, I thought Spinks because of his style and defense would give Tyson problems. Unfortunately, a Tyson right knocked him out in the first round.

But even in losing that fight, Spinks has no regrets and said he left everything in the ring.

“My coach told me that I better not walk out that ring as a loser. He said if I lose they’d better be carrying me out on a stretcher,” Spinks recalled. “I had the fighting spirit. If you’re going to beat me, you’re going to beat me trying.”

 

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Atlantic City Celebrates its Storied Boxing History With Inaugural Hall-of-Fame Induction

2 Jun
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Dwight Muhammad Qawi was inducted into the new Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. Known as the “Camden Buzz Saw,” Muhammad had some memorable fights in Atlantic City. Photo by Chris Murray

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Back in the 1980s, local high rollers looking for entertainment away from the tables in the form of a boxing match didn’t have to go all the way to Las Vegas to scratch that itch.

They only had to go as far as Atlantic City.

Atlantic City was as big a boxing venue as they come and was the setting for some of the greatest boxing matches in the sport’s history.

From the heavyweight title bout between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks, to the Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward Trilogy, and great matchups between Philly-area fighters like Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Matthew Saad-Muhammad, Atlantic City was a major hub for professional boxing.

That history was honored on Sunday night (May 28) as the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame inducted its first class of boxing legends.

In addition to Gatti, Spinks, Qawi and Saad-Muhammad, boxing champs Mike Tyson, and Larry Holmes, boxing writer Bert Sugar, referee and former N.J. State Boxing Commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr., Philadelphia boxing promoter J.Russell Peltz, matchmaker Don Elbaum and legendary promoter Don King were among those enshrined as part of the first class.

In addition to being a celebration of the Sweet Science, the ceremony at the Claridge Hotel also served as a glowing tribute to what was once one of the sport’s beloved locations.

“When you consider that in the five years from 1984 to 1988, there were 451 fight cards in Atlantic City, which is an average of 90 a year,” Peltz said. “What city, what state has 90 fight cards a year?!”

Like the boxers it celebrated, Atlantic City itself is scrappy. Through the ACBHOF, that scrappiness is celebrated, said Ray McCline, the Hall of Fame’s president and founder.

At a time when the city’s Boardwalk is a shadow of its former self and tourism is spotty, the ACBHOF could be a big help, McCline said.

“It’s a huge boost,” he said.  “It’s really about trying to remind people what Atlantic City was in the past, but to also create a space so that we can be competitive on a boxing level … It’s about promoting the history of Atlantic City and also Atlantic City as a tourist destination for people that love the sport, but also love the city.

Don Guardian, Atlantic City’s Mayor, agrees. The economic impact these athletes had on the City alone makes honoring them this way make sense, he said.

“It’s almost like we owe this to these great athletes that came in their prime and performed in Boardwalk Hall, especially,” he said. “What it meant was that hundreds of thousands of people over a decade came to Atlantic City that wouldn’t have been here otherwise.  … Thousands of jobs existed because of the great athletes that are in that ring.  Atlantic City was the East Coast boxing Mecca and it we hope to return to that again.”

While McCline and Guardian are optimistic that Atlantic City can return to its boxing glory days, Peltz thinks that the increased level of competition from casinos in locations like upstate New York and Connecticut makes it highly unlikely.

“I think Spinks and Tyson was the peak in June of 1988,” he said. “It’s never going to be what it was because the casinos have too much competition from those in New York and Connecticut and they aren’t willing to put up the money they way they used to back in those days.”

For boxing fans, Sunday night’s event provided a chance to envision what Atlantic City’s boxing heyday must have looked like. Seeing Michael Spinks and Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Mike Rossman served as a reminder of the epic battles these fighters had with each other and of the days when Atlantic City was a great boxing venue.

“I don’t try to figure it out, I just accept it,” said Qawi, who fought Matthew Saad Muhammad, both Michael and Leon Spinks. “(Fighting in Atlantic City) brought the best out of me.”

McCline is in the process of trying to find a permanent home for the ACBHOF, he said. The Claridge Hotel is in the running, and he is looking at other locations around the city.

Here are the members of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017:

Boxers: Matthew Saad Muhammad (deceased), Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Michael Spinks, Mike Rossman, Levander Johnson (deceased), Arturo Gatti (deceased), Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes.

Trainers: Bill Johnson (Levander’s father), Lou Duva (deceased) and Mike Hall (deceased).

Promoters/Matchmakers: Frank Gelb, Don Elbaum, Don King, J. Russell Peltz

Officials: Larry Hazzard Sr., commissioner New Jersey Athletic Control Board, referee Steve Smoger, ringside physician Dr. Frank Doggett (deceased)

Media: Bert Sugar (deceased), Dave Bontempo and Jack Obermeyer (deceased)

Casino Officials: Ken Condon, consultant Caesar’s Entertainment; Dennis Gomes, CEO Resorts International (deceased) and Bob Lee, president of the International Boxing Federation.

Black Girl Magic, LeBron James, Deaths of Sports Icons Defined 2016 Sports Year

30 Dec
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Simon Biles won gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Last Hurrah for Ryan Howard and Bernard Hopkins, LeBron James-Male Athlete of the Year 

By Chris Murray                                                                                                                 

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on about 2016, it was a year where the one constant was death.

While the pop culture world got hit the hardest with the losses of such icons as Prince and David Bowie, the Sporting World got knocked around a bit as well. We lost boxing icon

ImustbetheGreatest

Muhammad Ali Shook up the world with his stunning upset of Sonny Liston in 1964. His death in 2016 highlighted was the most visible in  year when a number icons in sports and entertainment passed away.

Muhammad Ali this year. The General of Arnie’s Army, golf legend Arnold Palmer, also left us. So did basketball coach extraordinaire Pat Summit and former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan.

Even sports media felt the sting with the losses of John Saunders, host of ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and Craig Sager, easily the most colorful man in the NBA.

Although we’re still in mourning over the loss of these shining stars, and cherishing the memories of their brilliance, the Sporting World gave us more than a few reasons to cheer in 2016. It was an up year for some and a down year for others, but one thing it wasn’t was boring.

Here’s a look at 2016 in Sports…

One Last Hurrah for the Big Piece: Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard played his last season in a Phillies uniform in 2016. Photo by Webster Riddick.

This year, we said goodbye to a man who played a big part in breaking Philadelphia’s longtime championship drought, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

Because 2016 marked the end of his contract, Howard will be a free agent and will most likely leave the team that he led with his bat from 2005 to 2016.

During his tenure with the Phillies, Howard’s ability to hit towering home runs and drive in runs helped lead the team to the 2008 World Series title, two National League pennants, and five consecutive National League East titles.  Howard was the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 National League Championship Series and was also winner of the National League Rookie of the Year, and National League MVP awards.

Unfortunately, a combination of age, injuries and a team in rebuilding mode mandated that Howard and the Phillies part ways. Howard will most likely play for someone else and while it’s a shame that he won’t be allowed to retire here, Phillies fans will always appreciate the Glory Days he brought to the franchise.

The Year of Black Girl Magic

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Claire Smith is the first woman to receive the Baseball Hall of Fame’s A.G. Spink Award and will be honored during in Hall of Fame weekend in July. Photo courtesy ESPN.com

In December, former Philadelphia Inquirer baseball columnist Claire Smith became the first woman to win the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award from Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. She was honored for her pioneering work, which included paving the way for women to enter MLB locker rooms to do interviews, just like their male counterparts.

That Smith received the award this year makes perfect sense because 2016 was the year that the Sporting World was hit with all kinds of Black Girl Magic.

Black female athletes from Africa and the African Diaspora (which includes the United States and the Caribbean), served notice to the world that they were a force to be reckoned with, most prominently during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

There, Black women excelled in everything. And I do mean everything.

Gymnast Simone Biles was named the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Year.

If you watched one minute of her gymnastic performances during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the reason she won this award became obvious.

The diminutive Texan was the darling of the games, leading the Final Five—Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Reisman, and 2012 Individual all-around Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas—to a team Gold Medal and also winning three individual gold medals including the individual all-around. Biles stunning performances in the floor exercise dazzled audiences around the world and her grace and athleticism were definitely a joy to watch.

But while she responsible for a nice chunk of the Black Girl Magic on display in Rio, Biles was only the beginning. Black women also showed that they could excel in places they’re not normally associated with like the swimming pool and fencing ring.

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Simone Manuel became the first Black American woman to win a gold medal in swimming at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,

Stanford University’s Simone Manuel became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in swimming when she tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak to win the 100-meter freestyle, setting Olympic and American records in the process. She also helped the 4X100 meter medley relay team take home a gold medal and won silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4X100 meter freestyle relay.

Elsewhere in the water, Ashleigh Johnson, the first Black woman to make the U.S. Water Polo team, helped lead the team to a gold medal. In the gold medal game against Italy, Johnson, the team’s goalie, had eight saves.

Ibtihaj Muhammad made news when she competed with the U.S. Sabre Fencing team while wearing the hijab of her Muslim faith. The team took home a bronze medal and Muhammad’s performance showed that you can be an observant Muslim and an athlete simultaneously.

But while Black women in non-traditional sports took center stage, that didn’t mean that Black women didn’t continue to excel in places where they’ve traditionally ruled, such as in track and field. Led by the United States, the Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica and the African continent, Black women won gold medals in all but three track and field events at the Olympics.

From Michelle Carter’s gold in the shot put to Brianna Rollins, Kristi Castlin and Philadelphia’s own Nia Ali sweeping the 100-meter hurdles to the exploits of the Jamaican track team, Black women showed, to paraphrase Emmy-award winning actress Viola Davis, that all that’s needed for them to excel is opportunity. They made the most of it…and then some.

All Hail The King (James)

LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2016. The Cavaliers won 93-89. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

With the Cleveland Cavaliers went down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, LeBron James put his Cleveland Cavaliers on his back and helped them win three-straight elimination games to give the City of Cleveland its first pro sports title since 1964.

James, the Associated Press’s Male Athlete of the Year, became the Finals Most Valuable Player by performing the historical feat of leading in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocked shots, and assists. What makes this feat even more remarkable is that it’s something that neither Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson nor the athlete James compared to most often, Michael Jordan, was able to do.

They’re all Hall of Famers. This year, his achievements put LeBron James in the same rarefied air.

No Joy In Mudville

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Can Ben Simmons lead the 76ers back to glory? He was the Sixers No. 1 draft pick in 2016.

Because the Philadelphia Eagles, the Phillies, the 76ers, and the Philadelphia Flyers are all in some form of rebuilding mode, the closest that Philadelphia sports fans got to the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup was the couch in front of their television sets.

While the Eagles, who will miss the NFL playoffs for the third straight year, made some noise when rookie Carson Wentz went undefeated in his first three starts, they came back to earth with a deafening thud after the bye week. Coming into the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, Wentz has completed 62 percent of his passes for 3, 537 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

The Sixers also gave their fans hope by picking LSU’s Ben Simmons with their first-round lottery pick. The good news is, Simmons can handle and pass the ball like Magic Johnson.

The bad news is, and this should be no surprise to Sixers fans, he’s injured. And as if often is in Sixers World, it’s a foot injury.

But there is some hope for optimism now that Joel Embiid has finally recovered from his foot injury and has emerged as the team’s best big man.

Villanova Wins the National Championship, Penn Wins Ivy League Crown, Penn State Temple Football Bowl Bound Again

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Villanova won its first national championship since 1985 with a buzzer-beater win over North Carolina.

In one of the most exciting games in the history of the NCAA Tournament, the Villanova Wildcats won the men’s basketball national championship on a last-second three-point shot by Kris Jenkins.  It was probably the greatest championship game of all time and they were honored by the city with a parade down Broad Street. Although I know one Philly sports fan who thinks that parade should have gone to an actual Philly team, but the Wildcats do play some of  their games at the Wells Fargo Center and they were embraced by the entire Delaware Valley during their run to the title.

Like, for example the University of Pennsylvania Quakers and the Temple University Owls.

For the second straight season, the Quakers won a share of the Ivy League football title. They became league co-champs with Princeton by defeating Cornell University 42-40. Junior running back Tre Solomon gained 173 yards to lead the 7-3 (6-1 in the Ivy League) Quakers.

The Owls proved that the team’s 2015 football season was no fluke by winning the American Athletic Conference championship with a 34-10 win over Navy and notching it’s second straight 10-win season. The effort was enough to get head coach Matt Rhule noticed by the Big 12’s Baylor University, and he left to try and salvage a program that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of years. The Owls also lost the Military Bowl to Wake Forest when the comeback they were mounting fell short.

But this doesn’t take anything away from an outstanding year for the Owls. If anything, it gives new Temple head coach Geoff Collins something to shoot for.

The much-maligned James Franklin became the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year by leading the Nittany Lions of Penn State to the Big Ten Football Championship. The team scored a come from behind win against Wisconsin thanks to the performance of running back Saquon Barkley and a stout defense. While many thought that Penn State should have gotten into the College  Football Playoff thanks to its victory over Ohio State, the teams two losses mean they’ll be going to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day against the University of Southern California.

Bernard Hopkins Falls to Father Time

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Bernard Hopkins looked as old as the 51-year-old man he is in his loss to Joe Smith Jr. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

After getting literally knocked out of the ring by Joe Smith Jr. in his most recent fight, some say it should be.

From the moment he turned 40, Hopkins has waged a valiant and sometimes successful against Father Time.  But in the end, the 51-year-old Hopkins found out what every athlete eventually does: time is undefeated.

While Hopkins hasn’t said whether or not he’ll retire, the prevailing hope is that he will. To do otherwise will probably do him more harm than good long term.

Like I said, 2016 has been an up and down year. But now that it’s over, it’ll be interesting to see what 2017 will bring to the Sporting World.

No matter what it is, I’ll have it for you.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Father Time Wins Again: Time for Hopkins To Say Goodbye for Good

23 Dec
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Bernard Hopkins looked as old as the 51-year-old man he is in his loss to Joe Smith Jr. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

When Bernard Hopkins was literally knocked out of the ring last weekend,  he learned that even his arms are too short to box with the ravages of time. 

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
About 10 years ago, I did a phone interview with former HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant as part of my coverage of the International Boxing Organization light heavyweight title fight between Philadelphia boxing legend Bernard Hopkins, who was 40-something at the time, and a younger, faster Antonio Tarver.

At the time, I thought that Father Time would keep Hopkins from winning that fight and asked Merchant what it might finally take to convince Hopkins to finally retire from the ring. In order for him to do that, Merchant said, someone would have to “beat him up”.
It took another 10 years, but last weekend it happened.

After a successful career of standing toe-to-toe against a combination of Father Time and guys half his age, Bernard Hopkins finally got “beat up”. In what is hopefully the final fight of a Hall of Fame career, Hopkins lost to light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. by TKO in the eighth-round.

The outcome of the fight was about as embarrassing as it was sad for the now 51-year-old Hopkins as his much younger opponent literally knocked him out of the ring. With that, Father Time helped add Hopkins to the long list of legendary pugilists who mistakenly believed that greatness is immortal.

With all due respect to the man who once dominated the middleweight division and has won a few titles as a light heavyweight, Hopkins looked exactly like the elderly, 50-something fighter he is as Smith pummeled him all over the ring.

It reminded me of the reasons why I refused the offer of a ticket to a closed circuit screening of the Muhammad Ali/ Larry Holmes fight in 1981. I couldn’t stand to see a great fighter when he wasn’t great anymore. If I had gone to that fight, the guys would have been called me an oversensitive punk because I would have been crying like a baby.

It was the same way with Sugar Ray Leonard when he lost to Terry Norris. I’ve also seen film of guys like Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis fighting when they were well past their prime. It’s often sad and hard to watch because you remember when they were kings and when were so invincible in the conquest of their opposition.

Hopkins needed to go out as a conquering hero the way former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis did when he led the Ravens to the Super Bowl back in 2012. Instead, Hopkins took to the ring as a shadow of his former self and showed that he just didn’t have it.

On one hand, you have to admire Hopkins for doing something he loves even at his advanced age. He was beating up younger guys when he was in his 40s, which further cemented his legend. He had overcome the rough streets of North Philadelphia, a stint in Graterford Prison and a host of other challenges to become one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the history of the sport. He was on his way to being a first-ballot Boxing Hall of Famer even without the victories he had as a 40-year-old man.

He has nothing else to prove, and I hope that if nothing else, Hopkins most recent defeat shows that to him. He doesn’t need to humiliate himself like that again.

In fact, he’s probably making more money watching other guys fight through his work with Golden Boy Promotions.

Given what happened to Ali when he hung around too long, it might be time that Hopkins stops hanging on to his youth and allows himself to live in our memories as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

His family deserves the best years of the rest of his life.

His Own Man: Muhammad Ali Versus the Suppression of the Black Athlete

10 Jun

Muhammad Ali: 1942-2016

MalcolmandAli

Muhammad Ali faced harsh criticism with his membership in the Nation of Islam and his friendship with  Malcolm X.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me — black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”-Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali meant a lot to me as a young, Black man growing up and trying to find himself.

Ali will always be the athlete that I measure all other athletes by both on and off the field because he was willing to risk his career as an athlete by not only joining the Nation of Islam, but also by refusing to be drafted into the military and fighting the Vietnam War due to his religious beliefs.

When Ali died June 3 due to complication from a staph infection, he was lionized, which is easier to do now that it’s safe.

But when Ali was in his heyday, it wasn’t as acceptable to be a fan of his because of he spoke his mind about racism in America and never wavered in his beliefs at a time when it was harshly frowned upon for a Black man to be so outspoken.

Ali’s legacy was about defying the suppression of Black athletes who dare to be their own men and be outspoken about race. His willingness to stand up for his beliefs was part of a historical pattern that has defined the African American experience in sports.

There has always been an outright hatred for Black athletes, male or female, who are outspoken and refuse to define themselves and not through the eyes of white supremacy.

When Ali took on Joe Frazier in 1971 in the fight billed as the Fight of the Century, he was seen as the villain in the eyes of white America because of this outspokenness, while many boxing fans hoped that Frazier, who was less outspoken on racial matters and seen as a good “Christian”, would put Ali in his “place” as the more “American” of the two boxers.

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Ali keeps it real about Vietnam and the treatment of African-American Athletes.

As veteran sports writer Terence Moore pointed out on MSNBC recently, it wasn’t until Ali became stricken with Parkinson’s Disease and was rendered unable to speak, that White Americans opposed to the Ali of the 1960s and the principled stands that he took felt comfortable enough to embrace him.

This attitude on the part of White Americans toward Black athletes goes back to Jack Johnson’s reign as the first Black heavyweight champion of the world. Not only did Johnson destroy the physical notion of white supremacy, his brashness inside and outside the ring offended white American sports fans and frightened some African-Americans who feared reprisals from white people.

Johnson not only beat his white opponents in the ring, he taunted them.  At a time when a Black man could be lynched at the mere accusation of looking at a white woman, Johnson married two and flaunted his relationships in public.

In the book, Bad Nigger: The National Impact of Jack Johnson, Al-Tony Gilmore quoted a white boxer who fought in the early 20th century who said: “Why, if that scoundrel would beat that white boy the niggers would never stop gloating over it and as it is we have enough trouble with them.”

While Johnson didn’t see himself as a race man or an activist, the mere fact that he was his own man and refused to bow down to the harsh restrictions of racial segregation in the early 20th century or to defer white people.

After Johnson lost the title in 1915, it would be another 18 years before a Black fighter would get a shot at the title.  And it had to be someone that was seen as more palatable to them.

For a Joe Louis to get a shot at the title, he was not allowed to raise his hands above a defeated white opponent or even smile after a win. And because of Johnson, Louis was prohibited from publicly being pictured with white women.

Because of Louis’s quiet, unassuming nature he was beloved by whites in a way that Ali or Johnson was not. White fans seemed to be more comfortable when an African-American athlete is quiet or willing to suffer fools gladly.

In Jackie Robinson’s first two years breaking baseball’s color line when he endured all the racist taunts from fans by not fighting back he was seen by the mainstream media as a sympathetic figure. When Robinson was allowed fight back on the field and stand up for himself and Black athletes off the field, the same White media that cheered him as a sympathetic figure vilified him for standing up for himself.

You can make the argument that this hasn’t changed much in America because Black athletes who speak out on social issues face racist hostility and calls for punishment and sanctions, such as in the case of the St. Louis Rams players holding up their hands in solidarity with Michael Brown, an unarmed Black shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

Being accepted on your own terms as a Black athlete is the legacy that Muhammad Ali leaves behind.

Maybe now that he’s no longer with us, America will, at long last, get used to it.

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali Transcended Boxing

10 Jun

Muhammad Ali:1942-2016

ImustbetheGreatest

Muhammad Ali Shook up the world with his stunning upset of Sonny Liston in 1964. He held the heavyweight title three times.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Boxing fans around the world are mourning the death of three-time heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali.

Even in the city of Brotherly Love, the hometown of Joe Frazier, his fiercest rival, people are paying tribute to a fighter who transcended sports.

“Muhammad Ali was an exceptional and extraordinary individual,” said Rudy Battle, chairman of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. “He was a superlative victor and exemplified the true meaning of the “People’s Champion”. He always took time to recognize his fans.”

Ali was a force to be reckoned with both inside and outside the ring.  As a boxer, Ali had a stinging left jab along with the hand speed and lateral movement with his feet of a welterweight and a middleweight. Some boxing experts described him as a Sugar Ray Robinson at the heavyweight level.

Charlie “Mickey” Thomas was one of Ali’s sparring partners and had been friends with the champ since the two of them were teammates on the 1960 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team. Thomas gave Ali credit  for revitalizing a sport ravaged by it’s control by organized crime.

“When (Ali) was boxing, boxing sucked,” Thomas said. “It was a terrible time, It was run by the mob … and Ali put the sport back in boxing. Look at what he did for the sport.”

“None of the heavyweights fighting now have Ali’s quickness,” said former world middleweight and light middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. “He was like the Fred Astaire of boxing.”

Outside the ring, Ali became a polarizing figure with his membership in the Nation of Islam and by refusing induction into the United States Army based on his religious beliefs and the idea that African-Americans were mistreated at home.

“I can talk all day about what Ali did inside the ring,” said former world middleweight and light middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, “but what he did outside the ring was even more profound. Thirty and 40 years from now we’re still going to be talking about Muhammad Ali.”

Hopkins said it took tremendous courage for Ali to stand up for his principles at a time when African-Americans were getting murdered for participating in Civil Rights demonstrations across the country. Just like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were eventually assassinated, Ali faced the real danger of someone shooting him down.

“He sacrificed a lot because there was bullet out there with his name on it,” Hopkins said.

Thomas, who is white and served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, said he agreed with Ali refusing induction into the military because of his religious beliefs and felt he was being true to himself.

“Muhammad Ali was the only truly conscientious objector I knew,” Thomas said. “He believed in what he was doing. I don’t find a lot of Baptists or Catholics who do that.”

When it comes to the legacy of Black athletes who speak out on controversial issues like LeBron James wearing a hoodie as a protest against the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Hopkins said the media shuts down Black athletes who speak out on controversial issues.

“You can get the media to assassinate them now and kill them that way,” Hopkins said.

In addition to standing up for his rights with respect to his religion and for African-Americans, Ali also stood up against the exploitation of fighters by unscrupulous managers and promoters, Battle said. The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which was signed into law in 2000, is designed to protect fighters from unfair business practices by promoters.

“He fought for the equality of boxers and established the Muhammad Ali Law,’ which prevents an individual from both promoting and managing a boxer simultaneously, thereby, eliminating total control of a boxer,” Battle said.

Thomas said Ali had a big heart and his best memories of him were of his willingness to give of himself, especially when the media wasn’t present.

“It was kindness to people without the knowledge of the media. He did a lot for people and he gave a lot of money away and he helped many, many people,” Thomas said.

As someone who grew up in North Philly, Ali had a profound influence on young boxers who tried to emulate the way he fought, his trash talking and his self-confidence.  Ali was as much a hero to young people in Philadelphia as Frazier, Hopkins said.

“Part of my demeanor and attitude in the ring came from wanting to be like Muhammad Ali,” Hopkins said. “You had a lot of young North Philly talking trash against each other, doing the Ali Shuffle. He was our hero.”

 

New Manayunk Boxing Gym Named After Legendary Philly Fighter Harold Johnson

26 Feb
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Light Heavyweight legend Harold Johnson, who grew up in the Manayunk-Roxborough section of Philadelphia, is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and is considered one of the best technical fighters in the history of the sport.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Even after his storied boxing career faded into sunset, former light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson always made his presence felt in his old neighborhood of Manayunk-Roxborough.

Whether he was playing with his jazz band at one of the American Legion posts in the racially diverse neighborhood or just talking to the young people he’d see on the neighborhood’s corners, Johnson was a very visible part of the community.

“He cared,” said Joe Mathis, director of the Kendrick Recreation Center. “(Johnson) would ask a kid he didn’t even know, ‘Who are you and what’s your dad’s name or do I know you and who’s this guy’ to a little guy and that would influence that kid. He was the champ.”

Now thanks to a new boxing gym at Roxborough’s Kendrick Recreation Center, Johnson’s name and influence will continue to serve as inspiration for the children of Manayunk-Roxborough.

On Saturday, Johnson’s family joined Councilman Curtis Jones, and Jackie Frazier-Lyde, the daughter of another Philadelphia-based boxing champ, Joe Frazier in dedicating the new Harold Johnson Boxing Gym at the Kendrick Recreation Center. The gym, which cost $500, 000 to build, is an addition to the center.

With this boxing gym, Johnson’s involvement in Manayunk-Roxborough get a chance to hone their boxing skills while learning about a man who was an integral part of the place they called home.

“It’s a place for the youth to go and it’s a great thing,” Mathis said. “This keeps (Johnson) him involved and keeps his name alive. I’m honored to be able to do that for him and now his name is going to be here forever.”

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Joe Mathis, director of the Kendrick Recreation Center in Manayunk-Roxborough, and Rev. John Roberts, the son of Harold Johnson, stand inside the ring at the new Harold Johnson Boxing Gym.

The Rev. John Roberts, Johnson’s son, said he and his family are happy that his fathered is being honored by the city and his old neighborhood.

“It’s a great feeling for me and to the family because dad was a great fighter and it’s nice that Philadelphia recognizes their own,” said Roberts, who is the pastor of the Gardener of Prayer World Prayer Center. “To have this gym named after him is a great honor because this is where he grew up here in Manayunk. … There’s no place like home.”

Jones said Johnson is to Manayunk-Roxborough what basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain was to Overbrook High School and West Philadelphia.

“He was the George Washington of boxing up here,” Jones said. “Therefore, just as important as Wilt Chamberlain was to West Philly and Overbrook, Johnson was as important to Manayunk and boxing.”

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Rev. John Roberts points to a picture of his father Harold Johnson inside the new gym named for his father.

Boxing historian John DiSanto, who runs the website phillyboxinghistory.com, said naming the recreation center after Johnson will give young people in the community the opportunity to know who Johnson was and what he meant to this community.

“It’s way of constantly introducing him to new people and for him to be an inspiration for kids to come into train,” DiSanto said. “The more places his name can be mentioned and included the better, he needs to be remembered.”

As a fighter, Johnson is known for being one of the most technically proficient fighters of all-time. He has fought and beaten some of the best boxers in the history of the sport including Ezzard Charles and legendary light heavyweight champion Archie Moore, who he fought five times. Johnson also beat Cuba’s Nino Valdez, a heavyweight contender in the 50s and 60s, and was a sparring partner for Joe Louis, arguably one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.

The 5-foot-11 Johnson won the undisputed light heavyweight championship in 1962 only to lose it in 1963 to Willie Pastrano on a controversial split decision. He had a record of 76-11 with 32 knockouts.

DiSanto said Johnson was an underrated in his time because of his humble demeanor, his technical fighting style and because he fought as a light heavyweight at a time when all the focus in boxing was on the heavyweights.

“His fights tended to go the distance and he was in a lot of chess matches,” DiSanto said. “He’s in the Hall of Fame and you can’t get any better than that. He’s not a household name, but in this area he’s a local legend for sure.”