Could Muhammad Ali Handle Today’s Super Heavyweights?
You know the other day I was on instagram and came across one of the numerous Muhammad Ali accounts. Being a fan of Ali ever since I knew about boxing(actually it is the other way around, it is because of Ali I knew about boxing as a young child) I take an interest in some of these accounts. Anyway, someone had posted a comment that Ali was too small to handle todays modern heavyweights. I couldn’t help but reply that one of the current heavyweights is Deontay Wilder, the undefeated WBC champion weighed in at 214lbs in his last fight against Luis Ortiz, who incidentally came in at 241lbs and was knocked out by the 27lb lighter Wilder.
So the question is, could Muhammad Ali, who at his prime was generally weighing in around 210-217lbs have handled the heavyweights of today who are often coming in at 240lbs+?
The first logical question we need to ask is obviously relating to power. Do todays heavyweights, who weigh a stone or two heavier than many of the heavyweights from the 1960’s and 70’s when Ali was fighting, hit harder than their counterparts from up to 50yrs ago?
Ali fought three of the biggest punchers in history, Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Earnie Shavers. Let’s remind ourselves that the latter two names are widely believed to have been the hardest punchers in history, that means they hit harder than any heavyweight out there today and to be honest, the only heavyweight today who can compare to their one punch power is Deontay Wilder, and Wilder as already discussed was a similar weight to Ali and Foreman, and not much heavier than Shavers.
So how many times did the formidable trio of Liston, Foreman and Shavers knock down Ali? The answer is a big fat zero…in four fights none of them could beat Ali and could not knock him down even once. Ali was well past his prime when he took on Shavers and yes Shavers rocked Ali a number of times but yet he was unable to floor Ali. There is little proof then that any of todays heavyweights would have been able to knock Ali down.
The next question we have to ponder is that todays heavyweights, if they are bigger, they are going to be slower. There are some quick heavyweights out there, Joseph Parker certainly has good speed, Anthony Joshua may not have the foot speed of Parker but he does have quick hands. There is also Tyson Fury, who despite being 260lbs+ is actually lighter on his feet than pretty much every other heavyweight out there. Bigger generally means slower, Ali was the fastest heavyweight ever both in terms of punching speed and his ability to move around the ring, there is little hope for todays heavyweights to catch a prime Ali with a clean punch or enough clean punches to slow him down, the Ali of Williams, Foley and Terrell would have been far too swift for any heavyweight of today to plant their feet and land significant blows. Ali didn’t really fight huge heavyweights, men like Joe Bugner were considered massive for the time and he was 6’4 and weighed around 220-225lbs, but this wasn’t a prime Ali. Ali did take on larger opponents during the course of his career, Buster Mathis Snr famously came in overweight for his fight with Ali, tipping the scales at over 250lbs, Ron Lyle another big hitter Ali faced, was usually in the 220’s when fighting but for his fight against Ali, he actually weighed less than the 224lb Ali.
So what about the height? Ali was listed at 6’3 which isn’t a bad height for a heavyweight, it is tall enough and in his era it was very tall but todays heavyweights are much taller and 6’3 would be considered of average height. Ernie Terrell was one of the tallest fighters Ali came up against, he is listed as 6’6 but there are some reports he was actually 6’4 or maybe 6’5, either way he was taller than the 6’3 Ali. As we all know, Ali defeated Terrell with ease and picked him off all night. The difference is that Terrell was a similar weight to Ali and not too dissimilar in height and weight to Deontay Wilder but the majority of todays taller heavyweights will be coming in at 240lbs+ if they happen to be taller than 6’3. Anthony Joshua is 6’6 and weighed in at over 250lbs against Carlos Takam but slimmed down to around 242lbs against Joseph Parker. Tyson Fury is 6’9 and weighs over 260lbs. Luis Ortiz is over 240lbs, Dillian Whyte is also one of the top ranked heavies today and weighed in over 250lbs in his recent bout against Parker. Incidentally Parker, as mentioned is one of the quicker heavyweights out there and weighs in the 230’s, yet neither Anthony Joshua or Dillian Whyte could knock him out although he tasted the canvas for the first time in his career against Whyte.
Outside of Terrell, Ali fought Foreman who was 6’4 and also Joe Bugner of the same height as Big George, neither fought Ali during his prime though but combining height with all that extra weight which Ali wouldn’t have been accustomed to would certainly have made things more difficult for Ali. The more weight you carry then generally your punch resistance is better but Ali’s game was never to knock you out, Ali would have been content dancing for 12 or 15 rounds jabbing from the outside and moving around the ring and clinching whenever you got too close. Ali was fitter than the heavyweights of today and could keep moving all night, despite the height and weight difference, Ali was one heavyweight who could negate the two.
Taller fighters generally have a longer reach too but Ali with a reach of 78in easily beat Sonny Liston who had a freaky long reach of 84in, better than both Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua and just an inch shorter than the 6’9 Tyson Fury.
In conclusion, I know we often hear that athletes have become bigger, faster and stronger but has it really held true in the heavyweight division? No heavyweight today is faster than a 1960’s Ali, no fighter today can hit harder than a 1970’s George Foreman or Earnie Shavers. On average they have become bigger and stronger, this is across the board but they haven’t become better and when you are discussing Muhammad Ali who was the top heavy in the 60’s and 70’s, nothing in todays heavyweights points to them being able to defeat him. Sure, guys like Fury, who has a combination of height, weight and speed would have troubled Ali, just like Wilder with his punching power would be a threat, as would Joshua, but when combining their factors, nothing gives me the impression that they have anything a prime Ali couldn’t handle. One of the reasons for Ali’s greatness as a fighter was his versatility, he could fight in many ways and adjust to his opponents in the ring, whether it was the rope-a-dope or floating like a butterfly, Ali’s smarts were second to none and he would have also found a way to win against any of the biggest heavyweights in todays age, it might be a fetch to say Ali could knock them all out taking into account the large height and weight disparity, but I have no doubt Ali would win quite handily on points against all of them.
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