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Succeeding Muhammad Ali

When ‘The Greatest’ was forced off the heavyweight throne in 1967, the World Boxing Association staged an audacious eight-man tournament to find his successor that changed the face of the divison. Jack Hirsch tells the story

•Jimmy Ellis • Leotis Martin • Thad Spencer • Ernie Terrell • Oscar Bonavena • Karl Mildenberger • Jerry Quarry • Floyd Patterson

THE year was 1967 and the world was changing fast. It was the start of a revolution in which society could express its feelings in a way it had never before. It was the age of long-haired hippies, the raised fist signifying the black power movement, riots protesting the Vietnam war, young people smoking marijuana as their recreational activity of choice, and virtually anything else that went against the grain of the accepted norm.

It was the era of The Beatles, Martin Luther King, Robert Francis Kennedy, and of course Muhammad Ali. JFK and Malcolm X had been assassinated earlier in the decade, and in 1968, MLK and RFK were to follow. Much later, John Lennon would meet a similar fate. But perhaps the man at the greatest risk escaped the violent destiny that had befell the others. But Ali did pay a heavy price, when on April 28, 1967, he refused to take the oath to serve in the United States military. He was immediately stripped of his world heavyweight title while having his boxing licence revoked.

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RUSSIAN ROULETTE – Anthony Yarde enters the lion’s den when he challenges Sergey Kovalev MIND THE GAP – Examining 10 cases when British fighters have stepped up in class NO MORE MR NICE GUY – Anthony Joshua takes aim at Andy Ruiz and Lennox Lewis MUCH, MUCH MORE – Including the tournament designed to find a successor to Muhammad Ali