Whatever Happened to Cleveland Big Cat Williams, Who Fought Ali in 1966?
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
Between December 1951 and October 1972, Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams was one of the most respected heavyweight boxers in the name game. His professional record was 78-13-1 with 58 knockouts, a respectable record for a man who had been shot by a patrolman b before his bout with Muhammad Ali.
On November 29, 1964, in the evening, during the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, a car driven by Williams was stopped near Houston, Texas, by highway patrolman Dale Witten, who stated afterwards Williams was speeding. According to the police report subsequently filed by the patrolman, Williams resisted arrest, and the officer’s .357 magnum revolver went off during the struggle to arrest him. The bullet moved across Williams’s intestines, and lodged against his right hip. Williams ultimately had to undergo four operations in the next seven months for colon damage and an injured right kidney. The right kidney of Williams was too damaged and not working, and had to be removed in June 1965. Doctors could not take out the patrolman’s bullet, which had broken his right hip joint and caused partial paralysis of some of Williams’ hip muscles.
The injury, surgeries and subsequent convalescence caused Williams to lose over 60 pounds, and over 17 months of his career. He regained his weight and strength by tossing 80 pound bales of hay daily on a cattle ranch till he had regained his fighting weight and physique. On February 8, 1966, Williams got a standing ovation from Houston fans as he returned to the ring, and knocked out Ben Black in the first round.
By the time Williams fought Ali at the Astrodome in Houston on November 14, 1966, he was a shell, far from his former self. Ali knocked down Williams three times in the second round, then gave Williams a beating until referee Harry Kessler stopped the bout in the third round. The three knockdown rule had been waived for their championship bout, and Williams had been saved by the bell ending the second round in the era when fighters could still be saved by the bell. In May 1972, Williams, 39, was still good enough to win the vacant Texas Heavyweight title over Terry Daniels, knocking Daniels down, and winning a 12 round unanimous decision in Dallas. Later in 1972, Williams finished his career with a ninth round knockout of Bob Mashburn, and a 10 round decision win over Roberto Davila, both bouts taking place in Denver, Colorado. On September 15, 1999, Williams died from injuries after being hit by a car in a hit and run accident in Houston 12 days earlier. He was 66. Williams is a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.