Muhammad Ali versus Wilt Chamberlain Declined: A Ridiculous Concept
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
Muhammad Ali, back in the day, engaged in some loco boxing exhibitions which are best forgotten. Ali versus hockey player Dave Semenko. Ali versus football player Lyle Alzado. Ali versus wrestler Rocky Inoki. Ali versus Rocky Marciano in a computer fight with two different endings (in fact there were many possible endings besides the two different film version endings). Ali versus ex-NFL player Charlie Powell. Retired NFL player Jim Brown explored the idea of fighting Muhammad Ali.
The Ali versus chamberlain exhibition was scheduled for July 26, 1971 at the Houston Astrodome. Muhammad Ali versus Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain was an almost fight which turned out to be never was. Fighting Chamberlain would have been quite the publicity stunt for selling tickets, if Chamberlain had been given a year to train and prepare for a bout with Ali. The media circus created by the match would have outdone Larry Holmes versus Gerry Cooney, Marvin Hagler versus Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns versus sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Manny Pacquiao. You name it. The pay-per-view for Muhammad Ali versus Wilt Chamberlain could have been worth far more than Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier, or Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman. Call Ali versus Chamberlain a ‘freakazoid’ bout. Chamberlain had a 92 inch reach to Ali’s 73.
Ali said Chamberlain would fall like ‘Timber’. Chamberlain then backed out of the bout.
Wannabes like Seth Mitchell, Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones, Tye Fields, Mark Gastineau, and currently Ray Edwards, are part of the other athlete attempting conversion to boxing group. The formula has never worked at the world class level, though it has been an odd oddity for boxing fans to watch at the lower levels, worthy of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Chamberlain versus Ali belongs in the Robert Ripley Museum as an odd and strange concept. In February 1992, many years later, future world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer won a 10 round decision over 6’10” Michael White, in a bout which answered the question of what the experienced boxing man would do to an inexperienced boxing tall guy.
Wilt chamberlain stood 7’1” and weighed 275 pounds. Russian Nicolai Valuev stood 7’0 tall and weighed from 310 to 348 pounds. Chamberlain would have appeared tall next to Ali, but not bigger than Valuev. Likely a 12 or 15 round decision would have favored Ali over Chamberlain, as Chamberlain lacked Valuev’s considerable boxing experience.
The late Bruce Lee once noted “Ali would have killed me!” in an actual boxing match. Lee was small. Chamberlain was tall. It seems unlikely, even today, Ali could actually get chamberlain out. This the same Ali who never won a round in the gym, and who went 15 rounds with Leon Spinks twice, an oft knocked out fighter, and Ali went the 15 round distance with Alfredo Evangelista. Even Leon Spinks had knocked out Evangelista. Ali went the distance with Earnie Shavers, Jimmy Young and Ken Norton, fighters knocked out in future bouts.
In the end, Chamberlain reneged on his verbal agreement to fight Ali by signing a contract extension in 1971 with the Los Angeles Lakers for a significant pay hike. Was Ali versus Chamberlain a serious bout proposal, or just a crazy publicity stunt? It is now too late to ask the late Ali, Chamberlain, or ABC TV television sports commentator Howard Cosell whether it was-or whether it was not. For the right amount of money, even today, it could be and would be, for money talks. The press would have sold it.
Like Joe Louis, Ray Mercer, and Riddick Bowe trying wrestling, Ali versus Wilt could not have had a happy ending. As we all know, for money, anything is possible. Neither Ali nor Chamberlain were hurting for work in 1971, but Ali needed the money, and chamberlain did not. Ali would have wanted the fight with Chamberlain more than vice-versa. Such a fight would not have benefited the Afro-American community, as both Ali and chamberlain were viewed as iconic heroes in 1971, and still are today. The idea of considering it was, and still is, just a thought of good clean fun, not to be taken seriously. End of story. Rest in Peace Ali, Chamberlain, and Cosell. Thanks for the memories. Amen.
WATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuX7FlddCRg Ali, Chamberlain and Cosell talk