Cassius Clay worked the corner for Sugar Ray Robinson in Jamaica
More than 50 years ago, something historical occurred in Jamaica, and many persons looking on, perhaps, never realised its significance. It was the night of Saturday, March 6, 1965, at Sabina Park, in Kingston, Jamaica, that world heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali and declared to all the world that he was "the greatest", appeared at the ringside as a second for a boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson, who the world today recognises as one of the greatest boxers to have graced the boxing ring.
Robinson, who still has an unmatched ring record, was a many-time world champion, as a welterweight and a middleweight, and was in Jamaica to fight another renown American fighter, Jimmy Beecham, on a fight card promoted by Lucien Chen. World famous trainer Angelo Dundee, the man who guided both Clay and Robinson, was asked by Chen to get Clay to come to Jamaica with Robinson to add some pizzazz to the card. Clay not only came, but agreed to be Dundee's assistant at the ringside.
Clay (Ali), who was one of the greatest showmen to grace the boxing scene, had just started to make his mark on the world scene after winning the world heavyweight title by scoring a sensational victory over Sonny Liston. He was still, however, humble enough and man enough to carry the bucket with water, ice and sponges and act as a second, for Robinson.
I saw it happen and enjoyed the moment, and it is only now, looking back over 50 years, that one recognises the significance of that gesture. The heavyweight champion of the world assisted his trainer that night in working the corner of a boxing icon.
Robinson was, without doubt, one of the greatest boxers the world has seen. He boxed from 1940 to 1965, so when he fought in Jamaica in 1965 at age 44, he was on his farewell tour. What a tour it turned out to be! He had 14 fights that year, won eight, including a knockout victory over Beecham, lost five, and one was ruled a no-contest. After his fight on November 10 that year, a loss to Jimmy Archer on points, he decided to end his career. His phenomenal record then was 173 victories (108 by knockout), 19 losses and six draws. Wow!!!!
When Clay was introduced to the public that night, he was his usual exuberant self and declared that he was glad to be in Jamaica and wanted to fight here one day. The opponents he had in mind then were Floyd Patterson and George Chuvalo, but that, he said, would be after he beat Sonny Liston a second time. He did fight and beat all three men, but, unfortunately, not in Jamaica.
The Robinson fight, that memorable night in March, was dramatic and short. Robinson seemed anxious to end the fight, and it was surmised that he wanted to take care of business quickly because there was a steady drizzle.
Fighting with what was referred to as "tigerish ferocity and dramatic swiftness", he stalked Beecham, distracted him with jabs, and then a left to the body and a right to the head put him down for the first time. He was put down two more times in quick succession and was counted out at one minute 48 seconds on the second round by referee Emilio Sanchez. Long after the fight ended and he recovered his senses, Beecham struggled with his manager to allow him to go back into the middle to "finish" Robinson.
Clay, the man who later made a remarkable career as Muhammad Ali, his Muslim name, died last month (June 3), and the world paid tribute to him in many magnificent ways. He made two other memorable visits to Jamaica, one in 1974, when he was given the keys to the City of Kingston, and the other in 1987.