Boxing in the early '60s, largely controlled by the people, was in a failing state until Muhammad Ali-Cassius Clay, in those days-appeared on the scene.
Though Ali won the gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960, at the time the experts didn't think much of his boxing skills. His head, eyes wide, seemed to float above the action. Rather than slip a punch, the traditional defensive move, it was his habit to sway back, bending at the waist-a tactic that appalled the experts. Madness.
Neither did they approve of his personal behavior: the self-promotions ("I am the greatest!"), his association with the Muslims and giving up his "slave name" for Muhammad Ali ("I don't have to be what you want me to be; I'm free to be what I want"), the poetry (his ability to create rhymes on the run could very well qualify him as the first rapper) or the witticism ("If Ali says a mosquito can pull a plow, don't ask how.
Snag him up!"). At the press conferences, the reporters were angry. Ali would turn on them. "Why ain't you taking notice?" or "Why ain't you laughing?"
The public as well had a hard time accepting him. His fight for the heavyweight championship in Miami against Sonny Liston was sparsely attended. Indeed, public sentiment was for Liston, a Mob-controlled thug, to take care of the lippy upstart. Liston concurred, saying he was going to put his fist so far down his opponent's throat, he was going to have trouble removing it.
Then, of course, three years after Ali defended the championship, there came the public criticism for his refusal to join the Army during the Vietnam War-"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong"-one of the more telling remarks of the era. The government prosecuted...