Muhammad Ali was and will always be cosmically tied to Houston, Texas as many important events in his life took place in our town, and he spent a considerable amount of time here training and promoting his fights.
His earliest introduction to the consciousness of the Houston and Houston area boxing scene may have been as Cassius Clay, when he beat Cut ‘N’ Shoot’s Henry Harris Jr. in the light-heavyweight semi-finals of the 1960 National Golden Gloves Tournament. Of course, even if Ali had not spent a considerable amount of time in Houston, he would still have always been connected to us via the October 30, 1974, Rumble in the Jungle, where he knocked out our own George Foreman in the eighth round. For this unlikely win alone we may have never forgotten the name of Muhammad Ali, but we were privileged enough to have him compete in Houston four times throughout the 60’s and 70’s, beating Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams, Ernie Terrell, Jimmy Ellis, and Buster Mathis. His refusal to be drafted into the military and ultimate indictment took place in Houston as well as he had temporarily resided in Houston at that time.
Ali also filmed many scenes of the movie “The Greatest” in Houston in 1976, but his GREATEST contribution to our great city and local boxing legacy took place in 1971, when he promoted and participated in a sparring match with Houston boxer, coach, and youth advocate Reverend Ray Martin Sr. The sparring match was heavily promoted and was Ali’s way of supporting Reverend Ray Martin and his Progressive Amateur Boxing Association (P.A.B.A). Martin had established The P.A.B.A. in Houston’s Third Ward, as a means to keep our local youth off the streets, away from drugs and in the ring, and at the time did not have very much support or recognition both locally and nationwide. The sparring match took place at The Houston Astrohall, where Ali was “knocked down” by Martin three times. Ali not only pretended to be knocked down three times during the match to help bring support and recognition to Reverend Martin, he also would continue to promote the Reverend and The P.A.B.A. by “calling out” Martin on television and radio whenever he was in town, saying he wanted a rematch with the Reverend and that the Reverend had “Got lucky and knocked me down”! The Champ would also claim he had slipped and promised to send, “The good Reverend to heaven by seven”!
This kind, generous, and extraordinary act was just one of many of the genuinely GREAT things that Ali did in his lifetime but it left a lasting legacy of love and positivity that continues to bless Houston, and in particular Houston’s Third Ward to this day! Ali’s generosity, heart, courage, and love for his fellow man is what made him “The Greatest” above any of the many accomplishments in boxing he achieved, in my opinion, and I hope this article helps people understand the true GREATNESS of Muhammad Ali!