Ali is considered by almost everyone as the greatest heavyweight of all time, and he himself claimed it multiple times. With such a claim, many people would want to dissect Ali's record in hopes of dispelling that belief. Unfortunately, when you pick apart Ali's record, you find that despite all the outrageous claims, there is a lot of substance to his resume.
Ali first test as a professional came against Alejandro Lavorante in 1962. Lavorante was coming off a knockout win over Zora Folley the previous year, but also a loss to Archie Moore a few months prior. Ali easily outjabbed and stopped Lavorantein 5 rounds. Next up was the legendary Archie Moore, who was fresh off his win over Lavorante and was considered one of the best heavyweights in the world. Ali predicted the 4th round would be the last for the 47 year old Moore, and he was correct, dropping Moore 3 times in the 4th round for the TKO stoppage.
Looking for a title shot, Ali then faced Doug Jones, a former light heavyweight who was coming off of knockout wins over the legendary Bob Foster and Zora Folley and considered one of the top 5 heavyweights in the world. In a difficult fight for the young Ali, Jones was able to tag Ali multiple times flush, but ultimately lost the bout.
Ali's next fight was the subject of controversy, where the 21 year old was dropped and hurt by top ten rated Henry Cooper of Britain. Ali had extra time to recover because of a tear in his glove, and stopped Cooper legitimately on cuts in the following round.
Ali then got his title shot against HOF puncher Sonny Liston, who was a 7 to 1 favorite going into the bout and considered the best heavyweight in the world. Ali used his speed and agility to outpunch Liston in exchanges, forcing Liston to retire in his corner at the end of round 6, citing an injured left shoulder. Ali would then begin his first title reign.
First up was a rematch with Liston, which took place over a year after winning the title. Ali would knock Liston out in the first round with what observers called the 'Phantom Punch', which was unpronounced but flush short right hand to the head that put Liston down for over 10 seconds. The nature of the knockout was very controversial.
A few months later Ali would be pitted up against a former heavyweight champion, the HOF and top ten rated Floyd Patterson. Patterson was dropped in the 5th round and took too much punishment over 12 rounds, resulting in a TKO win for Ali. Next up was the iron jawed and highly rated George Chuvalo, who was considered a top 5 heavyweight after giving Patterson a very difficult fight the year before. Ali outpointed the tough Canadian over 15 rounds for the decision win.
After dominating Henry Cooper in a redemption rematch and winning again by cut stoppage, Ali would take on another Brit when he knocked out fringe contender Brian London in 3 rounds. Ali then went to Germany to take on the European champion Karl Mildenberger, who had not lost in over 4 years and was considered one of the top 5 heavyweights in the world. Karl gave a good account of himself, but was cut up over 12 rounds and dropped twice during the bout, forcing the stoppage.
After knocking out a comebacking Cleveland Williams in 3 rounds in what many consider to be Ali's best performance, Ali would take on the 6'6 Ernie Terrell, who was considered the best heavyweight in the world after Ali. Ali peppered the larger Terrell while mocking him over the course of the lopsided 15 rounds. In Ali's last title defense of his first title reign, he would take Zora Folley, who was considered the 3rd best heavyweight in the world. Folley could not catch up to the quick and elusive Ali, and was put down by a series of right hands that laid Folley out for the 10 count. After this bout Ali was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for refusing the draft.
Ali's first return match after a 3 year hiatus was in no way a pushover, when he faced off against the top 3 rated Jerry Quarry. Ali cut Quarry very early in the bout and was simply too slow to compete with the much quicker Ali, and was stopped in the 3rd round. Aiming again for the heavyweight title, which had been taken by Joe Frazier in Ali's absence, Ali took on Argentina's Oscar Bonavena, who was highly rated in the division after giving champion Frazier all he could handle in two bouts. After having a difficult time that drew criticism from writers, Ali nailed Bonavena with a left hook in the 15th and final round and dropped him three times, forcing the TKO stoppage. This was the only time the very durable Bonavena was stopped in his career.
Ali then attempted to regain the heavyweight title against reigning champ and HOF heavyweight "Smokin'" Joe Frazier, in what was called "Fight of the Century". In a grueling and brutal 15 round bout, Frazier emerged victorious in the most impressive performance of his career.
Looking to get back on the winning track, Ali fought Jimmy Ellis, who was a top ten fighter in the division after outboxing George Chuvalo over ten rounds. Ali succeeded and stopped Ellis in the 12th round. Ali's next notable opponent was Mac Foster, who was highly regarded after knocking out Zora Folley in the first round. Ali won a one sided 15 round decision over Foster, and then took on old foe George Chuvalo and again winning by decision.
Ali then took a rematch with Jerry Quarry, who had risen back to a top 3 position in the rankings after beating Jack Bodell and Larry Middleton. Without the cut, Quarry made it to the 7th round, but was stopped after taking too much punishment following an uppercut and left hook. Ali fought another rematch with Floyd Patterson, who also had risen back into the ranks after his decision win over Oscar Bonavena. The fight was stopped after the 7th round due to a large amount of cuts and swelling around Patterson's eyes.
Ali's next opponent was Light Heavyweight ATG Bob Foster, who gave Ali trouble but was overmatched and was dropped 6 times before finally staying down in the 8th. Getting closer and closer to a title shot, Ali fought the 6'4 Australian Joe Bugner, who was rated in the top ten at the time. Ali walked Bugner down, but had to settle for the decision win. However, Ali was set back in his title shot attempt in his next fight against Futch trained Ken Norton, who broke Ali's jaw early in the fight and was able to frustrate Ali with his difficult style, winning him the 12 round decision in a 5 to 1 upset.
In an immediate rematch, Ali took on Norton again, this time winning a 12 round decision in a very difficult and close fight. However, by this time Joe Frazier had already been steamrolled by George Foreman, and instead of going immediately for the title Ali took on the former champ in a grudge match. In a fight much less exciting than their first bout, Ali clinched and outsped Frazier over the 12 rounds, winning him a clear decision and avenging his earlier loss.
Finally Ali would get his second shot at the title, against the heavily favoured punching machine George Foreman. Foreman had become obsessed and one minded with his power, and spent himself in the early rounds while Ali took advantage with the "rope-a-dope" strategy. It paid off in the 8th round, where an exhausted Foreman took a series of sharp punches that dropped him to the canvas. Foreman was too tired to get up, and Ali had finally won back the heavyweight crown about 8 years after his last title defense.
In his first defense in his second title run, Ali took on top ten rated Chuck Wepner. Wepner shocked the crowd by dropping Ali with a right hand to the body in the 9th round in a very one sided fight, but was dropped and beaten up in the 15th and final round. Next up was the top 5 rated Ron Lyle, who was coming off wins over Jimmy Ellis and Oscar Bonavena, but had previously lost to Jimmy Young. Lyle came in with a smart gameplan, but by 11th round was exhausted and was stopped after taking an accumulation of flush punches.
Bugner then got a rematch with Ali after climbed back into the top 5 of the division with wins over Mac Foster and Jimmy Ellis. However, Bugner was again outgunned, and lost a wide 15 round round decision. Then in a rubber match, Ali would end his rivarly with Joe Frazier in what is considered by many to be their most brutal fight. After both had taken tons of punishment, Eddie Futch decided to stop the fight after the 14th round, seeing that Frazier was nearly blind in both his eyes due to the punishment, while Ali contemplated quitting in his corner. However, with Frazier's corner retirement, Ali was awarded the stoppage win.
After winning an unnotable knockout against unrated Jean Coopman, Ali took on the clever boxing Jimmy Young, who was coming off his win over Ron Lyle and was rated in the top 3 of the division. Ali won a close and somewhat controversial decision over Young. Young would go on to beat Lyle again, as well as future and former heavyweight champ George Foreman. Ali would then knock out overmatched Richard Dunn before fighting another rubber match, this time against Ken Norton. In a very competitive fight, Ali won a 15 round decision that most feel he actually lost.
Clearly seeming to be going downhill, Ali beat unrated Alfredo Evangelista by decision before taking on Ernie Shavers, considered by many to be the hardest puncher of all time. Shavers was top ten rated at the time, and gave Ali hell with his power, but ultimately fell short of victory and lost the 15 round decision.
In a huge upset, Ali was beaten by 6-0-1 Leon Spinks, who was top ten rated but considered a non-threat to Ali. However, in 1978s fight of the year, Spinks outhustled a lethargic Ali and beat him by 15 round split decision. In an immediate rematch, Ali regained his title by beating Spinks by decision, but it was very clear his career had come to an end and retired after this fight. Ali tried to mount a comeback twice against Holmes and Berbick, but was completely unsuccessful.
Ali not only fought in a stacked era and had multiple wins over HOF and ATG heavyweights such as Liston, Foreman, Frazier, Patterson, and Norton, but also defeated a shocking number of the best in his division, surpassing even Joe Louis. It's understandable to dislike Ali, but theres no doubt the level of competition he faced and beat is unmatched in heavyweight boxing history.
Sonny Liston II
Jerry Quarry II
Floyd Patterson II
Joe Bugner II
Joe Frazier II
Ken Norton II(controversial)