Ali and The RING: Better Late Than Never?

By Robert Ecksel on December 8, 2016
Ali and The RING: Better Late Than Never?
If anyone can explain what Dan Daniel’s “Growing American Boy” means, I’m here to learn.

For some, “better late than never” are the catchwords of the day. For others, the question “what’s the point?” seems more relevant…

The RING, still called “The Bible of Boxing” on its cover, is rewriting history.

The magazine has retroactively named Muhammad Ali Fighter of the Year for 1966, a half century after he was denied the honor because he took a principled stand and refused induction into the U.S. Army, which was knee-deep in its Vietnam folly, and because Ali embraced the tenets of the Nation of Islam.

For some, “better late than never” are the catchwords of the day. For others, the question “what’s the point?” seems more relevant.

Ali was first awarded The RING’s Fighter of the Year in 1963, when he was an up-and-comer making a run at the title. His epochal six-round demolition of reigning and defending heavyweight champion Sonny Liston was in 1964. The Ring designated that bout Fight of the Year, but the Fighter of the Year award went to Emile Griffith. In 1965, Ali scored a first round knockout over Liston in their rematch, before stopping former heavyweight champion and former two-time Fighter of the Year Floyd Patterson six months later, and Dick Tiger was named Fighter of the Year a second time.

According to a recent press release, “Muhammad Ali was the best fighter of 1966, as he went 5-0 (with four knockouts) in defense of his heavyweight title.” Ali defeated George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, and Cleveland Williams that year, which might have been the perfect time to correct the oversights that preceded it.

“The editors of THE RING Magazine at the time acknowledged Ali’s preeminence that year, stating clearly that no one could touch him.

“However, they made an unusual decision when it came time to name the magazine’s annual Fighter of the Year: They announced that Ali would be denied the award because of his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army and his association with the Nation of Islam.”

No more need be said about freedom of religion and speech—both of which now seem little more than quaint relics from the past.

“The editors tried to justify their decision to deny Ali the award in the March 1967 issue of the magazine, in which Dan Daniel”—who insisted on calling Ali “Cassius,” which is perhaps better than calling him “boy”— “wrote that Fighters of the Year must be good citizens—based on the magazine’s standards—as well as good boxers.”

One person’s good citizen is another person’s traitor and The RING, caught up in the patriotic fervor at the time, decided Ali embodied the latter.

The RING “said in part that Ali was disqualified because ‘the Fighter of the Year must be recognized as an example to the Growing American Boy.’”

If anyone can explain what Dan Daniel’s “Growing American Boy” means, I’m here to learn.

Even though Ali was vindicated in 1971, when the public awoke, the war went south, and the Supreme Court upheld his conscientious objector status by a unanimous 8-0 vote, The RING waited 50 long years to revisit the 1966 Fighter of the Year controversy.

“The current editors, after considerable discussion, decided to right what we believed to be a wrong. We decided to name Ali Fighter of the Year for 1966 retroactively.”

With Ali dead and gone, there’s no way he benefits from the decision. For whom, then, does the bell toll? The RING, the so-called “Bible of Boxing,” I believe it tolls for thee.

“The editors at that time obviously felt strongly that Ali, while succeeding in the ring, didn’t meet other criteria they deemed important,” said current Editor-in-Chief Michael Rosenthal. “But we can see the injustice by today’s standards even if we take issue with some of things Ali said and did.”

We’re all for taking a principled stand, if that is indeed what The RING has done.

“Bottom line,” continued Rosenthal, “[Ali] was punished for standing up for his beliefs and his association with a controversial organization, factors that almost certainly wouldn’t preclude a worthy candidate from winning a similar award today.”

Rosenthal’s optimism is to be commended, but even he added the word “almost” as a note of caution about what may lay ahead.

“Give it to him,” said Larry Holmes said about the 1966 Fighter of the Year Award. “This has nothing to do with Vietnam, this is boxing. He was the best. You’re rewarding him and giving him credit for that.”

Holmes, when he says, “Give it to him,” isn’t suggesting that Ali be exhumed so he can be handed another plaque or statuette to justify having existed. But Ali is bigger than boxing, and bigger than The RING, which appears to be the sole beneficiary of the hubbub surrounding the magazine’s change of heart.

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  1. Moon-man 10:01am, 12/09/2016

    IF boxing is so worried about correcting past wrongdoings, then why are Jake LaMotta & especially Carlos Monzon in the BHOF? LaMotta admits to beating a man with a lead pipe severely when he was younger, and was a wife beater during his career. And Monzon went beyond his own addiction to beating up women and graduated to murdering them.

  2. Moon-man 06:47pm, 12/08/2016

    I could point out countless examples of double standards in this country when it comes to free speech and freedom of religion and even more abroad. The same people who demanded that things like pornography be protected under free speech laws,  fight to ban any political views they don’t agree with today. Ali was right about Vietnam when all was said and done. He could have taken the easy way out by allowing himself to be drafted. You know damn well that Ali would have boxed some exhibitions like Joe Louis for the troops and would have never been asked to actually fight in combat. So his stance took a great deal of courage. I’m always baffled at how mature adults can be hoodwinked into supporting these wars that don’t benefit Americans in the least, like the ones going on now. A young person that is naive, sure, but someone that should have enough worldly experience to know better? Mind boggling. Ali might have been a bit naive as well. I can support him wanting to rid himself of his slave name, but adopting a Muslim name? Obviously, Ali had no idea how big a role the Muslims had in the African Slave Trade.

  3. The Thresher 05:41pm, 12/08/2016

    Political correctness at its very core. Rightly or wrongly, have the courage to stick with your position because it was handed down at a different time and under different circumstances.

    These are different times with different people. Many were not even born back in the day. I dearly loved Ali and supported his stand on the war, but this kind of after-the-fact retroactive stuff simply makes a charade of history.

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