*** FLASHBACK – this article originally appeared on dmboxing.com on October 10, 2010
This is the fourth of a six part series of my personal accounts of Muhammad Ali. In Memory of Ali, I will display these six articles and will also include photos of my collectables now through this month of July for viewing.
By David Martinez / Boxing Historian / dmboxing.com
In part four of my six part series on Muhammad Ali, I will go back to almost the exact time when I started to follow boxing – 1961. It was June of that year and I just celebrated my thirteenth birthday and as a young boy, I eagerly anticipated every boxing match and its results, as I still do today.
Something else happened in June 1961 that would be a significant part of a young Cassius Clay’s (“aka” Muhammad Ali) life in boxing. One man, a wrestler, named Gorgeous George Wagner, would singly install the name “The Greatest” to Clay’s fame, and what came with that was his charisma and showmanship.
A 19 year-old Clay was to have his seventh professional fight vs. Duke Sabedong in Las Vegas. That same week, also in Las Vegas, Gorgeous George was to have a wrestling match vs. Freddie Blassie, with both being promoted by Mel “Red” Greb.
When Greb brought boxer and wrestler to a local radio station studio to promote both events, Clay met George. Clay was first on the radio and quietly, in a low voice, predicted a knockout in his fight. Then the 46 year-old George came on air and erupted loudly by saying: “I am the Gorgeous One! Not only am I the best wrestler, but the most beautiful man who ever lived! If this bum I’m fighting messes up my pretty golden hair, I’ll tear his arm off! And if this punk beats me, I’ll take the next plane to Russia! But that will never happen, because I am the greatest!
As Clay looked on, all he can think about at that moment was “Wow what a showman!” and he wanted to see him wrestle. When Clay attended the match he saw 15,000 screaming fans who came to see George get beat and, most importantly, he saw the arena packed full of paid customers.
After the match, Clay visited George in the dressing room and older, wiser George told Clay “you got the looks, the great body, and a lot of people will pay a lot to see somebody shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing, and always be outrageous.”
Clay took all of that with him. To what he learned from Gorgeous George, he added his own personal touch of charisma, showmanship and athleticism taking him to heights never seen in boxing. He became “The Greatest” and in my opinion, the most recognizable sports figure of the 20th century!