Ali vs Terrell (“What’s my Name”)

The intro/Earnie Terrell

Before I write anything about this fight it’s very important to understand the politics of the time. This fight took place in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam war and civil rights movements. After winning the title in 1965 against the monstrous Sonny Liston, Ali (then Cassius Clay) converted to Islam after a long standing friendship with Malcom X and joined the Black militant group the Nation of Islam and took the name that we all know him by now. But many felt that his conversion was insincere and still called him by his “slave name” Cassius Clay. Earnie Terrell did as well Ali vowed to punish the man for it. He was a 6’6″ tall and despite his massive 82 inch reach preferred to fight down and dirty on the inside and work from the clinch. He held a version of the heavyweight title that had been stripped from Ali after his conversion to Islam.

The Greatest of All Time

Easily the fastest man ever in the heavyweight division Ali had yet to truly be tested and was coming off a breathtaking win over power puncher Cleveland Williams. This is the young Ali and the closest to his prime as we ever got to see. His footwork and speed are mesmerizing and something more is going on here. This wasn’t the happy-go-lucky Ali we know from his interviews and talk show appearances. He his pissed. Already in the stare down you can see him asking Terrell “What’s my name, Uncle Tom.”

The fight begins

Ali takes the center of the ring and throws a 7 punch combo from the get go. If you have never seen Ali fight before just know that he was a notorious head hunter. He hardly ever threw punches to the body. I counted 13 body punches in this entire fight. He preferred to use the interplay between his hooks and uppercuts to open up angles where if you block the hook, the uppercut can land and vice-versa. He also had one of the greatest jabs ever and very good power in his right hand but because Terrell has a 4 inch reach advantage he decided to get closer then usual to land his punches here.

Shutting down a taller fighter’s game

Ali opens up with a left hook/uppercut combo here before darting away from the ropes controlling Terell’s hands so he can’t punch. He keeps slapping Terell’s hands and grabbing his wrists so it makes it impossible for the 6’6″ Terell to throw his longest punch. It allows Ali to move around much more freely because he doesn’t have to worry about getting hit while he dances, it also allows him to decide when the exchanges will happen giving him the initiative when punches do start flying.

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The Ali clinch

Terell presses Ali into the ropes after throwing a salvo of body hooks and Ali grabs him both behind the neck and triceps of his opponent. Ali did this to EVERYONE. He used it because it minimized what power the opponent could hit him with. These punches that Terell is forced to throw from this position are just arm punches and have no weight commitment and hence no power in them. They are annoying at worst. He also loved this clinch because it gave him the opportunity to talk shit to his opponents which was another staple of Ali’s game.

Paying for inches/ sublime footwork

Terrell is stalking Ali trying to put his back to the ropes while covering up behind his high guard defense. Ali sees Terell’s defensive stance and opens up with another flurry of hooks before grabbing Earnie’s left arm and using it to push Terrell past him so he could get back to open space. Terrell tries to corner him before taking another combination and Ali pushes Earnie’s head away to get himself back into the center of the ring. He is making Earnie pay for trying to walk him down.

Changing head slots/rolling with punches

Ali jabs at Terrell before opening with a suprising hook to the body and Terrell tries to catch him as he punches, but Ali’s lightning speed allows him to turn his head to the side causing Terrell’s jab to fall short. This was generally how the younger version of Muhammad Ali defended against straight punches. I cannot over state how hard this is to do unless you are an elite athlete with insane reflexes. It’s best way to defend the jab if you can pull it off because both of your hands are free to counter punch. But Ali gives ground as Terrell chases with punches and lands a right hand. Ali took a lot of the power off this punch by changing head slots again, moving his head with the path of it rather than absorbing the full impact.

Getting off the ropes/controlling your opponent

Terrell has Ali pinned against the ropes here and throws a 1-2 which Ali ducks under using his incredible head movement before circling back out into space. He then throws an uppercut and sticky left hook which he uses to blind Terrell as he gave ground and walked him into a beautiful right hook before tying up, denying Terrell a chance to punch back. Incredible technique.

Bad blood boils over

This was a very rough fight between two guys who did not like each other. Terrell had been punching Ali in the back of the head all fight and Ali had enough. Notice how Ali rakes Terrell’s eyes along the ropes before roughly pushing off. This is far and away the meanest Ali I’ve ever seen fight.

Pushing to punch

Notice as Terrell tries to corner Ali he punches before getting off to Terrell’s left side and gives a nudge that causes Terrell to lose his balance, he gets back to the center of the ring before opening up with a hook/uppercut then tags him with a hard right hand that hurts Terrell and chases him down to inflict more punishment.

My god that defense

He backs up and changes head slots again causing Terrell’s jab to fall short and uses his shoulder to deflect the right hand that Earnie caught him with earlier. He takes a short uppercut as he ducks underneath another Terrell right hand and lands one of his own before clinching and pushing Terrell off before re taking the ring center.

The taunting continues

Ali throws a right hook before sliding back to change the angle and lands a hard left hook between Terrell’s gloves. He continually is screaming “what’s my name” at an overmatched Terrell.

This might be my favorite gif ever

I feel like a white girl watching this. I just can’t even. When I saw this while watching the fight, I had to pause it. I had to walk away and just wander around my house for a while. I just had to do it again watching the gif. The level of calm, grace and perception of distance here is absolutely off the charts. He makes it seem so casual, so thoughtless. So beautiful. God, I’m sad he’s gone. RIP.

The beating continues

Ali throws a left/right hook combination getting Terrell to widen his guard before firing a 1-2 into the opening he created. Terrell ducks down to throw a hook to the body but Ali meets him with a hard uppercut. Earnie walks forward behind a wide left hook but Ali beats him to the punch with a shorter tighter left hook of his own.

Earnie is beat up

Ali continues to pour it on as Terrell has become a sitting duck. Ali is trying like hell to get the knock out and close the show.

The last 20 seconds

Ali going for broke here still dancing, still throwing long combinations. Keep in mind he has been at this for almost an hour now. His conditioning is unbelievable for a guy who is 6’3″ and 215lbs. But give credit to Earnie as well for taking such an incredible beating yet still having the stamina and the willpower to stay on his feet when he has been given so many opportunities to quit. A very very tough man.

It goes to the judges

Ali wins a lopsided unanimous decision taking almost every round of the fight and making a big statement to anybody who would try to disrespect him or his religious convictions again.

He still had so much history left to write here. After this fight Ali was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for almost 3 years after refusing to be inducted into the draft for the vietnam war. The federal government changed his draft classification from 1-y to 1-A after he joined the Nation of Islam and he refused to go. He says it better than I ever could why

I sincerely promise all of you there will be much more to come about Ali in the future.


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