One day, football’s best challenged boxing’s best… in a makeshift ring.
During the mid-1960s when Muhammad Ali was in his physical prime, he was the recipient of a very unique challenge.
Recently-retired NFL legend Jim Brown approached boxing promoter Bob Arum with an interesting request.
“Put me in the ring with the champ.”
“I can take him. Make the fight with Ali, Brown said, and we’ll all make a fortune.”
Although retired, Jim Brown was far from over the hill. He was only about 30 at the time and arguably still at his physical peak. As a matter of fact, he’d retired as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
The legendary football star, who is still considered by many as the greatest NFL football player ever, is indisputably one of the greatest professional athletes the U.S. has ever produced.
At 6’2″ 230lbs, Brown was a terribly gifted athlete who was naturally strong and possessed incredible coordination, speed, and reflexes… But did he really think he could compete with Muhammad Ali in the ring?
In an interview with SI’s Chris Mannix a few years ago, legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum uttered:
“So I went to talk to Ali.”
“He (Ali) says, ‘Jim wants to do what? Bring him here.'”
Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown, who would later become friends, met soon thereafter at Hyde Park in London where ‘The Greatest’ used to work out.
According to Arum, Muhammad Ali asked the football star to hit him as hard as he could. A confident Jim Brown, who knew nothing but success in ‘all things physical’ to that point, was seemingly more than happy to accommodate Ali.
Swing and miss… Swing and miss… Swing and miss… The theme was redundant.
It’s not known if the air-conditioning system was running but the football hall of famer certainly provided his own for as long as the brief scrap lasted.
The legendary promoter told SI’s Mannix that after about 30 seconds of not even coming close to the great Ali, Jim Brown got tagged in the face with a lightning quick one-two. At that moment, a winded and perhaps very humbled Brown stopped in his tracks and said, “OK, I get the point.”
With nothing left to accomplish in football and no chance of even being competitive against Ali in boxing, Jim Brown pursued a career in acting and would later star in over 20 movies, including The Dirty Dozen (1967), 100 Rifles (1969), Any Given Sunday (1999), The Running Man (1987), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) and He Got Game (1998).
A handful of high-profile pro football players have attempted to box since Brown, including Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Mark Gastineau, and Alonzo Highsmith – But none have succeeded.
As Muhammad Ali so gently demonstrated, to be an accomplished fighter takes far more than physical strength and athletic prowess; It takes a certain mental toughness as well as tremendous discipline, extraordinary skill, and a lot of hard work.
The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.
– Muhammad Ali
Main image courtesy of Ali.com