Sep 12, 2022 - News

Remember when ... Atlanta helped Ali get back in the ring

Muhammad Ali lands a punch on Jerry Quarry during their 1970 fight at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium
Muhammad Ali lands a blow against Jerry Quarry during their 1970 bout at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium. Photo: Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

In 1970, Muhammad Ali hadn't fought a professional boxing match in three years. Then Atlanta came calling.

Details: In 1967, Ali refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War and began a bitter legal battle against the federal government. The fallout was severe; Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, and blacklisted from competing.

  • More than 20 states reportedly refused to sanction a fight featuring Ali.  

Yes but: Because Georgia had no state law governing boxing, state Sen. Leroy Johnson argued, cities had the authority to OK matches.

  • A group of local and state leaders including Johnson and executive Jesse Hill convinced Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell to allow the boxer to step into the ring.

Details: On October 26, 1970, the flamboyant pugilist stepped into the ring at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium against Jerry Quarry, a top heavyweight contender. The sold out auditorium included the likes of Diana Ross and Sidney Poitier.

What they said: "It was the greatest collection of black money and black power ever assembled until that time," boxing historian Bert Sugar said, according to an oral history of the bout in Atlanta magazine. "Right in the heart of the old Confederacy, it was 'Gone With the Wind' turned upside-down."

Intrigue: An invitation-only post-fight party in Collier Heights attended by hustlers and gambling kingpins ended with a brazen heist that’s become part of Atlanta lore.

Fast forward: Twenty-six years later, Ali famously returned to the city to spark the 1996 Olympics Torch.

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