Some of the greatest athletes of all time are also some of the cockiest – it could be what makes them great. But the reason you could get such great odds on the likes of Ronaldo at Ladbrokes when the 2002 World Cup came around wasn’t because he thought he was the best; it was because he triumphed over adversity and demonstrated he really was the greatest in the world at the time, just like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan in their respective sports.
When Muhammad Ali clashed with Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila, the resulting match is widely considered to be one of the greatest boxing matches of all time – if not THE greatest, just like Ali himself. But it wasn’t plain sailing for Ali up until that point, as Cassius Clay – as he was known then – he was stripped of his world title and suspended from boxing from 1967 to 1970. Mishap after mishap followed, and many thought that Ali would never get what he really wanted: a fight with Joe Frazier – a man who had never been defeated in the ring.
When they did eventually lock horns, the resulting match was dubbed the “Fight of the Century”; a match so overhyped that even Frank Sinatra couldn’t get a seat (he eventually wrangled his way in by volunteering as a photographer for LIFE magazine). Ali finally fell in the final round, going blow for blow with Joe Frazier for 14 full rounds beforehand, capping off a miserable couple of years for Ali and handing him his first professional loss.
Ali eventually defeated Frazier in the 1974 rematch, but that fight didn’t hold the same gravitas since Frazier had already lost the belt. The Thrilla in Manila was the deciding fight between the two boxing juggernauts, and it didn’t disappoint. The fight could have gone either way, until Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch had to throw in the towel, and Ali finally got the glory he had sought for so long.
Like Ali, Michael Jordan is for many people the greatest ever athlete in his field. When he retired (the first time) in 1993, he’d already achieved more than enough to be dubbed the greatest basketball player that has ever lived. The Chicago Bulls’ infamous 1991-93 NBA championships three-peat was perhaps Jordan’s crowning glory, and after that Jordan felt he had little left to accomplish in the sport.
He signed a contract with minor league baseball team the Chicago White Sox, and though he never made a major league start, it can hardly be said that his short-lived baseball career was a complete failure. But when Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls the following year, after a press release that simply read “I’m back”, his comeback match was the biggest rating regular season NBA game since the mid-70s.
Scoring 19 points in his return match, Jordan then went on to lead the Bulls to ANOTHER three-peat, before retiring for a second time in 1999.
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