On this day in 1972, Elvis Presley gave Muhammad Ali a $10,000 robe with “People’s Champion” inscribed on it. Ali later wore the robe on March 31, 1973 when he lost to Ken Norton.
Although most reports have Presley giving the robe on February 14, it has been agreed on by some historians that January 2 was the original date. I went back and listened to the audio of his fight against Ken Norton, however, and the commentators mentioned it was given to him in February. Either way, the robe is pretty, pretty expensive ($3,000).
Elvis was my close personal friend. He came to my Deer Lake training camp about two years before he died. He told us he didn’t want nobody to bother us. He wanted peace and quiet and I gave him a cabin in my camp and nobody even knew it. When the cameras started watching me train, he was up on the hill sleeping in the cabin. Elvis had a robe made for me. I don’t admire nobody, but Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you’d want to know.” – Muhammad Ali
Later on, Ali presented Elvis with a set of boxing gloves inscribed “You’re the Greatest.”
Ali didn’t wear the robe in his unanimous decision victory in February of that year against Joe Bugner, saving it for his fight against Ken Norton on March 31 in San Diego, California. Now I’m not trying to knock Ali, but he does not look like a fighter wearing this robe …
Unfortunately for Ali, he didn’t look like one either that night. He was the No.1 ranked fighter, facing the No. 8, but things did not proceed as planned. Prior to the fight, experts had labeled the matchup a huge “mismatch”. Experts, as they seem to be very often, were wrong. Norton pulled the upset, propelling his career into new heights as well as catalyzing a mini-rivalry with Ali.
In that 1973 fight, Norton broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw in the second round. The fight went the distance, but simply put,Norton had the exact right style to beat Ali. Norton’s crab style defense confused Ali at times, and his jab really, really good, maybe even as effective as Ali’s. He alternated well that fight, attacking both the head and body; physically, he was strong and talented enough to keep up with Ali.
The first match was a split decision, but most people will tell you Norton clearly won. Even the other two fights, although given to Ali, have tons of controversy about who really won. Some (pshh .. the majority of) boxing historians will tell you that Norton won 2-1. The second fight’s decision seems to be agreed upon (Ali), but the third fight is still regarded as one of the biggest robberies in the sport.
Anyone who saw the third fight knew Norton won. You didn’t need much knowledge of the sports either; just one look at how they stood at the end of all the rounds told you everything you needed to know. It was Ali, though, and we know that boxing judges aren’t necessarily always objective. Ali won the fight in a unanimous but heavily debated/criticized decision.
Ali was a bit past his prime by this time, though.
“The truth stings like Muhammad Ali” – Lupe Fiasco, Till I Get There