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A MUSLIM MINISTERS TO A SOUTHPAW
Martin Kane
September 19, 1966
A new Cassius Clay, wrapped in clerical sobriety, administered a fierce beating to Germany's unorthodox Karl Mildenberger, but the fight went 12 rounds, obscuring the point of the champ's sermon
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September 19, 1966

A Muslim Ministers To A Southpaw

A new Cassius Clay, wrapped in clerical sobriety, administered a fierce beating to Germany's unorthodox Karl Mildenberger, but the fight went 12 rounds, obscuring the point of the champ's sermon

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With his new ministerial demeanor, the Rev. Muhammad Ali approached his boxing engagement with Karl Mildenberger, the European heavyweight champion, in a most unaccustomed manner. On Mildenberger's unimpressive record he should have been of good cheer. But he was somber rather than joyful, curt rather than loquacious, and there were some who even found him surly, though this could be laid to the fact that he was overacting again. In any event, there is a new Cassius Clay for the world to contend with, and it is not nearly as much fun as the old one. The reason for the change? Perhaps Ali has been advised by the Black Muslim hierarchy that, in view of his draft board troubles, he had better cool it for a bit. A part-time cleric of two years' standing, it just does not look well for him to go about yowling, "I am the greatest."

It turned out that Muhammad did well to take a less than cheerful view before the fight in Frankfurt, Germany's Waldstandion (Forest Stadium), which can accommodate 80,000 spectators for boxing and in this case drew between 50,000 and 60,000 at prices that ranged from 25 marks ($6.25) for standing room in the outer reaches to 300 marks ($75) for ringside. He preached a rather poor sermon. The quoted odds were 10 to 1 in the fighting parson's favor—which meant, in fact, that there was virtually no betting—but Mildenberger, who says his Muslim name is Karl Ben Milde, performed bravely if not particularly well.

The German never had a genuine chance and won only two rounds—the third and the ninth on this scorecard—but he made every round interesting. Clay's style forces the challenger to be the aggressor, and as the champion circled and backed, flipping out a jab here and there, Mildenberger plugged relentlessly forward, scoring now and then to the head and the belly, but paying a pretty price for his aggressive ways in lumps and cuts.

Mildenberger is a southpaw, which means that his jab and hook are delivered with the right hand, but he forgets from time to time that he is a lefty, which means that he boxes from a square stance. On these occasions, he looks very much like Floyd Patterson without the peekaboo. To the eye it is an awkward style. It is also uncomfortable to contend against. Joe Louis watched it one evening at Mildenberger's training quarters in the beer garden of Bad Soden's Hotel Weigand, where Mendelssohncomposed and Tolstoy wrote, and he could not stand the pain of it. He took off the next day for Hamburg and a mutual admiration reunion with Max Schmeling. "He holds his hands together," Joe said, "and he should stick the right one out, being a southpaw." Mildenberger did stick the right one out now and then, but since he does everything with his right hand—writing and bowling, for instance—except box, he cannot be accounted a natural southpaw. He is not a natural fighter either—just a very courageous and aggressive one.

He was a trifle lucky, too, in that Clay's customary sharpness had approximately the cutting edge of a butter knife. Clay missed repeatedly with wild looping rights that Mildenberger ducked with perfect ease, and he scored mostly with a jab delivered while in retreat. What won the fight for Clay was primarily a solid, straight right hand that he showed all too infrequently.

When he did use it, it worked. In the eighth round Clay caught Mildenberger with a right to the head that buckled the German's knees, and as he started to fall where he stood, Clay pushed him to the canvas. Referee Teddy Waltham, general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, gave him an eight count. Another right dropped him in the 10th, causing him to flounder. One wondered if he could get up, but he was on his feet at four. Three seconds later the bell rang.

In the end, at one minute, 50 seconds of the 12th round, Mildenberger was caught with another straight right, and though he did not fall, he was so clearly stunned and helpless that Referee Waltham rightly stopped the fight. By that time Mildenberger was a bleeding mess. There is scar tissue on both his brows, and there is a thin scar under his left eye. Clay broke the latter wide open just before the bell rang to end the fifth round. Later he opened the brow above it. It was clear then that Mildenberger, who is not known as a puncher, could not hope to win even with his desperate attempts at a knockout, but it was also clear that he was making a far better fight than anyone had looked for.

Mildenberger had been led into the ring by a man waving a German flag, and Clay was similarly honored with an American flag. The crowd, less inclined to be solemn about the occasion, chanted something that translates roughly as, "Dear Ali, please let him last for three." Clay was, in fact, quite popular with the Germans, and there were only scattered boos, all but drowned by applause, when he was introduced.

A fair contingent of U.S. military was present. The soldiers were drawn from bases scattered for 100 miles around Frankfurt and occupied, for the most part, the cheapest seats. They may have been responsible for the boos. At the Frankfurt post it was clear that Clay was not popular, but that is not surprising since he is not popular among civilians. The resentment of the GI, it was made clear on a visit to the Frankfurt post, is not provoked by Clay's effort to avoid the draft but by his insistence on being mouthy about it and, for such a long time, about everything else. Few have understood that Clay's mouthiness has been compounded in part of showmanship and in great part of sheer high spirits, now low in proof.

"More power to him," said one GI, when asked about Clay's debate with his draft board. Others at a table in the post's snack bar echoed the sentiment. Military service is not, and never was, a popular institution. But many expressed a wish that Clay be beaten badly. They regard him as a braggart and, in truth, he has asked for it.

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