He would box, but he would not fight.
At the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, Muhammad Ali was drafted. Declaring himself a conscientious objector, he refused to serve.
With his case on appeal, Ali was banned from boxing by several of the sport’s governing bodies. He hadn’t floated like a butterfly nor stung like a bee in three years. No city would host a fight. But Georgia had no state boxing commission, so when an Atlanta sports promoter pitched Georgia State Senator Leroy Johnson an Ali comeback fight in Atlanta, Johnson was in. Only a political blessing was needed.
Senator Johnson had campaigned heavily for Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell. Massell returned the favor by backing the fight.
“Irish” Jerry Quarry was Ali’s opponent, adding a racial element to the already charged atmosphere. They fought in the old Atlanta Municipal Auditorium, with black celebrities much in evidence.
It was over in nine minutes. Ali put Quarry away in the third round.
Ali had returned to boxing, and the fight launched his international boxing career.
“The Greatest” made his comeback in Atlanta on October 26, 1971, Today in Georgia History.
Today in Georgia History is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.