On September 5, 1960, a shy 18-year-old Cassius Clay stepped into a Rome’s Olympic ring to face Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. The fight would be for the light-heavyweight gold medal, and Clay’s win would make him a sensation back in America. Now 50 years later, Muhammad Ali is celebrating one of his greatest boxing achievements today at the Muhammad Ali cultural center in Louisville, Kentucky.
From noon until 5pm, the center is holding a free showing of the well-received documentary Facing Ali, a book signing for author Felix Rodriguez (“Dad, Me and Muhammad Ali: A Father and Son Story”), an Olympic photo exhibit, prize drawings and more. In addition to the festivities, memorabilia such as t-shirts and medals will be on sale at $5 off.
Zbigniew Pietrzykowski was huge challenge for the young Ali. The 25-year-old Polish fighter was an Olympic bronze medalist and a southpaw. But Ali, unlike his later professional style, walked Pietrzykowski down with his jab and straight right hand. In another difference from his pro style, Ali utilized several right hands to the body. The third round saw glimpses of Ali’s later braggadocio, as he showcased the “Ali shuffle” before punctuating the round with a crisp straight right.
There weren’t many southpaws during Ali’s heavyweight career. In fact, Germany’s Karl Mildenberger became the first southpaw to challenge for the heavyweight title when he faced Muhammad Ali in 1966. Mildenberger’s stance did give Ali problems. as he stunned the champ late with a body shot.
But a prime Ali proved too much. After suffering knockdowns in the fifth, eighth and 10th, Ali stopped Mildenberger on his feet in the 12th round. The Greatest would later state it was his toughest fight stylistically up until that point in his career.
Check out highlights from both encounters.
Ali’s gold medal win
Ali vs. Mildenberger