Muhammad Ali is now considered by many to be the greatest boxer that’s ever lived, but his career was interrupted by his courageous personal stance.
On this day in 1967, Ali was stripped of his boxing license and World Champion title for refusing to enter the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. In 1964, Ali failed the U.S. Armed Forces qualifying test, but when the test was revised in 1966 it made the pugilist eligible for the draft.
At the time, Ali had fully embraced his Muslim faith and denounced the war, famously saying, “I ain’t go no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” Declaring himself a conscientious objector, Ali was criticized by the various boxing commissions not only for his refusal to enter the draft, but also for his ties with the Nation of Islam.
Seen as a talented but arrogant fighter, some alleged that clandestine forces rallied against Ali to see him fall, thus leading to his draft induction hearing in Houston. At the hearing, Ali refused to answer to the call of his name three times. He was warned that draft evasion was a crime and was arrested on the spot.
The World Boxing Association (WBA) stripped him of his title and the New York State Athletic Commission barred him from fighting in the state. Ali did not spend a day in jail, however, as his case stayed in appeals. But for nearly four years, he was not allowed to fight.
In his time away from the ring, he became a figure of the anti-war movement and lectured at colleges and universities across the country. Ali’s case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, which ruled in his favor allowing him his status as a conscientious objector.
Although Ali fought Jerry Quarry in 1970 after the Atlanta Athletic Commission granted him a license, he made a big return to prizefighting in 1971 in a loss to Joe Frazier. Ali would avenge that loss in 1972, and later regained a world title in 1974 in his defeat of George Foreman.
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