Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Mississippian first to knock down Ali

The black and white video, from Madison Square Garden in 1962, is beyond grainy, but you can easily make out that the graceful man in white trunks is future heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

More accurately, the slender, svelte guy wearing white trunks is the man who would become Ali. On Feb. 10, 1962, the day he fought a man named Sonny Banks on national TV, Ali was still known as Cassius Clay.

You can discern that the two men are about the same size and that they hit one another extremely hard. The announcer tells us that Clay, the former light-heavyweight Olympic champion from Louisville, Ky., is fighting for the third time on TV. And that Banks, from Detroit, is making his TV boxing debut.

The announcer says that the 21-year-old Banks is reputed to have tremendous power in his right hand, especially early in fights. His record is 10-2 and all but one of his victories has come by knockout. Clay, just turned 20, is undefeated through 10 fights. As a pro, he has never been knocked down or seriously challenged.

That changed that night. It happened in the first round. Banks, fighting from a crouch in one of the corners, hit Clay with a right to the face and Clay fell backwards onto his butt. Clay quickly bounced up at the count of two, but the referee gave him a standing eight-count.

From that point, Clay pretty much took over the fight. All these years later, it is still amazing to see such a large man throw combinations of punches so quickly and precisely. Indeed, he does appear to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

In the second round, Clay's left-right combos, thrown with the speed of a featherweight, took their toll. A left hook to the chin knocked Banks to the seat of his pants. As Clay had, Banks quickly got up, but the damage, in this case, was done. Clay knocked Banks all over the ring in the third round. The referee stopped the fight in the fourth. Banks wanted to continue. The ref wouldn't let him, and that's a good thing.

In the post-fight interview, Clay said: “That was my first time knocked down as a professional. I had to get up to take care of things after that because it was rather embarrassing, me on the floor. As you know, I think that I'm the greatest and I'm not supposed to be on the floor, so I had to get up and put him on out, in four as I predicted.”

And I know readers wonder where I am going with this. Why bring up a non-title fight from 54 years ago?

Well, there's this:

Sonny Banks wasn't really from Detroit and his name really wasn't Sonny. He was Lucien Banks and he was from Lee County in northeast Mississippi, near Tupelo. Details, as they say, are sketchy. He was born in the farming community Birmingham Ridge, about halfway between Tupelo and Saltillo. As so many black Mississippians did, his father headed north and took a job in an auto factory when Lucien was young and Lucien followed him there.

So, the first professional fighter to knock down the legendary Muhammad Ali was a largely unknown Mississippian.

And what happened to Lucien “Sonny” Banks? You could look it up. I did.

He continued to fight as a professional for three more years, winning far more than he lost. Most of his victories were early knockouts.

But on May 10, 1965 in Philadelphia, Banks fought Leotis Martin, an accomplished fighter who would later knock out Sonny Liston. This time, Banks took a horrific beating and the referee did not stop the fight. Martin knocked out Banks in the ninth round. Boxing was, and is, a terribly brutal sport.

Three days later, Banks died from injuries suffered in the fight. He was 24 and he is a footnote in history: a Mississippi native, the first man and one of a select few to knock down “The Greatest.”

Rick Cleveland is a syndicated columnist and historian of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. His email address is


Anonymous said...

Do not mess with Mother Nature.

Anonymous said...

whoop-dee-do. why do you missipians always gotta make every story about mississippi?

Anonymous said...

10:10 Rick C. is executive director of the MS Sports Hall of Fame. It makes more sense for Rick to right about this to than to be writing about how Thor Starvaard won the 1962 Bemidji Open Curling championship.

10:10 needs to go back to Jackson Free Press where the imaginary victims unite.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

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Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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