The forgotten story of … the Rocky Marciano v Muhammad Ali Super Fight

Muhammad Ali could talk and jive all he liked: his opponent, far bigger than any he had faced in the ring, was pulverising him. During a few feverish months in 1967 Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, slung into jail and had his boxing license ripped up; all for the crime of refusing to take a single forward step – the step that signalled willing induction into the US army. Ali insisted he had no quarrel with the Viet Cong but much of white America, particularly in the south, did with him. They roared for his blood.

The Man had taken his title, his liberty and his livelihood. And then a machine spat in his face.

It was Murry Woroner, a short, chunky, balding advertising executive from Miami, who was among the first to grasp that marrying fantasy with nascent computer technology was a licence to print money. While Ali's career was being parked in a pallid wasteland for nearly four years, the best years of his fighting life, Woroner's was accelerating from first to fifth. His idea was simple. A fantasy radio boxing tournament to determine the best heavyweight of all time with a twist: the results would be calculated by a second-generation NCR 315 computer, packed with 5k of handmade core memory and the icy dispassion of an implacable neutral. Soon it had 12 million listeners....

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