Muhammad Ali fought professionally from 1960 to 1981, compiling a record of 56-5. He was knocked down four times in those 61 fights, and knocked out once. (The knockout came in the second-to-last fight of Ali’s career, the sad affair against Larry Holmes where the aged Ali barely had the strength to throw a serious punch in ten rounds. The fight was stopped between the 10th and 11th rounds as a technical knockout; there were no knockdowns in the fight.) Ali’s four knockdowns came in four different fights, three of which he went on to win, and one of which he lost.
The first knockdown of Ali’s career came on February 19, 1962. The opponent was a young heavyweight named Sonny Banks. The fight can be seen here.
Entering his bout with Banks, the 20 year old Ali–who had not yet changed his name and was still Cassius Clay–sported a professional record of 10-0 coming off his Olympic gold medal. Banks was at a similar stage of his career–he had a record of 10-2–and while not as highly regarded as Ali, he was considered a dangerous prospect with knockout power. In spite of this, Ali not only predicted he would knock out Banks in his first appearance ever at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, but, as was his wont early in his career, he even predicted a specific round–the 4th.
In the very first round, during an exchange when Banks was backed up into a corner, Banks connected with a quick inside left hook to floor Ali. It was a legitimate knockdown, but a “flash” knockdown. Ali bounced back up as soon as he hit the canvas, with no indication that he was at all hurt. Banks was unable to follow up on the knockdown, and indeed, Ali clearly had the edge the remainder of the round.
In the second and third rounds, Banks remained competitive, but it was clear Ali was the superior fighter, and Banks did not come close to repeating his Round 1 success. By the end of the 3rd round, Banks seemed to be fading. Between rounds, referee Ruby Goldstein even had the ringside physician quickly examine Banks to make sure he could continue.
In the 4th round, Ali picked up the pace. He landed several shots on Banks, with Banks making little effort to respond. The referee had clearly not been fully comfortable letting the round even begin, and so he was quick to jump in, just a few seconds into the round, and stop the fight in Ali’s favor by technical knockout.
Ali had not only come back from the 1st round knockdown, but had knocked out Banks in the 4th round as he had predicted.
Following the fight, the careers of these two promising heavyweights couldn’t have diverged more. Ali went on to win the heavyweight title in 1964, to become possibly the single most famous person in the world for a time, and to go down in history as the best or one of the best boxers in history.
Banks never seriously contended for the title, and tragically died from injuries sustained in a fight against Leotis Martin, just three years later in 1965.
Christopher James Shelton, “Recalling a Man Who Decked ‘The Greatest.” Ringside Boxing Show.
“Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Banks.” Boxing Memorabilia.