When he fought Muhammad Ali in 1971, Jurgen Blin had a good idea of what would happen in the ring. “That was the only fight I knew beforehand, ‘you can’t win,’ said Blin years later. Though shorter, lighter, and at least a step slower, the hardscrabble German would give it everything he had.
Blin grew up poor on the island Ferman, near Germany’s Baltic coast. Beaten by his alcoholic father and mocked by his classmates for smelling like the cows he milked, Blin vowed never to be poor again. He left home at 14, went to Hamburg, found a ship, and caught on as a cabin boy. Two years later, he was working as a butcher in a slaughterhouse. He spotted a boxing gym nearby, figuring he’d give pugilism a shot.
Blin turned professional at 21, winning his first seven fights in succession. The German fans loved his aggressive style and gritty determination. Blin’s record stood at 27 up and nine down when he met Ali in Zurich. The year 1971 had been anything but dreamy for Muhammad Ali. Ali had returned to boxing the year before after being stripped of his heavyweight belt and boxing license in 1967. Ali had been drafted but refused to serve, citing his religion.
His epic fight with Joe Frazier in March had captivated the world. Ali had started fast but weakened under the constant pressure of the relentless Frazier. Felled by a rocket left hook in the 15th and final round, Ali finished the bout but lost for the first time in his career. Back in the ring only four months later, Ali drew mixed reviews after stopping boyhood friend and former sparring partner Jimmy Ellis.
The awkward Blin jabbed to the body and head in the opening stanza. He swung for the fences later in the round. Ali circled to his left and jabbed, landing consistently.
Ali came out of his corner flat-footed, looking to counter the wild shots of Blin. The German connected with a couple of lefts, exciting the crowd. Ali moved aside when Blin attacked again, watching as he fell into the ropes. Ali landed sharp combinations in round three. Blin kept rushing in, ignoring the punches, and firing back. He was a man in a war without a white flag.
The rip-roaring crowd chanted Blin’s name before round four commenced.
Ali went back to dancing, tattooing Blin with shots. Ali landed several left hooks in round five. Blin took them but was bleeding from cuts under both eyes. Ali picked at Blin in round seven and went for a knockout a few minutes later. He got it after landing a half dozen stinging shots – culminated by a right hand. Blin staggered back to the ropes and went down. He was exhausted and beaten but beat the count of 10. The referee waved the fight off.
“If I had listened to the American boxing authorities who said I shouldn’t show up, that he was a pushover, I would have gotten beat,” said Ali.
Blin captured the European heavyweight title in 1972. He was out of boxing a year later with no regrets and was never penniless again.
Ali would shock the world for a second time less than three years later.
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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