Muhammad Ali Fought 50 Men. Only One Disappeared
Back in the early '60s, a young boxing prodigy by the name of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was making noise in the heavyweight.
In the age of the Civil Rights struggle, the 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist had upped from his native Louisville, Kentucky to sunny Miami to become the next heavyweight champion under the watchful eyes of the Dundee Bros., Angelo and Chris.
We all know the rest: he not only became the second-youngest champion (and second-oldest, coincidentally) in history, his legend grew to immortal heights as the incomparable Muhammad Ali.
With a resume littered with champions, legends and boxing royalty and the undying adulation of an fans worldwide, one guy stands out.
Stephen Singer, a collector of all things Ali, had sought out to collect the signatures of every man Ali fought in his 21-year professional career.
After all, many became famous for fighting Ali. Chuck Wepner's 1975 effort spawned the billion dollar Rocky franchise.
Joe Frazier's 1971 victory cinched his place in heavyweight history. Great Britain's own Henry Cooper became a knight of the British empire and his legend lives on long after him for what he did against a 21-year-old Clay in London, England.
Enlisting the services of a "professional autograph collector," the first 35 signatures came easy. As the pro's well ran dry, Singer set out to find the rest on his own.
Searching over the course of months, Singer went from gym to gym, seedy neighborhood to seedy neighborhood in his quest.
He located a notarized letter from a fighter turned Mafia hit man. A rabbi acted as a middle man in a small Argentine town for the passport of a fighter who'd been dead since 1964. He was No. 49.
Bit by bit, the puzzle came together as Singer counted his autographs.
He counted 49.
Only one remained.
One February night in 1961, just a few weeks removed from celebrating his 19th birthday with a 3rd-round stoppage over gangster Tony Esperti -- who later did time for a mob hit -- Clay was scheduled for his fourth fight.
The scheduled opponent had fallen through. Jimmy Robinson, a last-minute replacement from Miami, found himself with the assignment to pad Clay's record.
He lasted a mere 94 seconds in what turned out to be Ali's only 1st-round KO, sans the Sonny Liston dive.
"If promoter Chris Dundee had canvassed the women in the audience, he couldn't have found an easier opponent for Clay," The Miami Times wrote.
Robinson, known as "Sweet Jimmy" went on to carve a niche as a local "enhancement talent," a jobber - a guy paid to lose.
He retired in 1964 with an 8-24 record, coming out of retirement in '68 to lose once more.
From there, no one seems to know what happened to Sweet Jimmy. Some say he went to Georgia. Others say he died. Some accounts pin him in Missouri.
For all of Singer's diligence, the trail was ice cold. "Sweet Jimmy" had disappeared.
Only a few clues in the forms of pictures remained in his quest for the elusive 50th signature.
Read the fantastic, riveting chronicle in this old ESPN piece here.
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