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Strange but True: Muhammad Ali vs. Wilt Chamberlain in the Astrodome?

It’s ‘the greatest’ versus ‘the biggest.’ So why didn’t it happen?

HOUSTON — Trading in football pads for boxing gloves, two former All-Pro running backs, Adrian Peterson and Leveon Bell, will fight each other in July.

But for a bout with real star power, it's another Strange but True Houston Sports Story.

It’s ‘the greatest’ versus ‘the biggest.’ So why didn’t it happen?

It's April 21, 1971. Officials from the Astrodome schedule a major announcement: Muhammad Ali will fight here against…Wilt Chamberlain, the basketball superstar.

It was four years in the making.

“This match may very well come to pass,” said Howard Cosell.

Ali and Wilt, appeared on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in 1967, measurements are taken: Wilt, at 7-1, has a huge reach advantage over Ali, who’s only 6-2.

“And cut that beard off because I’m not fighting Billy goats!” said Ali, taunting Wilt.

Both men arrived in Houston to sign contracts and critics called the event a joke.

Then, at the last-minute, Wilt K-Os the match. Why?

He wants half a million dollars after taxes, not before.

Following 75 minutes of deliberations, Astrodome promoter Jack O’Connell says the fight’s been postponed.

Two decades later, promoter Bob Arum also revealed he asked Ali not to taunt Wilt until after the paperwork was done.

Ali couldn’t resist, shouting “Timber! The tree will fall!’

Arum claims Wilt then left the room, called the LA Lakers and agreed to a new basketball contract.

Ali almost fights Wilt. A strange but true Houston Sports Story.

 

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