Yes, it’s true. There was a time when Capital District boxing fans could see the greatest prizefighter of all times, the former Cassius Marcellus Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali.
Yes, you could actually travel to the intersection of Washington and Lark Streets, and pay a few dollars to watch Ali decimate his opponents.
And before you question whether any of this is true…
I can affirm. I have ticket stubs.
That’s right, Ali fought Frazier and fans in the Armory saw it live.
What they saw was something called an “Exclusive Theater Telecast,” a “closed circuit broadcast” that allowed fans to watch this fight without having to travel to the Philippines for a ringside seat.
Back in the day, theaters and cinemas often offered special live theater broadcasts. In fact, many prizefights based their success – or their failure – on closed-circuit gate receipts. These theater broadcasts took plenty of preparation; you needed special projectors and equipment for the day’s broadcast, and Heaven forbid that anything malfunctioned.
In Albany, the Washington Avenue Armory hosted many closed-circuit boxing telecasts, and tickets for these events pop up now and again on eBay.
The gate receipts for closed-circuit boxing broadcasts was so important to the profit margin, it was not unusual for fights to start at odd local times. The Ali-Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” actually started at 4:00 a.m. in Zaire, so that the American audiences could see the fight live on evening closed circuit broadcasts.
So technically Ali did have some fights in Albany. Yeah, he was beating George Foreman to a pulp in Africa, but fight fans in Albany saw him “rope-a-dope” Foreman as clear as day.
Obviously, the loss of the greatest boxer of all time is still paramount; thoughts and prayers to the Ali family on their time of sorrow.
But I still have to tell this anecdote.
Years ago, one of my friends – a person who worked with various local sports teams – invited me over to his place. He showed me his extensive collection of autographed memorabilia – which all led up to him showing me the famous photo of the champ, moments after knocking out Sonny Liston, glowering over him in the Lewiston, Maine ring.
I noticed the signature on the picture. “Cassius Clay.”
“He never signs anything as ‘Cassius Clay,'” my friend said to me. “But he agreed to sign this picture for me with his original name.”
Now I don’t doubt that the signature is authentic.
But there’s just one problem.
Prior to that fight, Cassius Clay had changed his name to Cassius X – and then, to Muhammad Ali.
And although my friend had the picture signed as if it represented Clay-Liston II…
That fight was technically Ali-Liston II. Oops…
Hey, maybe I can find out if he also has an autographed Lew Alcindor Los Angeles Lakers jersey… hee…