Week 7: Zora Folley Fights Muhammad Ali for the Heavywight Title Redirected from Exhibits/Chandler Republic Newspaper Arictles/Week 7: Zora Folley Fights Muhammad Ali for the Heavywight Title

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    Not every city can boast a councilmember  who was a former heavyweight  boxing  champion who faced Muhammad Ali in his prime, but Chandler can.  Zora Bell Folley was born in Dallas, Texas on May 27, 1931. In the early 1940s, Folley  his mother, and his two sisters relocated to Chandler. They lived on Dick Old’s ranch, working the alfalfa and cotton fields, milking cows and tending cattle, and attended Ocotillo Elementary School.  When he was sixteen, he lied about his age so that he could join the Army, and ultimately received a high school diploma courtesy of Uncle Sam.

    Folley’s first boxing experience came courtesy of the Army. During basic training at Fort Ord, California, an injury prevented the platoon sergeant from defending his heavyweight title against Lucius Tate. When the sergeant asked the platoon for a volunteer to fight Tate, Folley, weighing no more than 180 pounds and with no boxing experience to speak of, raised his hand. After being knocked down three times in three rounds, Folley’s first pugilistic bout ended in defeat.

    Within a year, Folley beat Tate in a rematch and went on to win the 6th Army Championship.  Soon he was the All-Army and All-Services Champion.  By 1953, after earning five battle stars during the Korean War and an honorable discharge from the Army, Sergeant Folley signed his first professional boxing contract with the legendary Phoenix boxing manager, Al Fenn.

    During the course of his celebrated career, Folley defeated top contenders like Eddie Mechan, George Chuvalo, and Oscar Bonavena.  Many boxing historians believe that Cus D’Amato , the manager of heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, never gave Folley the title fight he deserved because  D’Amato thought Folley would win.

    Folley’s shot at the heavyweight title came in 1967 at age 34, well after his prime. He faced the reigning heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, who had recently changed his name from Cassius Clay after converting to Islam.  Prior to the fight, Ali uncharacteristically did not belittle Folley, saying, “He calls me Muhammad Ali, thanks me all the time for giving him a chance. How am I ever going to get mad at him and build up this fight?"
    The fight took place on March 22, 1967 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  Chandler residents celebrated their champ, sending a six foot long telegram to Folley listing all the names of the local well-wishers.  Close-circuit television rules prevented the fight from being broadcast locally, and no local radio stations covered the event.  As a result, Chandler fans were prevented from experiencing the fight. Chandler Mayor George Nader arranged a “special broadcast.”  Hosting the community at Austin Field, Mayor Nader read round by round descriptions of the fight over the public address system as they were available from the AP newswire.  After six good rounds, Folley lost the match in a 7th round knock-out. Immediately after the fight, Ali saw Folley’s 13 year old son crying, and told him that his dad would have beaten him if they had fought during his prime.  Despite the loss, Chandler welcomed back their champ with open arms proclaiming the day “Zora Folley Day.”

    Folley boxed a few more years, finally hanging up the gloves in 1970 with a record of 79 wins (43 by knockout), 11 losses and 6 draws. He was appointed to the Chandler City Council, but died soon after in a mysterious and tragic swimming pool accident in Tucson. Folley Street and Folley Memorial Park celebrate the achievements of Chandler’s champion.

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