Muhammad Ali Taunts Wilt Chamberlain: “Cut That Beard Out Because I’M Not Fighting Billy Goat”


Long before Nate Robinson fought Jake Paul in a celebrity boxing match, a true NBA legend almost fought for boxing’ crown jewel – the world heavyweight championship. Wilt Chamberlain, the most dominant basketball player during the 60s and early 70s, once challenged boxing’s GOAT, Muhammad Ali, to a boxing match.

Because of the intrigue and the lure of a big money fight, Ali agreed, and the two were featured in a TV special from ABC in 1967.

During that meeting, the reach of both sports stars was measured, and Chamberlain’s 90-inch reach towered over Ali’s 78. But the boxing legend dismissed a potential Chamberlain advantage by saying, “Reach doesn’t mean nothing if he doesn’t find no one to hit.”

Ali kept taunting Chamberlain during the show, and towards the end, he even called out the NBA legend by saying:

“Cut off that beard because I’m not fighting the Billy Goat.” Wilt the Stilt replied: “I want to give you a target.”

Nothing happened right after that meeting, but four years later, a fight between the two was revisited and nearly pulled off.


The Greatest vs. The Biggest

The event was supposed to be called The Greatest vs. The Biggest, set to take place on October 4, 1971, at the Houston Astrodome. At that time, Chamberlain was already 34 years old and was near the end of his dominant NBA career. Meanwhile, Ali was 29 years old and was coming off a three-year exile from the sport after he refused to be inducted into the U.S. military and serve in the Vietnam War.

According to boxing promoter Bob Arum, it was Chamberlain’s dream to fight Muhammad Ali for boxing’s heavyweight title. But after Ali lost the belt to Joe Frazier in March 1971, the proposed bout, initially set for June or July that year, appeared to be in peril.


During that time, Arum said Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke offered Chamberlain a lucrative contract to give up what Cooke described as “boxing foolishness.”

“Nevertheless, the lure of the ring appeared to win out. Chamberlain agreed to terms for a non-title match against Ali to be held at the Houston Astrodome. A contract was drawn up by Chamberlain’s lawyer but not signed. Wilt agreed to come to Houston with his lawyer for a press conference to announce the fight, at which time he would ink the pact.”


Lakers ended Wilt’s boxing career before it started

Arum said that Chamberlain was close to signing the contract that he appeared at the Astrodome as agreed upon. But while there, the Lakers continued to pursue him to sign a new contract, which killed the fight.

Added Arum: “Chamberlain and his lawyer excused themselves, went in the next room and called Cooke in Los Angeles and quickly agreed to the terms of the basketball contract, thus ending Chamberlain’s pro boxing career before it even started.”

Arum would insinuate in interviews that Chamberlain got scared of Ali after the boxer taunted him, “Timber! The tree will fall.” During the supposed signing, he immediately called the Lakers that he would sign with them.

However, Chamberlain later said his father convinced him to ditch the fight and work on his free throws instead. Wilt’s foul shooting didn’t improve, but he played two more seasons with the Lakers and won a second championship in 1972 before retiring in 1973.


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