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The Brennan-Ali connection

Muhammad Ali, who was initially known universally by his birth name Cassius Clay, has been anointed the Sports Illustrated greatest boxer of the last century and the British Broadcasting Company(BBC)top Sports Personality of the same time span.

Many people are linked with the rise to fame of this legendary figure. He has been the subject of scores of books and documentaries. The roles of countless numbers of opponents and boxing people have been documented.

There is one though, a Bahamian, who has been under the radar all these years with his valuable contribution to Ali’s development process as the world’s greatest ever heavyweight boxer, never a highlighted item. I refer to the Biminite Gomeo Brennan.

In October of 1963, Brennan became the first Bahamian boxer to win a notable international professional title. He captured the Commonwealth(British Empire)middleweight championship by beating Mickey Leahy. Angelo Dundee was in his corner.

Other than Brennan, at the time, former world featherweight, middleweight and light

heavyweight champions respectively, Sugar Ramos, Carmen Basilio and Willie Pastrano, were also in the Dundee camp. Earlier in 1963, Dundee made a trip to Louisville, Kentucky with Pastrano and Ramos. Louisville was the home of the then young Cassius Clay who had won the 1960 Olympic gold medal in the light heavyweight division. He heard that Dundee was in town and arranged a meeting.

At the time, Clay and the Louisville Group that handled his affairs were in the market for a trainer. The’Old Mongoose’Archie Moore was the front-runner. There was also consideration of the greatest of them all, pound-for-pound, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Dundee emerged after talks with Clay and his business group as the trainer and his name was to forever be closely associated with the success of the man considered the most exciting figure in all of sports.

Accordingly, for the next 18 years, until he retired(rather late)in 1981 following the Drama in Bahama decision loss to Trevor Berbick, Clay/Ali did much of his training at the Fifth Street Gym in Miami, the base of Angelo and his brother/promoter/manager Chris.

Ali patterned himself after Sugar Ray Robinson. He determined that speed, movement, and style in the ring was a combination that could make him last for a long time as a prime figure in the heavyweight division. He turned out to be correct.

It was Brennan who helped maintain that dimension which became the brilliant feature that made a difference for him for the remainder of his career as Cassius Clay(the Muhammad Ali era officially began in 1964 after he won the title from Sonny Liston on February 25 of that year); and throughout most of the glorious period when the name’Ali’became a world household name.

Brennan and Ali boxed hundreds of rounds because the swift, smooth, crafty Bahamian had the ring ingredients that best fed the ring appetite of the man who coined the signature statement,”I am the greatest.”

Working with Ali was one of the special chapters of Brennan’s career. He recalls Dundee once pointing out to him that”the reason Ali likes to work with you is because you are so slick. Man, you’re slick.”

He remembers also easily out-manoeuvering the big guy who tried unsuccessfully to corner him or pin him up against the ropes.

“He said to me once that he wished I was heavier. What he meant was that if I could have come up to the heavyweight poundage(around 185-190), we could have had an official match,”recalled Brennan recently.

What would have been the outcome?

The view here is that Brennan because of his ring mastery, would have been as frustrating for Clay as was Doug Jones; and difficult for Ali as was Jimmy Young. They were both shrewd ring stylists Ali was never able to catch up with although he won decisions in both cases.

Brennan never got large enough in size to warrant a real match with Ali but the time spent together in the ring at the Fifth Street Gym was a significant element in the development process of a brash American boxer who became arguably the most popular citizen of the world.

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