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01-28-04, 12:22 PM #1
Marine NCO boxed against Muhammad Ali — and won
Issue Date: February 02, 2004
The Lore of the Corps
Marine NCO boxed against Muhammad Ali — and won
By Bryant Jordan
Times staff writer
A new platoon sergeant for Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, had just arrived in Vietnam, and though he’d spent his years in the Corps in special services, not infantry, he stood before the men he’d be leading and told them there were a few things they needed to know.
“The first thing is, I’m the only man in the world that ever whipped Clay,” said the 6-foot-4-inch, 200-plus-pound staff sergeant. He also made it clear he wasn’t a “new guy,” and that this was his second tour, recalled Brian E. Howard of Tustin, Mo., a private first class at the time. Howard remembered the staff sergeant telling his men that “if anyone had a problem with his orders or anything else, to get two of their buddies and he’ll take care of them all behind the tent.”
There was no reason to doubt the man, since the first two points he made were facts. Staff Sgt. Percy J. Price was on his second tour in Vietnam, and he was the only man anywhere who could claim to have stepped into the ring with Cassius Clay — later known to the rest of the world as Muhammad Ali — and stepped out the winner.
“The guy had the biggest ******* fists I’ve ever seen on a man,” Howard said.
Price was from Philadelphia. He joined the Corps in 1955 at age 18. He was a boxer, a heavyweight, and five years into his service, he was on the Marine boxing team and contending for a position on the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.
It was during the Olympic trials that Price and other U.S. boxers faced off against each other in hope of getting onto the team that would fight in Italy that year.
Ron Miller, a columnist and former TV editor with the San Jose Mercury News in California, was a freelance writer in 1960 covering professional matches for the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote that his press credentials got him ringside for the trials, held at the Cow Palace near San Francisco.
In a Feb. 17, 2002, column, Miller recalled as “the best heavyweight boxer in the collegiate ranks — our Archie Melton — ran into a monster from the U.S. Marine Corps called Percy Price. In the NCAA, Melton was sheer domination. He intimidated everybody and usually won going away. At the trials, Price hit Melton so hard that he flattened him right out. … It was like seeing Godzilla run over by a steamroller as big as the Empire State Building.”
Price’s victory over Ali was not as dramatic.
“It was just a decision fight,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Matt Hardiman, a 30-year Marine who knew and, at times, even coached Price throughout his career. “Percy could hit with both hands. He had hands as big as hams. We had to get special gloves for him.”
Price did not demolish Ali as he had Melton, but the defeat was significant. Not only would it give Price bragging rights to something no one else would be able to say until 1971 — when Joe Frazier defeated Ali — it caused the 18-year-old Ali to move into the light-heavyweight division for the Olympics.
Both men went with the team to Rome, where Price brought home bronze in the heavyweight division and Ali took home the gold.
After the 1960 Olympics, Ali turned pro and Price returned to the Corps and all that that meant, including combat.
When he arrived in Vietnam in 1967, his boxing skills still were sharp but the fundamental infantry skills were somewhat dulled from lack of use and training, recalled his platoon commander, Nick Hoskot of Fallbrook, Calif.
“The Marine Corps, because of his boxing skills, promoted him but kept him in Special Service jobs, available for coaching [boxing] or boxing if they needed to use him again,” said Hoskot, a first lieutenant when he met Price. “That reduced his combat-knowledge skills, like map reading, calling fire … but he was a very courageous guy. … He made a real effort to relearn the skills he used to have.”
He used them in Operation Union 1, when his platoon walked into a rice paddy and suddenly came under fire from three sides. “We lost a number of corpsmen and Marines that day,” Hoskot said. “Here’s Percy, a huge lump in this rice paddy trying to make himself look small.”
Adding to the chaos, Price’s M16 jammed, Hoskot said. It was a new weapon to the Marines and disliked because of its tendency to jam, he said. When it was over, he remembered, Percy came in “spitting mad because his M16 wouldn’t work.”
“I said, ‘What did you do?’ He said, ‘broke it down and tried to clean it,’”Hoskot said.
Robert Menard of Ashland, Wis., who also as a first lieutenant commanded Bravo Platoon, called Price “one of the greatest, most dependable staff NCOs that I ever worked with.”
In the first five or six weeks he headed the platoon, Menard recalled, every Marine in Bravo was either killed or wounded. Everyone was seeing combat, including Price.
“Percy Price was a stable, dependable individual who never got overexcited but always was there,” he said.
Notwithstanding his initial remarks to his platoon, Price did not make a great deal out of his fight with Ali, according to Hardiman and others.
In a 1967 interview with Stars & Stripes Pacific, in fact, Price said he considered Ali — whom the paper said he still called Clay — as one of his best friends.
“We write to each other a lot and he even asked me to work for him as a sparring partner,” Price said.
Price never did leave the Corps to spar with Ali, but remained in uniform until 1976. Along the way, he took part in a total of 400 amateur bouts for the Corps, according to The Associated Press, won two Interservice titles, a Counseil Internationale du Sports Militaire crown and three All-Marine championships.
He retired in Jacksonville, N.C., said Hardiman, who remained friends with Price in retirement as well. The two attended the same church, he said, and once offered boxing lessons to the children of the parish.
“It didn’t last long,” he said. Parents thought their sons would learn a few jabs, blocks and dance around a bit, he said. But the lessons ended, he said, “when the kids went home with broken braces and black eyes.”
Price died at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital on Jan. 12, 1989, of a kidney infection, according to an AP obituary. He was 52.
I met this Marine....In Oki...at the 3rdFSR...Staff NCO Club.....
When I was celebrating my promotion to SSgt..
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
12-20-05, 05:05 PM #2
Photo of Percy and I in Danang
Here is a photo of Percy and I in 1965 at Danang VN.
07-01-07, 06:59 PM #3
I'm the daughter of Percy J Price if you have any more information on my father could please let me know.
07-01-07, 08:05 PM #4
I remember s/sgt Price.he was quite a Marine!!Did't know him personally,but saw him around the Bn.CP.His reputation preceded him!
07-15-07, 08:38 PM #5
Cool stuff, love reading USMC history.
08-05-07, 09:44 AM #6
Sgt Price pinned my stripes on in 1964 H & S Co.. 1/8
Corporal Marvin Maddox
Scout Sniper S2 1/8
My boxing began with Ken Norton at Camp Lejuene
Another awesome opponent
01-30-08, 09:48 AM #7
First met Percy at Quantico 1958 or 59, then met him again around 1980 at a Disable American Veteran meeting .I enjoyed talking with him and other members of DAV#16 Jacksonville.They were all a GREAT bunch of MARINES to the end.
01-30-08, 02:10 PM #8
I talked to his daughter, Donna, (see above post by her), in a few emails. I hope she was able to get some additonal info on her dad. She said that Sgt. Prices divorce was what happened to all of his personal memorabilia....can't remember if she said the first or second wife chucked it all...what a freaken waste.
04-15-12, 08:39 PM #9
I'm a Navy Corpsman, stationed with Percy on board the USS Renville when he was with 3/9 out of Okinawa. Wec were one of the first ships to arrive in Vietnam. We had BLT 3/9 on board and cruised off the coast of VN for months it seemed like and we became great friends. I remember once in Okinawa, he and I were walking in a section called "4 Corners" (where all the Brothers hung out) and a Marine started to Bad mouth me. Percy stepped up and announced " "You don't F--- with my Corpsman, Marine". That was the end of that !!! He was a great guy, so sorry to hear of your loss.
J. Washington, HM1/USN,ret
04-16-12, 07:36 AM #10
I met your Dad, SSgt. Price while I was in Okinawa. He was quite the Marine. He was the 1st Marine to defeat Cassius Clay (Muhhamed Ali). The 2nd Marine was Ken Norton and the 3rd Marine was Leon Spinks.
05-27-12, 07:51 PM #11
Hi Donna, my husband served with your dad in Vietnam 1967-68. While in Vietnam he sent me an article about him with a picture. My husband mentioned him several times in his letters. He had the utmost respect for you father. He was due to come home from VN in April 1968 but S/Sgt Price came into his houch on March 12 and said I have 2 seats to get out of this hell hole, Koelsch and Haley get out of here. Thanks to your dad, my husband came home. I hope this enlighhtens you a little as to the character of your father. My husband passed away Sept. 2011 of lymphoma. Due to Agent Orange. Feel free to contact me.
09-13-12, 08:41 PM #12
Percy Price entered the US Marine Corps in 1955 and joined the Marine boxing team. He made the 1960 Olympic team, and defeated Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali in trial matches to earn the position as the US heavyweight at Roma. Price won one match in Roma but lost in the quarter-finals. He is the last American heavyweight Olympian to not become a professional boxer. He remained in the Marines as a career military man, but he continued to box. He would later win three All-Marine Championships, two Interservice Titles, and won one title at the Conseil Internationale du Sport Militarie (CISM) meet. Price served two tours in Vietnam as a staff sergeant. He retired from the Marines in 1976 but settled in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where he had been stationed at Camp Lejeune. He died rather young from a kidney infection.
Results Glossary · SHARESHARE [X] · Embed · CSV · PRE · LINK · ?
Games Age City Sport Event Team NOC Rank Medal
1960 Summer 24 Roma Boxing Men's Heavyweight United States USA 5T
Men's HeavyweightEvent History · Glossary · SHARESHARE [X] · Embed · CSV · PRE · LINK · ?
Games Age City Sport Team NOC Phase Unit Rank Date Result JF J1S J2S J3S J4S J5S TJP MR R
1960 Summer 24 Roma Boxing United States USA Quarter-Finals Match #1 2 1960-09-02 Němec (TCH) , Price, Jr. (USA) 1 57 58 58 60 58 291
1960 Summer 24 Roma Boxing United States USA Round Two Match #2 1 1960-08-31 Price, Jr. (USA) , Taylor (AUS) knock-out 2
1960 Summer 24 Roma Boxing United States USA Round One Match #3 1 1960-08-25 Price, Jr. (USA) bye
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