On March 22, 1967, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, two men faced off in the ring for boxing’s Heavyweight Championship of the World. In the blue corner was the champ, Muhammad Ali. In the red corner was the challenger from Chandler, Arizona, Zora Folley. What followed was more than a prizefight; it was an event at the crossroads of race, religion, sports, and the politics of America in the 1960s.
“Bigger Than Boxing: Zora Folley and the 1967 Heavyweight Title” opens its year-long run at the Chandler Museum on Aug. 25. This 3,000-square-foot exhibition features the stories of these two boxers, the circumstances that weighed heavily on each man and the fight that was a turning point in both of their careers.
Despite being a top contender for more than 10 years, the 1967 fight was Folley’s first shot at the heavyweight title. Folley took the first few rounds by closing off the ring and patiently waiting for openings to throw his powerful punches. Ali bounced around the ring as he slowly wore down his opponent. As the boxers battled in the ring, residents of Chandler crowded around their radios to listen to the action.
Meanwhile, during one of the most transformative periods in American history, other fights – political and cultural – raged across the United States. Bigger Than Boxing explores the history of boxing and race; examines the life and career of both Zora Folley and Muhammad Ali; and places the fight within the context of its time with sections covering the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and Chandler in the 1960s.
Museum visitors will be able to see how they measure up next to Folley’s and Ali’s wingspans, listen to highlights of the fight as read from the news service ticker tape, and test their knowledge of boxing idioms and trivia. The exhibit also features original artwork by Jerome Fleming.
“Chandler Museum has collected Folley-related photographs and memorabilia for years. We’ve spent a lot of time researching his life and career and are pleased to debut the exhibition which tells a more complete story,” says Museum Administrator Jody Crago. He added, “We are honored that the Folley family shared their stories and memories, as well as objects from their dad’s career, to bring the exhibition alive. We also appreciate the community members who have helped shape this exhibition to ensure that it gives an accurate and thought-provoking look at this time period and the community.”
Speaking on behalf of the Folley family, Zora Folley Jr. says, “We are really excited about this upcoming exhibit displaying our dad’s accomplishments and the recognition that is being bestowed on him by the Chandler Museum.”
“Bigger Than Boxing: Zora Folley and the 1967 Heavyweight Title” will be on display from Aug. 25, 2020, through Aug. 29, 2021. The Chandler Museum is located at 300 S. Chandler Village Drive, southwest of Chandler Fashion Center. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m., and closed Monday. Admission is free.
The Museum has social distancing reminders throughout the building and limits the number of visitors in the exhibit spaces.