From my friend, author and historian Bijan Bayne over at the DC Basketball Blog (he authored Sky Kings, one of the first books on the history of black basketball) comes this heads up about the Cassius Clay-Doug Jones heavyweight bout on March 13, 1963:

Frank Forbes

Frank “Strangler” Forbes as he appeared during his basketball playing days.

It turns out that former New York Renaissance player Frank Forbes was a ring judge at the fight. Forbes, who was a member of the first Rens teams during the early 1920s, became a prizefighting referee after retiring from pro basketball. By 1963 he had become a member of the New York State Boxing Commission.

Another former Rens player, Zack Clayton, who was with the team during the late 1930s and early 1940s, was also an official at the Clay-Jones bout. Clayton, who was a star on the Rens team that won the inaugural World Championship of Professional Basketball in 1939, was the official ringside timekeeper for the bout.

In the YouTube video above, both Forbes and Clayton are announced at around 4 minutes into the clip. (By the way this match was only two fights prior to the first Cassius Clay–Sonny Liston fight, after which Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali.)

Zach Clayton

Zach Clayton as a member of the all-black New York Rens professional basketball team.

Players on the New York Rens were no strangers to fisticuffs on the basketball court, especially considering that they faced so many opponents who were not only tough and rugged but also often downright unfriendly, let alone that they were in remote towns far away from home.

John Isaacs, who played with the Rens in the late 1930s and early 1940s, once told me that his teammate Charlie Isle knocked out the teeth of an opposing player on the New York Original Celtics after an on-court spitting incident that was settled with a post-game fist fight in the locker room. That player was Bobby McDermott, now a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But that doesn’t explain why Forbes, whose nickname was “Strangler”, and Clayton were drawn into the sweet science of boxing.

In any case, the Clay-Jones fight was not the last time Zack Clayton would see Cassius Clay (and then Muhammad Ali) in the ring. In 1974, Clayton was the referee in the classic Muhammad Ali – George Foreman heavyweight championship fight later known as the “Rumble in the Jungle.” It was the match in which Ali’s “Rope-A-Dope” strategy was born, and was the subject of the brilliant 1996 documentary When We Were Kings.

Ring referee Zack Clayton steps in to separate Muhammad Ali from George Foreman in the eighth round, a moment before beginning his controversial 10-count on Foreman, who could not get up in time, causing Clayton to wave off the fight and give Ali the knockout victory.

It was Zack Clayton who counted Foreman out and waved off the fight, giving Ali a victory by knockout. There was controversy surrounding Clayton’s call, which some believed was a “quick count,” in other words, not the full ten seconds. Later it was discovered that the ringside announcers calling the fight were too far away from the apron to hear the countdown clearly and that Clayton had actually given Foreman the full amount of time to get up.