Year-End Notes on Muhammad Ali and Others

muhammad-ali

The end of the year is a time for tieing up loose ends and, often, thinking about the past. Over the years, I’ve written extensively about experiences that I’ve had in boxing. A few more come to mind.

Muhammad Ali was a guest in my homes many times. I’ve written about some of those occasions. But I don’t think I ever put the following recollection on paper.

I make good hot fudge sauce. It’s from an old Julia Child recipe. Once, when Muhammad was at my home for dinner, I served hot fudge sauce over vanilla ice cream for dessert. Muhammad’s portion disappeared quickly. Then, in a show of appreciation – and with a twinkle in his eye – he licked his bowl.

“That’s great,” I thought. “Muhammad likes my fudge sauce.”

Then I had an epiphany on the unfairness of life.

“If Mike Tyson had done exactly the same thing, I’d be sitting here, telling myself that Mike is disgusting and has no manners at all.”

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These are hard times for Don King. He still stops a room when he enters. But his gait is slower than before, and he’s no longer a controlling force in boxing.

My most memorable moment with King came on October 29, 1984. Don was 52 years old then and at the peak of his power.

I spent that day with Mike Jones, who managed WBC 140-pound champion Billy Costello (one of King’s fighters). Don and Mike were engaged in a heated contract negotiation on the fourth floor of King’s East 69th Street townhouse in Manhattan.

The room looked as though it had been furnished as a Hollywood movie set. Thick red carpet, plush leather sofas, a mirrored ceiling and fully mirrored wall, an enormous desk and glass-topped conference table, three television sets, and two huge American flags.

Behind the desk, so they weren’t visible from most parts of the room, six television monitors that were linked to closed-circuit cameras allowed King to monitor the rest of the townhouse.

King had a problem. Mike Jones wasn’t bending to his will. Don sweet-talked; he cajoled; he threatened. A Shakespearean rage was building. Finally, King picked the telephone off his desk and slammed it down. The receiver spun off and twisted wildly, dangling in mid-air. A stream of obscenities followed.

Then King stopped short, looked at me, and shouted, “That white m—–f—– with the yellow pad is writing down everything I say.”

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I was surprised earlier this year to see Lennox Lewis with a shaved head. Lennox had sported dreadlocks since 1995 and was proud of that look.

“What happened?” I asked.

“When I was boxing,” Lennox told me, “I thought of my hair as a symbol of strength, like Samson. But that was then, and now is now. I’m more into business these days, so I’m showing the world a different look.”

“I cut it off last year,” Lennox continued. “I went to my barber in Miami and said, ‘Do it.’ There were no second thoughts, no regrets. You just haven’t seen me since then.”

“But I kept the hair,” Lennox added. “It’s hanging on the wall of my house in a frame that a friend designed for me. The way it looks now, it’s a work of art.”

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And let’s end where we began; with Muhammad Ali.

I go to Las Vegas once or twice a year for fights. When I was young, a “good night” in Las Vagas was hanging out with a hot woman. Now it’s getting eight hours sleep.

I was in the media center at the MGM Grand, talking with Floyd Mayweather Sr the day before his son’s September 14, 2013, fight against Canelo Alvarez.

I think that Floyd Jr is a superb boxer. I don’t think that he merits inclusion on the short list of alltime greats because he has consistently ducked the toughest available opposition and therefore failed to prove himself against the best competition that boxing has to offer.

I asked Floyd Sr, “Who’s greater? Your son or Muhammad Ali?”

“Ali,” Mayweather said without hesitation. “I loved to watch Ali fight. I didn’t like the Muslim part and the hate that came with it. But the way Ali fought, that was beautiful. And he stood up for his people. I would have done it a little different. But he did it, and I didn’t. What he did will never happen again in the ring. Not outside the ring either.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens) was published by Counterpoint.