This writer first met Muhammad Ali back in 1973 in Center City Philadelphia and half a dozen more times after that at his Deer Lake, PA, training camp now called “Fighter’s Heaven” owned by Mike Madden, the son of Oakland Raider coach John Madden.
This writer while working for Doghouse Boxing and now Brick City Boxing has written the following articles on Ali:
This article will be the twelfth I’ve written on Ali.
Ali saw professional wrestler Gorgeous George irritate the crowd to the point they hated him and wanted to see him lose. Ali took the idea and ran with it. When I was stationed at Ft. Jackson, SC, in the US Army Ali refused induction and it made all of us there mad. It wasn’t until last year someone told me if he went into the service the Muslims would have killed him. I don’t know if that was true or not.
Ali was from Louisville, KY, and lived at 70th & Overbrook in Philadelphia in the early 70’s when he taunted Philly’s “Smokin” Joe Frazier. He moved to Cherry Hill, NJ, when I met him in 1973.
Ali was one of the funniest human beings I ever met. If you met him you loved him. Prior to that you may have hated him! He had that kind of reaction to people. You didn’t have to be a boxing or even a sports fan to know who Muhammad Ali was. As I write this article I am wearing one of Ali’s shirts of which I have another one. I would go into the prison visiting another ex-fighter and walk up to the prison inmates and say “you got a problem with the shirt?” They would laugh and say “no way!” It’s Ali standing over Sonny Liston.
Ali had two boxing careers when he refused induction he lost almost four years of his profession. To make a living he toured college campus’s giving talks. He was never the same when he returned to the sport. The once almost invisible defensive boxer all of a sudden was getting hit. Making it worse was when he won the world heavyweight title for the third time, setting a record, defeating then champion “Big” George Foreman in Zaire, Africa, “The Rumble in the Jungle” he adopted the “rope-a-dope” defense allowing his opponent to hit him on the arms that he held in front of his face and any other part of his body until they punched their selves out hopefully! That caused him to receive even more punishment to the head and body.
Ali would eventually be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Whether the punches he received in boxing helped bring it about only a medical doctor would know. He retired from boxing in 1981 and was diagnosed in 1984. He showed signs of this disease years before he retired. In 1996 at the summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA, Ali was given the position of lighting the flame to start the games. He shook so bad from Parkinson’s it was sad. “Smokin” Joe Frazier made a light about it.
Ali was married four times. I met his second wife Belinda Boyd at their Cherry Hill, NJ, home in 1973, two weeks after meeting him in Philly after his first fight with Ken Norton when he got his jaw broken. I have a picture with Ali in 1977 at his Deer Lake camp. On the back of it I have a picture of his third wife Veronica and Ali’s Stutz Bearcat automobile that his good friend Elvis Presley had. I was told only eight were made that year and they had two of them.
When I saw Ali for the last time in 1980 while he was training for that ill-advised Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes or what Ali called him “Peanut Head” he was so out of shape I remarked “Look at the shape you are in. Why are you taking this fight?” He slapped his belly and said “I like my ice cream?” It would be his next to last encounter in the ring and the only time in his career he would be stopped in sixty-one fights. Holmes was seeking revenge for all the sparring he did with Ali getting beat up. He claimed to love Ali but had a poor way of showing it in their match. After he destroyed Frazier’s son Marvis in the first round he said “that’s for all the whipping’s your daddy gave me in the ring (sparring)!” So he probably meant but didn’t say it about Ali knowing how popular Ali was at the time of their match.
Love him or hate him, Ali was in the eyes of many of his followers considered “The Greatest!” That goes for in the ring or out!