Muhammad Ali: Portrait of a Champion – Book Excerpts

An abstract portrait of legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali, uniquely composed of memories, anecdotes, interviews, personal encounters, insider stories, artwork, photos, sketches, etc. 220 pages.

Bob Foster (Ali opponent and former Light Heavyweight champion): “I was on the same card at Caesars with Muhammad Ali. He fought Jerry Quarry and I was fighting his brother Mike Quarry (billed as “The Quarry Brothers vs. The Soul Brothers”). Before the fights that night, Ali bet me $1,000 that he could stop Jerry Quarry before I could stop Mike. I said, ‘I’ll take that bet.’ Because I knew Ali couldn’t punch that hard. And Jerry was tough. I ended up winning the bet. I knocked Mike Quarry out with one shot. And Ali paid me too. ‘Cause he knew if he didn’t, I’d have kicked his ass, right there in Caesars Palace!”
Mrs. Deanna Dempsey (Wife of former Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey): “We met Muhammad Ali in San Juan, Puerto Rico after he beat Jean-Pierre Coopman in 1976. He was young and handsome and vital and so full of life. After the fight, as he was coming down the steps from the ring, Ali spotted Jack and he said, ‘Mr. Dempsey, can I call you Jack?’ Jack said, ‘Everybody calls me Jack.’ Then Muhammad said, Oh Jack, you were the greatest!’ And Jack said, ‘But Muhammad, I thought you always said YOU were the greatest?’ Ali said, ‘Jack. When I say I’m the greatest, it’s all bullshit!'”

Riddick Bowe (Former World Heavyweight champion): “Muhammad Ali is what enticed me to get into boxing. I liked his spirit and I liked his style. And I liked the way he spoke. See, what happened was, I was in junior high school – I was in eighth grade, I was 13 years old – and the reading teacher brought in a tape of Ali. And I just fell in love with Ali from that point on. I said, ‘I wanna be heavyweight champion of the world.’ And about ten years later it took place and it happened. My teacher, she called around a couple of gyms so I could start boxing. So we finally decided to go to Bed-Stuy Boxing Association Club. And I walked into the gym, fought in the Kid Gloves, the Golden Gloves, the Junior Olympics, and I realized in that time I could be champ. Because I did feel a certain ease, you know? A lot of guys had a lot more experience than I had but I was beatin’ up all them guys like I was there the whole time they were.”

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James ‘Buster’ Douglas (Former World Heavyweight champion): “Muhammad Ali made such an impact on boxing and was a beautiful boxer. He had a beautiful jab. I met him on several occasions, kicked it with him, we had a ball. It isn’t like it usually is where your expectations are too high. It wasn’t like that. It was even more than I expected. He said he liked my style. He told me he was jumping up and down, and jumping out of his chair watching the Tyson fight. It was a thrill to bring pleasure to a man who brought so much pleasure to me.”

Bernard Hopkins (Former Middleweight and Light Heavyweight champion): “I met Muhammad Ali a few times. He came to Ecuador for my first title fight against Segundo Mercado. Don King brought him. He still had his sense of humor. I had goosebumps. When I started my career I never thought I’d be next to guys like that. Me and his birthdays are a few days apart, we’re both Capricorns.”

Angelo Dundee (Ali’s trainer): “I first met Ali when he was an amateur in 1959. I used to go to Louisville with my fighters – Jimmy Beecham, Luis Rodriguez, Willie Pastrano. In fact, the biggest draw in Louisville was Willie Pastrano. And Willie fought Alonzo Johnson. That’s when I met Muhammad. Muhammad called me from the hotel lobby…’This is Cassius Marcellus Clay. I’m the Golden Gloves champ of Louisville. I won the Gloves in Chicago, I won the Gloves in Seattle. And I want to talk with you.’ I said to Willie, ‘If the guy is some nut downstairs and if you want to let him come up and talk with us?’ And Willie said, ‘Ehh, well the TV stinks. Let him come up.’ And Muhammad came up. Very interesting young man. Kid wanted to know about how my fighters train, how they ran. Because he said he watched me a lot on TV. I had a lot of TV fighters back then in those days. It was a ton of fun. He was a student of boxing. He wanted to know the intricate things about it. I worked with the kid.

Showed him the do’s and don’ts. Naturally, he had his own ideas and conceptions on what should be done. But I sort of gave him some advice. That was the first time I met him. And when my fighters would come back to Louisville, he would look them up. A lot of times I wouldn’t be with them. Like Luis Rodriguez would fight in Louisville. Muhammad would go in there and come into the fight with Luis. He grew to love Luis. Because Muhammad got to like all my guys. My guys were easy to like, ’cause they’re good kids. You’ll find out something, by the way, 99% of fighters are good kids. Because of the life they’ve got to lead. It’s a tough life. And nobody has bigger respect for the fistic guys than me. ‘Cause I appreciate what they’ve got to go through.”
“You can’t connect anybody to Ali. Then you’re being unfair to people. Muhammad Ali changed the whole scenario. He was the first boxer to do all the talking in and out of the ring. Before Ali, the managers used to do the talking for the fighter. Ali changed all that. The first four years of Ali’s career, they thought I was a mute [laughs]! A lot of guys can fight in the ring but they can’t handle the stuff outside the ring. I think the newspaper guys made Ali sharp. Jimmy Cannon, Shirley Povich, all the great writers back then…they made Ali glib and sharp. He had to be…to deal with their questions. That’s why Muhammad Ali got better and better at it. He wasn’t that sharp as a kid. But he got much better as he went along.”
Chuck Wepner (Ali Opponent): “The Ali fight, that was the best I ever felt in the ring. Going 15 rounds. It’s the only fight I ever trained for full time in my career, my entire career. I got sent to camp by Don King. The other fights I used to have to run in the morning, work in the day, train at night. It’s tough to really get on top of your game when you have to do that. For the Ali fight, I trained for seven weeks and I showed a lot of people I was better than they thought I was. After the fight Ali said, ‘I told you that guy was a tough guy. I would never fight that guy in an alley, he was a great fighter.’ That’s why he never gave me a name (like) the Mummy. He said, ‘I respect Chuck Wepner.’ He was always a gentleman to me and he always respected me and I respect him back. I love Muhammad Ali. It was not only a great opportunity for me but a great honor to fight him.”
Mike Tyson (Former Heavyweight Champion): “I remember like it was yesterday. Seeing Muhammad Ali for the first time. He came to Spofford Juvenile Detention Center. He lit the place up with his charm and charisma. I remember thinking, I just want to be in that man’s presence again.”

Mario Costa (Boxing manager): “I was in the dressing room with Mike Tyson after he lost his last fight to Kevin McBride in Louisville. Muhammad Ali was there. After the fight, Ali came to the dressing room to be with Mike. Mike wasn’t talking, you could tell he was sad. I remember they were both sitting on a bench together, just the two of them. Two great champions. It was very quiet. And Ali pulled out his comb and started combing Mike’s hair, like to tell him, You’re still pretty like me. He was trying to make Mike feel good in such a down moment.”

Kevin Rooney Discusses Mike Tyson vs. Muhammad Ali.

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I did this interview with Kevin Rooney in New York City in 2004.
Question: When was Mike at his prime best?

Kevin Rooney: “When he beat Michael Spinks. He just wiped him out. Before that he beat Tony Tucker and Tyrell Biggs, the main fighters back then. He wiped out Tony Tucker – he won a 12 round decision, I mean, he kicked his ass. Then he knocked out Tyrell Biggs. He knocked out Larry Holmes. Then he fought Tony Tubbs in Japan – he starched him in two rounds. Then he knocked out Michael Spinks in 90 seconds. 90 seconds. It wasn’t a joke. I mean, he knocked him out. So I think that fighter, in my opinion, could have and should have probably beaten anybody that was in his path. Anybody including Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. Well, I’ll give Muhammad Ali and Rocky – well it could have been different, I mean, Rocky punched like hell. Muhammad punched like hell. Rocky had beat everyone. Muhammad had heart and was hard to hit. The fights would have been interesting. But I believe that Mike would have come out the better. Because he punched very hard [laughs]. Mike…I believe that Mike is one of the hardest punchers in history. He punches harder than Rocky. Punches harder than Joe Louis. Punches harder than George Foreman.”

Question: Didn’t sparring guys come to the gym, see Mike punch, then leave the gym?

Kevin Rooney: “I don’t remember the guy’s name. I believe he was being paid $400 a week. This was in the early 80′s. The guy gets into the ring [laughs]. Bell rings, Mike comes out, bop, bop, bop. Mike throws combinations. He put his hands up, like, Hold it. He steps out of the ring over the top rope – he was big, like 6-4, 6-5 – and walks out of the front door. Didn’t look for his pay, just gone. We’re all like, what’s happening?! He wanted nothing to do with Mike. He just left. It was funny. Cus (D’Amato), Bill (Cayton), Jim (Jacobs) and Steve (Lott) would bring in a lot of fighters, just do one round. James Broad was a tough guy. There was a guy who would stay in there and give Mike the work, but then took a beating. I mean, every day they took a beating every day. That’s the way Mike was. He was strong, determined, and he wanted to hurt you.”

Question: When do you believe Ali was at his prime and what would your strategy be for Mike vs. Ali?

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Kevin Rooney: “1966, ’67, ’68, in that time frame. After he beat Liston he just started annihilating guys that were going for the title. Knockin’ people out cold in tough fights, guys that weren’t pushovers. Muhammad dominated. The Muhammad Ali in 1966-67 and Mike Tyson in 1986-87-88-89 – that would have been an incredible fight. I think Mike would have won. He punched harder than Muhammad. But at that point, Muhammad would have had just a little bit more experience. Mike punched hard. Mike really, really punched hard. You’re talking about a kid, 20, 21, 22, against Ali who was 23, 24. It would have been a helluva fight. I would want Mike to put tremendous pressure on him. Cut him off. Get him on the ropes. Wing body shots and the uppercuts. Step to the side and if you got lucky enough, hit him with the right hand or left hook and he would be gone. But see, Muhammad was a great, great fighter. We call him the greatest fighter ever, he took a helluva shot. He never dogged it, he never quit. But the Mike Tyson that I was training – coming off of Cus D’Amato – I just think that that Mike Tyson would have won. Because he punched fast and hard. That’s a difficult combination to deal with…”

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