Fighters, boxers – they’re an interesting breed. They capture our attention with their superb ring skills, with their bravery, their nerve, with their ability to render another man unconscious with a single blow. But there is so much more to it than that when it comes to stardom, as in these fighters reaching household name status; celebrity. Often, what a fighter says, or has the ability to say, makes him something special.
Over the years, well after the ‘My manager does the talking, I just fight,’ years that dominated the sport in the 1920s, ’30’s, ’40’ and even the ’50s, some genuinely witty, profound, even shocking words have escaped a fighter’s mouth. For when given the opportunity to do so, fighters have shown they have a brain, an intellect, a wisdom – a whole lot to say.
There are other vastly interesting sportsmen, of course, but boxers; you know, the guys who take shots to the head for a living (or try not to) have so often shown that they are the most cerebral, the most funny, the most engrossing speakers in all of sport.
That said, who are the best speakers, the best-ever interviews when it comes to boxers?
Here’s an attempt to break it down:
Let’s face it, love him, dislike him, or be you somewhere in between, Ali was THE talker when it comes to boxing; perhaps any sport. All these years later, and Ali’s famous (or infamous) appearances on all the top talk shows of the 1960s and ’70s – whether he was talking to intellectuals like William F. Buckley, or iconic TV men such as Johnny Carson or, in the UK, Michael Parkinson – are still getting viewing figures in their hundreds of thousands on YouTube and other places. Bottom line: Ali had plenty to say, about so many things, and we listened. And we’re still listening.
Be it religion, politics, sport, or other things, Ali and his unique brain had something to discuss, to debate, to point out. As he said himself many times, Ali was not “just a boxer.” It’s odd, yet today, some forty-plus years on from his final fight, Ali’s interviews/talk show appearances are more entertaining, more engrossing than a good number of his fights (his later fights especially). Ali was special, he was one of a kind. And it’s arguable that he proved this most memorably when on the TV sound stage.
Well-read? Yes. Intelligent? Yes. Owner of his own mind? Yes. Okay, many of Mike Tyson’s TV appearances, his interviews, caused controversy. When he was losing it in a big way and virtually imploding on live television, Tyson was car-crash entertainment. But mixed in with the craziness, with the outbursts he felt were justified (and perhaps were), there was the wisdom, the inner views belonging to Mike. He was, and still is, a fascinating figure. And again, Mike was/is no dummy – he, like Ali before him, could hold his own with some intellectual and political giants. Tyson had plenty to say on so much and his ability to say it belied his poor kid, undereducated background.
Bottom line: when Tyson spoke – be it about boxing, be it about sex, be it about racial issues, be it about money (and being robbed of it) or be it about the very meaning of life – we ALL listened.
Who has lived as many different lives as “Big George!” And as such, with all he has experienced, how could Foreman be anything but a special talker, a must-have guest on any chat show? It’s incredibly ironic how history has described the younger George, the 1970s version, as a man who barely spoke, that he was so bad tempered that he uttered nothing of note. It’s true the older George, the 1980s, 90’s 2000’s and present day George, had more to say, but even the younger version of this remarkable figure was worth listening to (go look at the tapes and see for yourself).
But it was an elder fighter/preacher/salesman that George found his true voice. Who can listen to his (never deviated from) tale of being “born again” in that sweltering 1977 Puerto Rican dressing room – with Foreman quitting the ring instantly after and taking it to the street corners to preach – and not be moved? Who isn’t hanging on every word when George speaks about the many facets of his long, incredibly rich life?
Bottom line: Foreman is special, he is a one-off, he has, as he says himself constantly, been blessed. And it’s a blessing to be able to sit and listen to this worldly man today.
Some other great talkers from the boxing world:
Sonny Liston (an underrated wit)
George Chuvalo (the authority on how to deal with an unfair hand)