Whichever way you look at Muhammad Ali – and it’s impossible to believe that, if you are a boxing fan, a sports fan even, the great man and his hugely eventful life did not have some kind of impact on you, presuming you are old enough – it’s undeniable that “The Greatest” remains a figure of great (there’s that word again: three times used in an opening paragraph) importance and of seemingly eternal interest.
Had he lived, the first three-time heavyweight champion in boxing history would have been celebrating his 78th birthday today. Born in the middleclass surroundings of Louisville, Kentucky in January of 1942, the kid born Cassius Clay would go on to, as he was so fond of saying so many times, “shake up the world.” The young Clay, soon to become, first Cassius X, later Muhammad Ali, this due to his unfortunate but perhaps unavoidable affiliation with the emerging, soon to be quite frightening Nation of Islam, knew he was put on this earth to do great things; special things.
And, wow, how Ali did so. Much (some would say too much, but as an avid Ali fan, no such thing is possible) has been written, filmed and spoken about Ali’s truly astonishing ring exploits, about his amazing achievements. But still there is a demand for more material, more insight. This may or may not come here in 2020, courtesy of HBO’s new documentary: “Ali and Cavett: The Tale Of The Tapes.”
The story, to be televised Feb. 11 will (hopefully) go into great detail about the relationship Ali had with talk show host Dick Cavett; on whose show the champ appeared no less than fourteen times. As fans may know, Ali, a genuine talk show host’s dream guest, lit up shows hosted by the likes of Michael Parkinson (the 1975 show truly incredible stuff to this day) and Johnny Carson, but he also got into some heavy stuff with Cavett.
Cavett never seemed capable of doing a bow down job to Ali, the way some critics say other T.V talk show hosts were guilty of doing, and it will be terribly interesting to see just what Cavett really thought/thinks of Ali. During the January 1974 show on which Cavett had Ali on his sofa, along with upcoming rematch foe Joe Frazier, it appeared as though Cavett was weary of Ali’s bluster, choosing instead to be on Frazier’s team. At least this is how it appears to this writer when watching the show all these years later.
Cavett just never seemed to be overawed or truly impressed by Ali, by his antics, by his views or by his showmanship. Maybe he was, but maybe Cavett hid it so well. Again, let’s hope we find out Dick’s true feelings in the documentary.
We can look forward to this HBO show (or dread it, perhaps) along with new books, new articles and new films devoted to Ali over the coming months, and way beyond. But will we in fact see anything new, anything that has not been said, or written, long before now? The highest hopes in this regard are attached to the upcoming “Ali & Cavett” doc.