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Is Kosei Tanaka the World’s Brightest Prospect?

Matt McGrain

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By my reckoning Naoya Inoue was the prospect of the year in January 2013 and the fighter of the year by January 2015; that is an astonishing rate of development. The temptation when a major force of boxing potential is born outside the United States is to ask, “He looks good, but will he travel well?”

But like the top British fighters, top Japanese don’t have to travel at all. They can make a lifetime of money boxing on their own shores. Where the Japanese differ from the British is in their ability to buy in the very best fighters from the rest of the world to provide the sternest tests for their potential conquistadors at home. Bringing the world’s #1 minimumweight Adrian Hernandez and the #1 junior bantamweight Omar Narvaez to Japan in order that they may suffer Naoya’s tender attentions has made him one of the feared fighters in the world with his professional record just 8-0 and at the age of just twenty-one. A Japanese prospect with world-class potential is not “held back”, is not allowed to “gain experience” and is not permitted to “get rounds under their belt.” Instead, they fight the best their fledging abilities allow.

Nineteen years of age with a professional record of just 4-0, Kosei Tanaka will probably fight a ranked opponent for an alphabet strap in 2015. A minimumweight, he has already been scheduled for twelve rounds in a fight that went ten, and he has never indulged in the traditional four round encounters that buoy prospects concerned about fitness and stamina. Even compared to Naoya he is ahead of the absurd learning curve set for the best Japanese prospects, so much so that if we don’t take a detailed look at him now, at just four fights, we will likely be looking at a contender or strapholder rather than a prospect. So here is a tentative breakdown of how good this teenager is – and just how good he might become.

Style

Tanaka is a box-mover in the truest sense, a methodology designed to embrace to the greatest extent his natural gifts. In danger of becoming a national style in Japan, it works well for any fighter with the necessary speed, stamina and temperament, and it forms the first line of defence for a fighter capable of its execution. Tanaka’s default style is one of retreat, but he is moving away in narrow circles, moving the opponent into range rather than moving himself out of it. While it forms a natural barrier to opposition forages, it also calls for a high degree of judgment and discipline and an ability to recognise viable openings in accordance with the fighter’s own physical abilities. Fortunately, Tanaka is naturally aggressive. Married to this mobile style is a spiteful determination to fight which happily bridges the gap between not enough and too much.

An accomplished amateur without being storied or draped in gold, he bested the much-hyped younger Inoue brother, Takuma, overall in their several unpaid encounters – but little of the amateur remains. Perhaps lacking a little in the fluidity and improvisational skill he now displays, it is nevertheless clear that despite the pillows and the headgear, Takuma’s brief stay in the amateurs was used not as a springboard to an Olympic gold medal but in the old fashioned way: to hone a professional.

Balance and Footwork

It is not a particularly interesting nor an insightful thing to say, but Tanaka’s balance is already elite. In his first fight he was matched with Oscar Raknafa, a fighter who moved up to flyweight and embraced a sad fate as a professional loser, but at minimumweight had never been stopped and had been the national champion of Indonesia for a year before gaining a regional strap. He was far from typical as a debut opponent, even for an elite prospect. Winning every one of the six rounds, Tanaka also dropped Raknafa in the first with a beautiful combination born first and foremost of his ability to make a punching out of movement.

Winning every one of the six rounds, Tanaka also dropped Raknafa in the first with a beautiful combination born first and foremost of his ability to create punching opportunities with movement alone.

On no notice he can dip through his right knee to support a firecracker right hand, as he did with thirty seconds departed of round two in the same fight, but he also has the skill in footwork to augment his balanced offence, using steps to escape again in a tight circle. This bobbing, mobile style is a variation of what made Manny Pacquiao so dangerous, and although those comparisons begin and end right there, the boy moves well enough that it is a valid one.

The only concern in this department is a possible lack of economy. If Tanaka has to fight defensively or force a lead he will be forced to take many more steps than his opponent to do so. Does he have the engine for it, and if he does, will he carry his power late enough for it to matter?

Technique on Defence

The choice for Tanaka’s second professional opponent was fascinating to me. The man who got the nod was Ronelle Ferreras (13-6-2 going in), a twenty-eight year old Filipino with a great jaw and a line in losing whenever he stepped up in class. A typical opponent then for most prospects bowed by the weight of the tag “future world champion” but what set Ferreras apart was that he was a southpaw. The only film in existence of Tanaka really struggling is against a southpaw, an amateur and 2014 Asian Youth Games bronze medallist, Erdenebat Tsendbaatar out of Mongolia. Tsendbaatar walked Tanaka onto repeated straight left hands out of the southpaw stance, and although Tanaka was never in trouble, nor discouraged, he was caught flush on several occasions.

Defensively, Tanaka uses movement and a disciplined high-guard to make him hard to hit, but he is no Cuban exile – he is a Japanese stylist and as such he comes to fight and inevitably will be, at times, there to be hit. If Ferreras was able to take advantage of a stylistic predisposition to violence in combination with a possible weakness against the southpaw left, perhaps he would be able to trouble Tanaka.

In reality, he hardly landed a straight left hand all night. Most of his success occurred on the inside, where Tanaka’s tightly regulated guard smothered most of his work. The Japanese ducked and stepped away from most of the Filipino’s offence on the outside while unleashing his latest pet punch, a caning right hand to the body.

It is a body attack to which he may be most vulnerable himself but he has never looked close to being overwhelmed against either good amateur competition or limited professional competition – although, I think Ryuji Hara hurt him with a body shot in the ninth round of their contest from October of last year. Despite that, the movement upon which his style is founded should lend him some protection.

This naturally occurring defence is an enormous boon for an aggressive young fighter and although some more advanced punch-picking wouldn’t hurt, his defence is essentially in line with his style, having improved dramatically since his amateur days.

Technique on Offence

Tanaka is brilliant on offence. Even before he turned professional a commitment to a withering body-attack and a sure fluidity at all ranges marked him out as a fighter destined to make a splash as a professional. That said, his inability to stop Ferreras or Raknafa despite dominating performances did make me wonder about the kid from Nagoya. His absurd first round knockout of Crison Omayao was the perfect tonic.

Omayao was the debut opponent for the devastating Naoya Inoue, a fight in which he managed no fewer than four rounds. Tanaka took him out in less than two minutes and he did it using his right, which looked the technically weaker of the two hands up until that point. Not that the finishing punches were necessarily textbook, but rather the type of marauding, booming crushers more suited to a heavyweight journeyman on the make. The end result was a stupefied Omayao regaining his feet but loose-limbed and vacant, staring across the ring as though confronted by the avenging angel itself. The referee took a brief look and then waved off the only fight that allows a direct comparison between Tanaka and Naoya, a comparison that on paper finds Naoya wanting.

His left hand is a thing of wonder. Against Raknafa he landed a left-hook double-jab combination to set up the brutalising right hand in the literal blink of an eye; it’s a can-opener of a punch, the rapier to the right-hand bazooka, two weapons that complement each other perfectly. Combinations beyond the reach of eight year professionals are at his fingertips.

A very healthy habit of adding punches with each successive fight can come to an end without further evolution and leave behind a varied attack based upon a snapping jab that unlocks a wide reserve of power punches. Great offence, when it evolves, tends to be based upon great punch selection, swift persistence in throwing or a combination of the two; Tanaka falls happily into this final category.

Temperament and Generalship

Generalship is a natural gift of Tanaka’s style. It provides a natural control over territory via small-moves ring-centre and the only way to challenge him directly is with a head on assault that rather plays into his style on offence, or a retreat, always a compromise on the scorecards and an invitation to measure pure technical ability with a fighter who looks to be a near world-class technician after just four fights. The flip side of this gold coin is tarnished by a necessity for patience and for the discipline to stick to a naturalised gameplan regardless of provocation.

Precious film of one of Tanaka’s confrontations with Takuma Inoue in the amateurs provides an answer to the question of whether Tanaka is this sort of man affirmatively. Inoue looks faster, stronger and more aggressive in the opening rounds of this contest, and although Tanaka appears already to be the more technically proficient the sheer pace at which the contest is being hustled sees him miss plenty of punches. Tanaka does not panic. He just sticks to his boxing and by the end of the third round the faster, more aggressive Takuma has been handled, is giving ground and getting hit.

Professionally he showed great patience in returning to his boxing after dropping Raknafa and in outwaiting and outfighting Hara. The pressure on this young man’s shoulders is incredible, the weight of expectation severe. All the outward signs are that he is equal to it.

Punch Resistance and Stamina

It is unusual for a four-fight professional to provide much in the way of evidence one way or the other in these categories, but Tanaka’s advancement has been so swift that we can draw certain tentative conclusions.

In his fourth fight, he met 18-0 prospect Ryuji Hara. Hara is an excellent talent, a fluid puncher with fast hands and a nice line in two piece combinations that often end in body punches. Tanaka dropped a handful of frames on the way to stopping him in the tenth round of a fight that demonstrated his ability to fight at pace and retain his power into the late rounds.

Despite having a fraction of his opponent’s experience over longer distances and despite having suffered the unwanted attentions of Hara’s violent body-attack, Tanaka was far the fresher man down the straight. His footwork was undiminished, his reactions were unimpaired, and although he sought to rest once in the eighth and once in the ninth, his output was basically unaffected. The end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth was something of a zenith in Tanaka’s fledgling career – in the final minutes of a hard fight, he absolutely poured on punches for a stoppage that was a mercy.

Hara also landed his own punches during savage, lightning exchanges but one or two body shots aside, I was of the impression that Tanaka was never caught absolutely clean by the romping offence coming his way. This hints at superb radar, but doesn’t help in appraising the fighter’s chin. I turned to Asianboxing.com’s Takahiro Onaga for a second opinion.

“As a professional, no I don’t think he has been properly chin-checked,” offered Takahiro. “However, he’s never seemed bothered being tagged, and has shown a willingness to mix it up as and when he chooses. I suspect he’s very confident in his [chin].”

I agree, and this is reassuring – but like every potential champion, his moment of truth lies ahead.

Speed and Power

Tanaka is fast. Because he has a rangy feel and boxes tall, there is a sense that he might come second against the very fastest fighters in a straight-up quick-draw, but I am not entirely convinced there is any fighter in the world that puts together combinations faster. He is blindingly fast between punches and the fourth is as fast as the first.

In terms of his hitting power I have reservations. In his debut against Raknafa, he couldn’t get the stoppage despite landing punches with impunity. While it is true that Raknafa had never been stopped, he has been since – in fact, he’s been stopped in every outing since Tanaka in seven, six and four rounds against decent flyweight opposition. Presuming Tanaka did not break him (which seems premature), what this tells us is that on his debut, Tanaka did not have power that could rank him a puncher at flyweight. At nineteen years of age, flyweight is where he is eventually headed – if this read is accurate, he will not rate a knockout artist there.

His technique is superb and I can’t imagine an augmentation adding pounds per square inch, but he might get more power in line with weight gain. This is the best he could hope for I think, and it would make him a dangerous puncher. This could lead to many accumulation stoppages, but I don’t think he will ever be the kind of fighter to be rescued by his power.

Next

“There is no beef,” Takahiro told me in answer to my question about Tanaka and the Inoue brothers. “They are said to be somewhat friendly. I suspect they have a general respect for each other.”

Nevertheless, it is likely that the paths of one or both the Inoue brothers converge with that of Tanaka at some point in the near future. In the meantime, Wanheng Menayothin has been made the primary target for team Tanaka. The #2 ranked minimumweight is the holder of a belt and seemingly available, although a dominant performance against the unbeaten Jeff Galero may have made Katsunari Takayama and a Japanese superfight the more attractive option. Either way, Tanaka is looking at a major step up as early as his very next fight.

Personally, I make him a favourite to beat either of them.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Vic Pasillas: An East L.A. Fighter

David A. Avila

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When East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas enters the prize ring this weekend he follows a path that many from his area have trod before. Not all were successful, but those that succeed become near legendary.

But it’s definitely not easy being from East L.A.

Pasillas (16-0, 9 KOs) meets Michigan’s Raeese Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs) for the vacant interim WBA featherweight title on Saturday Jan. 23, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise live.

Once again, a fighter from East L.A. stands pivoted for greatness. Can Pasillas go all the way?

For the past 130 years, prizefighters from East Los Angeles have developed into some of the best in the world if you can get them into the prize ring. Oscar De La Hoya and Leo Santa Cruz are two who were able to duck drugs, crime, street gangs and longtime allegiances that can often mislead aspiring boxers toward deadly endings.

One of the first featherweight champions in history lived in East L.A. Solly Garcia Smith won the world championship in 1893. He was the first Latino to ever win a world title.

There are many others from “East Los” who were talented prizefighters that were sidetracked into oblivion. Talented pugilists like brothers Panchito Bojado and Angel Bojado were derailed by mysterious obstacles that East Los Angeles presents. Others like Frankie Gomez and Julian Rodriguez showed dazzling promise but disappeared.

It’s almost as if a curse hangs over East L.A. area like a blanket of smog.

Many were surefire champions. But for some reason East L.A. or East Los as it’s called by those living in the 20 square mile radius, seems to have a dark lingering spell that makes it extra difficult for prizefighters to succeed.

Back in the 1950s a supremely talented fighter named Keeny Teran was skyrocketing to fame when heroin dropped him like an invisible left hook. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye were his biggest backers. Yet, not even they could help Teran.

Drugs almost took Pasillas too.

The fighter known as “Vicious” Vic Pasillas could have tripped into one of those sad stories from East L.A. you often hear about from your abuelitas. The streets can easily claim you if you let your guard down. Who is a friend and who is a foe are not often clear as the colors brown or white. It’s a potholed journey to navigate the barrio streets that look tame during the day, but ominous when the darkness arrives.

Barrio Life

Growing up with parents who were incarcerated led Pasillas to find loyalty from the vatos on the street. They treated him well and gave him protection and a sense of family, but often led to being involved in petty and major crimes.

“I moved out of the neighborhood. I had to get away from my friends. No disrespect to them but I knew that I would end up in jail,” said Pasillas who moved to Riverside, Calif. which is 60 miles east of East L.A. “Nobody knew where I was.”

One thing certain: prizefighting was his gift. All that he encountered recognized his boxing ability.

“He was always a gifted fighter,” said Joe Estrada, who would often take him to tournaments around California or in other states. “Every tournament he entered he won. He has always had speed, power, and defense. He’s always been a great boxer, but trouble was always around him.”

Gangs had always been a part of Pasillas life. He was born into gangs in South El Monte and even after moving to East L.A. it was not an escape. It was vatos locos that took him under their wing and showed him love and respect. They took care of him; some were also boxers.

East L.A. is an area much like a spider web. You can travel a quarter mile in one direction and suddenly you are in enemy turf. Gangs are everywhere. If you are an adult male you can’t simply walk outside a door without looking in all directions. It makes you razor sharp in recognizing danger. You always look out for danger.

Pasillas loved boxing and loved his friends, the big homies, but cutting off one for the other was the most difficult decision. He would train, fight, and win but then hang with the homies and end up being arrested with the rest of them.

“The cops would come and everybody would run so I would run,” said Pasillas. “I didn’t do anything, but I would get busted with everybody else for trying to evade the police.”

Things remained the same until he met his wife. The streets never had a chance. Once married he moved to the Riverside area. It was 2011 and newly married he needed to make a decision on whether to try and make the Olympic team or turn professional.

“I was ready to go to the Olympics. First, I was going to smash everybody but my wife got pregnant at 2011. It forced me to get a job at a warehouse. I was making 50 dollars a week. Pennies,” said Pasillas. “I got a call from Cameron Dunkin and Top Rank. They offered me a fight on the third Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fight. That was my pro debut.”

Sadly, the streets reclaimed him again.

Reckoning

A move to northern California seemed to change things but the struggle to stay outside the grasp of the streets remained real even hundreds of miles away. Despite the dark times Pasillas still had friends and admirers.

Seniesa Estrada, who holds the interim WBA flyweight title and is poised to fight for a world title in March, remembers sparring with Pasillas when she could not find girls to spar.

“Vic was always very good. He would take it easy on me, of course, but I would learn so much from sparring with guys like him and Jojo Diaz and Frankie Gomez,” said Estrada, who grew up and still lives in East L.A.

Pasillas, 28, had more than 300 amateur fights. He lost only eight times. Anyone who ever saw him fight immediately recognized his immense talent.

“Vic is one of the best fighters I ever saw,” said Joe Estrada. “Everyone knew that when he’s in shape he can’t be beat. Just so much talent.”

That talent will be tested on Saturday when he meets Michigan’s undefeated Aleem. Whoever wins their battle will meet the winner between Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton who fight for the WBO super bantamweight title.

“I want to fight the best now, and Pasillas is one of the best fighters in the division. I’m not ducking or dodging anyone. I’m going to be a world champion by all means necessary,” said Aleem who now fights out of Las Vegas.

Pasillas doesn’t doubt that Aleem has talent.

“I don’t want to give up my game plan but best believe I’m going to do whatever it takes to win this fight. If he wants to bang, then we’ll bang, if he wants to box, we’ll box. I’ve seen so many different styles in the amateurs, there is nothing that he brings that I haven’t seen. My power is what he’s going to have to deal with,” Pasillas said.

It’s been an incredible up and down journey so far for Pasillas; a lifetime of dealing with hidden traps on East L.A. streets that have toppled many previous fighters now long forgotten.

Or will those same streets show the way to glittering success as former champions De La Hoya, Santa Cruz, Joey Olivo, Richie Lemos, Newsboy Brown and Solly Garcia Smith discovered.

One thing Pasillas already discovered was his own family.

“People invite me all the time to events and parties but I tell them I already have plans with my family,” said Pasillas who has a wife and two elementary age children. “I never really had a family like other people.”

Now he has his own family. Something he didn’t have during his youth due to drugs and the streets.

“It’s just a domino effect. I’m making sure I’m going to stop that s—t,” says Pasillas. “It’s going to be good for East Los. I’m a born and bred fighter from East Los.”

Sometimes the streets can break you or make you.

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Hank Aaron and Muhammad Ali

Thomas Hauser

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Hank Aaron, one of the greatest players in baseball history, died today (January 22) at age 86.

Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 career home runs. He finished his sojourn through baseball with 755 homers, a record that stood until 2007 when it was eclipsed by Barry Bonds. He still holds the MLB career records for most RBIs, most total bases, and most extra base hits while ranking third on the list for most hits and most games played and fourth in runs scored. He was a thoughtful gracious man who inspired a generation.

Decades ago, I was conducting research for the book that would become Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. As part of this process, I interviewed many great athletes. Some, like Jim Brown, had played an important role in Ali’s life. Others had interacted with Muhammad in a less significant manner. The people I spoke with included sports legends like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson. On September 5, 1989, I was privileged to talk with Aaron.

Aaron had broken Babe Ruth’s record in 1974, the year that Ali dethroned George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight championship of the world. The thoughts that Aaron shared with me – one great athlete talking about another – follow:

“I was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934. I came up with the Braves when I was twenty. And coming from Mobile, I was very shy. I wasn’t satisfied with the way things were, but I felt like I had to do something special in baseball in order to get people to listen to me. By the time Ali came along, things were a little different but not that much. My first awareness of him was when he won the gold medal. And I saw greatness stamped all over him. How great, I didn’t know. But I was impressed by his ability and his confidence.

“Being a gifted athlete, being one of the best in the world at what you do, is a great feeling. But sometimes it’s kind of eerie because you wonder why you’re blessed with so much ability. I’d go up to the plate to face a pitcher and I’d know that, before the night was over, I was going to hit one out of the ballpark. I felt that, and I’m sure Ali felt the same way. That no matter who he got in the ring with, he was better and he’d figure them out. He had all kinds of confidence. And I was the same way. The only thing that scared me was, when I was approaching Babe Ruth’s record, I got a lot of threatening letters. I’m sure Ali went through the same thing with letters from people who didn’t want him to be heavyweight champion. Most of that stuff is nothing but cranks. But one of them might be for real, and you never know which one.

“I don’t think there’ll ever be another fighter like Muhammad Ali. I’m not putting anybody else down. Maybe someone could have beaten Ali in his prime, but I’m not concerned about that. There’s just no one who could possibly be as beautiful in the ring as he was. For a guy to be that big and move the way he did; it was like music, poetry, no question about it. And for what he did outside the ring, Ali will always be remembered. When you start talking about sports, when you start talking about history; you can’t do it unless you mention Ali. Children in this country should be taught forever how he stood by his convictions and lived his life. He’s someone that black people, white people, people all across the country whatever their color, can be proud of. I know, I’m glad I had the opportunity to live in his time and bear witness to what he accomplished. God gave Ali the gift, and Ali used it right.”

I remember very clearly reading to Ali what Hank Aaron had said about him. And Muhammad responded, “Hank Aaron said that about me? I’m honored.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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