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The Four Faces on the Mount Rushmore of Boxing: A New TSS Survey

In this survey we posed a hypothetical question: Suppose that there was going to be a Mount Rushmore of Boxing with the faces of four boxers carved on to a granite mountain

Ted Sares

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In this survey we posed a hypothetical question: Suppose that there was going to be a Mount Rushmore of Boxing with the faces of four boxers carved on to a granite mountain. Further suppose that a duly authorized panel decided that Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Muhammad Ali would be three of the four, but could not agree on who warranted the fourth slot. Which fighter would you pick?

We posed this question to more than 30 respondents. As the person that ran the survey, I have the honor of going first. I gave the fourth slot to WILLIE PEP. He had an incredible record of 230-11-1 with 65 KOs and is considered one of boxing’s all-time great defensive artists. He turned pro in 1940 and won his first sixty-three fights. After serious injuries suffered in a plane crash in 1947, he came back and continued to win and win and win.

Here are the other picks. The respondents are listed alphabetically.

JIM AMATO, author, writer, collector: As much as I’d like to say my favorite fighter, Roberto Duran, I’ll have to go with HENRY ARMSTRONG. Hank’s accomplishments will never be duplicated.

RUSS ANBER, trainer, cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: You simply cannot add anyone to the Holy Trinity! There is the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. These three greats are undisputed. The fourth can never be! No other fighter in history transcended the sport as did these three. Nuff said!

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI, TSS writer: HARRY GREB. In my opinion, Greb is the best pound for pound fighter of all time. He was known as a punching machine and for throwing punches at all sorts of differing angles that often overwhelmed his opposition. His resume and ring accomplishments speak for themselves. Incredibly, many of his best wins came after he suffered an injury to his right eye that caused vision problems.

JOE BRUNO, former New York City sportswriter; prolific author: ROCKY MARCIANO is the only undefeated heavyweight champion and he fought everyone who was around at the time. I’d have him there even before Ali. And what about Jack Dempsey, who was the leading figure in boxing in the Roaring Twenties, the Golden Age of Boxing? Say what you want about Ali, but he lost five fights, including one to Leon Spinks, who was fighting in only his eighth pro fight.

ANTHONY CARDINALE, former manager of several top fighters including John Ruiz: ROCKY MARCIANO, 49-0, heavyweight champion from Massachusetts. Enough said.

JILL DIAMOND, WBC/NABF supervisor and award-winning voice in female boxing: ROCKY MARCIANO would be my choice. My second would be Floyd. Both undefeated and, depending on your point of view, 49 or 50 wins.

CHARLIE DWYER, retired referee and member of the Marine Boxing Hall of Fame: WILLIE PEP. In his prime he was practically untouchable. A classic boxer personified.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ, journalist; one of only eight lifetime members of the Boxing Writers Association of America: Lots of possibilities and most are worthy of that fourth slot. But upon further reflection, I’m going with HENRY ARMSTRONG.

PEDRO PETE FERNANDEZ, former boxer and manager of Ring Talk: I select ROBERTO DURAN. Hands down.

JEFFREY FREEMAN, aka KO DIGEST, TSS writer: The fourth carved rockhead for the fantasy Mount Rushmore belongs to the immortal “Brockton Blockbuster,” ROCKY MARCIANO, an undefeated heavyweight champion who personified both toughness and sportsmanship. The name “Rocky” is synonymous with boxing like no other (okay, perhaps “Sugar Ray.”) Behold my Fab Four of Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Rocky Marciano.

HENRY HASCUP, historian and long-time President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: HENRY ARMSTRONG held three world titles at the same time. Armstrong defended the world welterweight championship a division record 19 times. Armstrong was 27-0 with 26 knockouts in 1937, 14-0 with 10 knockouts in 1938, and 59-1-1 with 51 knockouts from December 1936 to October 1940. Armstrong defeated sixteen world champions.

CLARENCE GEORGE, boxing writer: So many worthies….John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, the absurdly untitled Sam Langford, Harry Greb, second only to Sugar Ray Robinson (and arguably his superior) in what has always been boxing’s richest division; and Henry Armstrong, the first three-division world champion at a time when there were only eight divisions. But I have to go with WILLIE PEP. I can’t help but be in awe of his justifiably legendary record  and against a slew of amazing fighters, including the superb Sandy Saddler. What astonishing skill and technique, particularly in terms of defensive wizardry. The greatest featherweight of all time? To be sure. But more, so much more, than that.

IVAN GOLDMAN, author and boxing write: I wracked my brain, but all the names I tried were ultimately indefensible. I know of no fighter to equal the stature of these three men. But I don’t pretend to know everything, and perhaps someone will come up with a name that makes sense. Plenty of quality fighters never got the right fights at the right time.

LEE GROVES, author, writer and Wizard of CompuBox: Very difficult question. I  choose HENRY ARMSTRONG because Mount Rushmore is supposed to embody the four greatest in a certain area, and I have him as the second greatest pound-for-pound fighter in history. At his best, there were few better and he holds the unique record of holding three divisional championships simultaneously, which is made much more impressive by the fact he did it during the one champ per division era. He also would be a terrific standard bearer for the smaller weight classes.

BRUCE KIELTY, boxing matchmaker, manager, and historian: JACK DEMPSEY because he represented the era that brought boxing into mainstream acceptance.

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM, former amateur boxer; co-founder of the National Association of Boxing Commissioners: JACK DEMPSEY is my choice. Other boxers have had more impressive records but talking about being enshrined entails social significance. Dempsey, a cultural icon of the 20’s…the golden age of sports, could also be considered the most popular athlete in American history for his media dominance of that era. During his reign from 1919-1926, Dempsey drew boxing’s first million-dollar gate and over 100,000 live for a single fight. He put boxing as the King of Sports.

JIM LAMPLEY, 2015 IBHOF inductee; centerpiece of the HBO broadcasting team: JACK JOHNSON because without him the lives of the other three could have been quite different.

ARNE LANG, author, historian and TSS editor-in-chief: The question becomes whether to choose someone who was indisputably great — someone like Joe Gans or Sugar Ray Leonard — or someone whose greatness is open to question but who transcended the sport. If the latter — and this is the way I lean — the nod goes to JACK DEMPSEY. No athlete was more celebrated during America’s Golden Era of Sports.

RON LIPTON, former fighter, boxing referee, boxing historian, retired police officer: If, in addition to Ali, Robinson and Louis, a recognizable iconic boxing figure should be chosen to be in their illustrious company and that would be JACK DEMPSEY. Only true boxing aficionados would recognize any of the other well deserving boxing legends from all weight classes which we could go on naming for hours.

FRANK LOTIERZO, former boxer, writer, and lead analyst for The Boxing Channel: I would give the open spot to HARRY GREB because he has the deepest and most complete resume and his accomplishments in the ring are more overwhelming than any other fighter I know of.  Greb defeated the best quality of opposition and Hall of Fame fighters, often giving away height, reach and weight, more than any other fighter who has yet lived. He defeated 18 men who held, had held, or would hold world championships, and this at a time when there were only eight divisions in boxing and one champion in each division. He was a physical beast with power blended with non-stop aggression. He’s the only fighter to beat Gene Tunney who out-weighed him by 13 pounds. And did all that while being blind in his right eye.

PAUL MAGNO, author, writer and boxing official in Mexico: The logical choice is HENRY ARMSTRONG. He belongs for everything he accomplished and everything he could do. There’s a legit case for placing him number two or number three of all-time and, for me, he’s a no-brainer as the fourth face on boxing’s Mount Rushmore

ADEYINKA MAKINDE, author, boxing writer and UK barrister: I suggest JOE GANS, “The Old Master” himself, who was the first American of African descent to win a world title in the 20th century, thus paving the way for Louis, Robinson and Ali. He was a dominant fighter like they were and also a beloved figure because of his personality and his skills, achieving mainstream acceptance.

GORDON MARINO, philosophy professor, Wall Street Journal boxing writer, and trainer: The “Human Windmill” HARRY GREB. (107-8-3) but surely a lot more fights than that. At 5’8” and a middleweight, he fought and beat most everyone, including Gene Tunney.

DIEGO M. MORILLA, award winning bi-lingual boxing writer from Argentina: HENRY ARMSTRONG. He embodies his era like no one else: the fighter who had to take on all comers on short notice with no preparation and at any weight, and still succeeded in ways that we cannot even imagine today. His numbers are mind-boggling in every sense: his record defenses of the lineal welterweight crown, his fights in four of the original eight divisions with titles in three of them and a dubious draw against the middleweight champ Ceferino Garcia. Willie Pep and Jack Johnson deserve consideration as well, but “Homicide Hank” takes the laurel — and the marble — or whatever that big mountainside is made of.

JOHN RAFUSE SR., former professional boxer: My pick is ROCKY MARCIANO.

FREDERICK ROMANO, author, historian, formerly with HBO: Tough assignment. Henry Armstrong at his peak is a good choice in my opinion as is a prime WILLIE PEP.

LEE SAMUELS, Top Rank publicist emeritus: MARVIN HAGLER was the first star champion we ever worked with at Top Rank. Hagler’s firefight against Hitman Tommy Hearns at Caesars Palace was one of the greatest fights of all time. Hagler in the 80’s was all fighter, one of the greatest in boxing history. He was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame a few years ago and when he went to the podium, he wept and said the Petronelli brothers – Pat and Goody – “were like my fathers who cared for me so much.”

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY, elite trainer, former title contender, commentator: WILLIE PEP. No question.

PETER SILKOV, writer and manager of The Boxing Glove: I’m torn between Jack Johnson and Henry Armstrong; it’s a shame we can’t choose five!  Overall, I choose JACK JOHNSON as his feat of securing his shot at the world heavyweight title is one of the greatest acts of courage and perseverance in the history of boxing, and without him there would have been no Louis or Ali.

MIKE SILVER, author, writer, historian: For me this is a no brainer. The fourth face should be HARRY GREB. His almost superhuman record speaks for itself. He was the ultimate fighter. I didn’t say boxer, for he was not a boxer, at least not in the traditional sense. Harry Greb was a pure fighter whose unorthodox windmill style has never been duplicated. All of the greats he fought spoke of him with awe and considered him their toughest opponent.

BRUCE TRAMPLER, Top Rank matchmaker; 2010 IBHOF inductee. I’d suggest Jack Dempsey who meant so much to the sport as Babe Ruth did for baseball, but I’ll go with the great HENRY ARMSTRONG.

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS, boxing writer and voice of Beltway Boxing: That’s a tough one but for me, it would be SUGAR RAY LEONARD.  He’s a six-time world champion and he, after Ali, was the next boxer to go mainstream as far as commercial endorsements are concerned.

PETER WOOD, 1971 New York City Golden Gloves middleweight finalist and author: JOHN L. SULLIVAN is my choice. This bare-knuckle champion was a hard rock, a badass, and our glorious American Hercules. He could “lick any son-of-a-bitch in the house.”

Observations:

The final tally of votes yielded Henry Armstrong as a narrow winner with a secondary cluster around Dempsey, Greb, Marciano, and Pep following closely behind.

Some went as far back as Jack Johnson and Joe Gans, some went modern with Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, and some simply could not come up with a selection that matched the three already on the mountain.

Peter Silkov and Jim Lampley had almost identical responses,

A sincere “Thank You” to all the participants.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest full power (raw modern) lifters in the world and is a four-time winner of the EPF’s Grand Master championship. He also is a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Yoka vs. Hammer Kicks Off the Thanksgiving Weekend Slate on ESPN+

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PRESS RELEASE— Tony Yoka, the dynamic heavyweight punching Parisian, aims to impress in his ESPN platform debut. Yoka, who won a super heavyweight gold medal for France at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will fight veteran Christian Hammer in a 10-rounder Friday at H Arena in Nantes, France.

Yoka-Hammer will stream live and exclusively this Friday, Nov. 27 in the United States on ESPN+ beginning at 2:55 p.m. ET/11:55 a.m. PT.

The ESPN+ stream will also include the return of unbeaten 2016 French Olympic gold medalist Estelle Yoka-Mossely against Pasa Malagic in an eight-round lightweight bout. Yoka and Yoka-Mossely, who have been married since 2018, welcomed their second child in May.

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Earlier this year, Yoka inked a promotional agreement with Top Rank, which will co-promote him with Ringstar France.

“Tony Yoka’s potential is limitless, and he is a grounded young man who is motivated to be a great professional fighter,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “France has never had a world heavyweight champion, and I believe Tony is the one to bring the sport’s biggest honor home.”

The 28-year-old Yoka’s stellar amateur run included a berth at the 2012 London Olympics and gold medals at the 2015 World Championships and 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Before his triumph in Rio, he’d already defeated the likes of former heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker and current undefeated prospects Joe Joyce and Ivan Dychko. At the Rio Olympics, he defeated Croatian standout Filip Hrgović in the semifinals and edged Joyce in the gold medal match.

As a professional, Yoka (8-0, 7 KOs) made his debut in June 2017 with a second-round stoppage over the previously undefeated Travis Clark. Apart from a decision win over Jonathan Rice in his second outing, Yoka has stopped every foe, including durable Englishman David “White Rhino” Allen and former European champion Alexander Dimitrenko. He made his 2020 debut Sept. 25 and stopped former world title challenger Johann Duhaupas in one round.

Hammer (25-6, 15 KOs) has fought many of the leading heavyweight names during his 12-year career, falling short against Tyson Fury, Luis Ortiz and Alexander Povetkin. He’s notched myriad upset victories, including a highlight-reel knockout over David Price and a 2016 split decision over Erkan Teper for the WBO European belt. In March 2019, he went the 10-round distance against Ortiz and has not been stopped since Fury forced him to retire on his stool after eight rounds in their February 2015 clash.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 115: Macho, Freddie and More

David A. Avila

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Camacho me and Mia

“Macho.”

That single word is how Hector Camacho presented himself when introduced. It was the only word needed for the three-division world champion from Puerto Rico who was raised in Harlem, New York.

The first time I met Camacho was in a dark and packed Las Vegas nightclub in the MGM where he was a guest of Oscar De La Hoya back in March 2001. Though it was difficult to see, when Camacho was introduced, I could see the large gold medallion with the word “Macho” in letters six inches high.

Showtime network will be presenting a documentary called “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story” on Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. on Showtime. It sparks memories of how a fighter in the lower weight classes grabbed the attention of the boxing world.

Camacho was more than flash or words, he was an electrifying boxer who stood out in the 1980s, an era dominated by the “Four Kings” Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. Oh, and also a guy named Mike Tyson.

The fast-talking Camacho was a phenomenal fighter who swept aside opponents with his blinding speed and shocking power. It was against Los Angeles-based fighters like Refugio Rojas and Louie Loy that I first read about his exploits. Both were knocked out.

A third Southern California fighter John “Huero” Montes was thought to be the one to give Camacho a real challenge. The fight was televised to a national audience in February 1983. At the time I was watching it on a tiny black and white television and at 1:13 into the first round Camacho unleashed one of those lethal uppercuts and Montes was out-for-the-count.

Camacho arrived that day.

From that point on few could withstand the speedy southpaw’s blinding charges. Six months later he stopped Mexico’s “Bazooka” Limon to win the vacant super featherweight title.

One fighter who heard the final bell was Freddie Roach who could take a punch and knew a thing or two about fighting southpaws.

“I liked fighting southpaws,” said Roach via telephone. “My dad taught me early to keep my foot on the outside and lead with right hands.”

Roach had never lost to a southpaw. The winner that day between Camacho and Roach in Sacramento, on December 1985, was supposedly going to fight Puerto Rico’s heavy-handed Edwin Rosario.

Using his surefire method of fighting southpaws, Roach managed a knockdown of Camacho with the help of his foot. But it was not enough.

“He was very difficult. Lot of people raved about how fast his speed was. You didn’t really realize until you got into the ring with him,” said Roach. “I wasn’t the slowest, but wasn’t the fastest. I just couldn’t keep up.”

Despite using roughhouse tactics against the lefty speedster, Roach said that Camacho invited him to dinner after the fight.

That pretty much explains Camacho, a talented and big-hearted guy.

Last Stages

The last time I ran into Camacho was at the Pechanga Resort and Casino when he and Mia St. John were about to fight on the same boxing card in 2009. He was much heavier but still able to defeat middleweights.

How good was Camacho?

He defeated two of the Four Kings when he beat Roberto Duran twice and stopped Sugar Ray Leonard by knockout when they fought in 1997. Yes, Leonard was 41 and had not fought in six years, but this was Sugar Ray Leonard.

“I didn’t think he would ever beat Leonard,” said Roach.

Neither did Leonard.

“I just felt that I was a bigger man. I was smarter, stronger, all those things, but the first time he threw a punch, it was like, Pow! And I said, ‘Wow, that hurt,’” said Leonard about their encounter. “I tried the best I could to just go the distance. When he was at his best, he was a thing of beauty.”

What I remember after Camacho beat Leonard was how sincerely apologetic he was after the victory. He could talk the talk and walk the walk but inside he remained the kid from Harlem who was given extraordinary talent. And he was humbled by it.

Roach remembers their dinner together after their fight.

“That night he took me out to dinner with his friends and said you fought a good fight,” said Roach adding that Camacho was a very likeable guy. “I saw him along the way in his career.”

Roach, who would later train another astoundingly fast southpaw named Manny Pacquiao, said he never fought anyone again as talented as Camacho.

“You hear rumors of drug problems and training problems. But when he fought me, he was in for 10 and I tried every trick in the book but it didn’t work. He was in a higher class than I was,” Roach said. “He was one of the best fighters in the world.”

Don’t miss this Showtime documentary next week.

Jacobs and Rosado

Speaking of Roach, the famous trainer will be working the corner of Gabe Rosado (25-12-1, 14 KOs) when he meets Daniel Jacobs (36-3, 30 KOs) on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

It’s Philly versus Brooklyn.

Rosado has long proven to be a real professional who keeps adding elements to his fight game. Paired with Roach he has further developed under the guidance of the Southern California-based trainer. Plus, Rosado can plain fight.

Jacobs, a former world champion, has proven to be an elite middleweight and looks just as comfortable as a super middleweight.

Expect the kind of prize fight they used to show in the Golden Age of boxing in the 1950s when you had guys like Johnny Saxton fighting Denny Moyer. It should be that kind of battle of wits and skill. I’m looking forward to it.

Photo: Hector Camacho, David Avila, and Mia St. John. Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Muhammad Ali Biographer Jonathan Eig Talks About His Book and the Icon Who Inspired It

Rick Assad

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Given the breadth and depth of Muhammad Ali’s 74 years, it isn’t very easy to capture the complete essence of the man.

Dozens of books have been written about the three-time heavyweight champion including Jonathan Eig’s 2017 biography, “Ali: A Life.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he would one day be known around the globe as a world-class boxer, civil rights advocate, philanthropist and cultural icon.

Like so many others, the Brooklyn, New York-born Eig became intrigued by Ali.

“I loved Ali as a child. He fascinated me. He was outspoken, radical, yet so very loveable,” he said. “And, of course, he could fight! I was astonished to realize, around 2012, that there was no complete biography of Ali, even though he was probably the most famous man of the 20th century.”

Eig, currently at work on a major offering about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., added: “I had read lots of Ali books, including [David] Remnick’s “King Of The World: Muhammad Ali And The Rise Of An American Hero,” and [Thomas] Hauser’s “Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times,” and [Norman] Mailer’s “The Fight” – but those were not complete biographies,” he pointed out. “By 2012, enough time had gone by to put Ali in historical perspective. Also, there were plenty of people still alive to tell the story. I did more than 500 interviews, including all three of Ali’s living wives. I wanted to write a book that would treat Ali as more than a boxer. I wanted to write a book that would show the good and the bad. I wanted to write a big book worthy of an epic life, a book that danced and jabbed half as beautifully as Ali.”

Given Eig’s exhaustive research, what previously unknown tidbits about Ali did he come across?

“I learned thousands of new things. I think even hardcore Ali fans will find new information on almost every page,” said the former Wall Street Journal reporter and 1986 Northwestern University graduate. “I discovered things Ali himself didn’t know. I discovered Ali’s grandfather was a convicted murderer, for example. Ali didn’t know that! I read Ali’s FBI files, as well as those of Herbert Muhammad, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. I interviewed Ali’s childhood friends. I found MRIs of Ali’s brain. I counted the punches from all of his fights. I measured how those punches affected his speaking rate. Ali’s wives also confided in me things I never knew. I spent four years working on this book, and every day delivered revelations.”

Over the years, Ali, who posted a 56-5 ring record with 37 knockouts, seemed to mellow with time which helped ingratiate him to an even wider audience. How was this possible?

“People change. They grow. It’s hard to stay radical as you get older and richer,” said Eig, who has written five books including three that deal with sports. “The late Stanley Crouch had a great line about Ali. He said young Ali was a grizzly bear. Ali in the ’70s was a circus bear. Ali in his later years was a teddy bear. We all loved the teddy bear. We wanted to hug him and love him. But it was the grizzly bear who we should remember first. It was the grizzly bear who shook up the world.”

Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram covered nearly the entirety of Ali’s career which spanned 1960 through 1981 and included a three-year period, 1967 until 1970 when he wasn’t allowed to box after being convicted of draft evasion because he refused induction into the armed forces.

In Kram’s book, “Ghosts Of Manila,” the author asserts Ali was essentially a pawn of the Black Muslims.

What’s Eig’s take?

“I love Kram’s book, but I think it’s dangerous to question anyone’s religious faith,” he said. “Ali was a true believer. The Nation of Islam took advantage of him at times. But does that mean he was a pawn? I don’t think so. He knew what he was doing. He made his own choices. One might argue that the NOI did more for Ali than Ali did for them.”

Ali wasn’t perfect and that included his fondness for women. As a Muslim, how did he hurdle this?

“He didn’t reconcile it – except to acknowledge that humans are human, they are flawed,” Eig said. “The thing I love about Ali is that he said he was the greatest, but he never said he was perfect. He talked to his wives about his weakness. He even talked to reporters about his flaws – his weakness for women, his disdain for training, his poor handling of money. He knew who he was and he never tried to be anything else.”

Eig, who has also penned “Luckiest Man: The Life And Death Of Lou Gehrig,” and “Opening Day: The Story Of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” went on: “We’re all complicated, right? Ali was no more complicated than you or me, but he let the whole world see his complications – his racial pride and his racist behavior toward [Joe] Frazier, his love of women and his cruelty to his wives, his generosity with his money and his stupidity with money,” he said. “I don’t think Ali was different, just more open, more willing to let us see everything.”

Ali’s battles with Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton are legendary, but his two fights against Sonny Liston are filled with question marks, such as were they fixed?

Ali claimed the title on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and then faced Liston 15 months later in Lewiston, Maine, where he knocked out the challenger in the opening frame.

In Eig’s mind, were these two bouts on the level? “My hunch is that the first fight was legit. Liston quit when he knew he couldn’t win,” Eig said. “The second fight is more suspicious. Liston’s flop was pathetic. Bad acting! But I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. As an aside, Liston’s wife said Sonny had diarrhea before the fight, which might have given him one more reason to throw it.”

Still, Ali in his prime was a sight to behold. “Ali before the exile, in my opinion, was the most beautiful boxer of all time. His combination of speed and power and ferocity was thrilling, elegant, frightening and marvelous,” Eig said. “Was he the greatest heavyweight of all time? Maybe, maybe not. Was he the most breathtaking? To me, yes.”

Early in Ali’s career his braggadocio was off-putting to many. But much of it was showmanship.

“One of the Greatest” doesn’t sound as good, does it? If we’re only discussing his action in the ring, Ali was one of the greatest,” Eig said. “But that’s like saying Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest trumpet players without considering his voice, his charm, his improvisational skills, his smile. In and out of the ring, Ali was the greatest in my book.”

For so many, Ali was many things. What traits in the man does Eig admire? “I love his fearlessness, his honesty, his insatiable appetite for people,” he said. “He was so very loving. But he could also be narcissistic. He wanted everyone to love him, but he wasn’t always sensitive to the feelings of others – including his wives and children. He turned his back on friends like Malcolm X and Joe Frazier when it served his purposes.”

While Ali could be polarizing, he had his legion of supporters including Howard Cosell, Jerry Izenberg, Robert Lipsyte, Larry Merchant and Jack Newfield.

“You could add Mailer, [George] Plimpton, and so many others to that list,” Eig noted. “Those men were lucky enough to spend time with young Ali and to bask in the great warmth of his sun. He was great to reporters. He was the best story they ever covered. And unlike most celebrities, he really paid attention to them.”

Eig continued: “I only met him once, six months before he died, and I envy those reporters who got to know him and got to see him at his best. I think those who knew and loved Ali became his disciples,” he pointed out. “Ali’s friend Gene Kilroy told me over and over that he thought Ali was like Jesus, that people would be studying his words and drawing inspiration from his life for centuries to come. That’s the feeling he gave to those with whom he spent time.”

Ali was a boxer, but so much more. How does Eig see him? “I think Ali will be remembered as one of America’s great revolutionary heroes – one whose courage went far beyond sports. Like Jackie Robinson, like Martin Luther King, like the abolitionists and suffragettes, he loved America but refused to accept its shortfalls,” he said. “He fought to make his country live up to the promises contained in the Declaration of Independence. He will also be remembered as an important world figure, one who united Africans, Americans and Asians, one who helped Americans better understand Islam and helped people of Islamic faith around the world better understand America.”

In Ali’s last quarter century, he was almost universally loved. This is a far cry from being labeled a draft dodger.

“Ali was always a spiritual man, but in his later years I believe he clarified and deepened his spirituality,” Eig said. “He became more focused and more thoughtful.”

When Eig turned in his manuscript, what was his immediate thought? “I wanted to take it back. I didn’t want to be done,” he said. “I had so much fun writing this book I wanted to work on it for the rest of my life. I knew I would never find anything more fun to work on.”

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