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Will There Be a Changing of the Guard?

13,964 fans were at Barclays Center on April 21 to witness what might someday be looked upon as a step toward boxing’s changing of the guard.

Three fights – Gervonta Davis vs. Jesus Cuellar, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno

Thomas Hauser

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13,964 fans were at Barclays Center on April 21 to witness what might someday be looked upon as a step toward boxing’s changing of the guard.

Three fights – Gervonta Davis vs. Jesus Cuellar, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno, and Adrien Broner vs. Jesse Vargas – headlined the show.

Davis age 23, has a wealth of talent. He briefly held the IBF 130-pound belt before surrendering it on the scales just prior to his last outing. Cuellar, a 7-to-1 underdog whose previous losses were by decision to Oscar Escandon and Abner Mares, was moving up in weight from 126 pounds.

Gervonta (pictured) has quick hands and good power. He started fast on Saturday night, dropping Cuellar with a straight left to the body in round two and a brutal body shot in round three. Then he pummeled Jesus some more while referee Benjy Esteves waited for an unnecessary third knockdown before stopping the slaughter at 2:45 of the third stanza. The fight had the feel of target practice with a Magnum .357.

Jermall Charlo won an IBF 154-pound belt with a 2015 stoppage of 42-year-old Cornelius Bundradge. He relinquished his title last year to campaign at 160 pounds but fought only once in 2017 (a victory over Jorge Sebastian Heiland, who came into the bout with a damaged left knee).

Like the Klitschko brothers in the early years of their career, Jermall and his twin brother, Jermell, have suffered in terms of their marketability because there are two of them. Jermall’s response has been to say, “Twin power is better. If you don’t like the Charlos, stay out of our lane and keep the hate down.”

Centeno is the sort of opponent one expects to find as the non-threatening adversary for a house fighter doing battle for a WBC “interim” middleweight championship.

In the build-up to the fight, Charlo expended as much energy on his fellow headliners as on Centeno.

In a March 24 Instagram video, Jermall declared, “Y’all mother******* coming to see me fight. Ain’t nobody coming to see Adrien Broner fight. I didn’t want to be on that f******. You think I wanted to be on that f****** card? No. I’m being real. I didn’t want to be on Adrien Broner’s card again. Every time I’m on his f****** card, he lose. Then its Hispanic vs. Black, and I fight a Hispanic. I still do what I gotta do, but this motherf***** don’t do what he gotta do. The main event look like sh**. The event don’t get no recognition. No, I don’t want to be on f****** Adrien Broner’s card. I’m sorry, I’m just speaking facts.”

Then Charlo turned his attention to Davis, proclaiming, “Tank, that little nigga ain’t fought nobody. He with Mayweather and ain’t fought nobody. This little fat Tank mother******, he think he Mayweather. I read the tweets and the comments [from Gervonta]. He’s mad because they moved me to the card. I’m sorry, nigga, that my opponent got a broken rib. I gotta fight him on your card, so that means your TV time is cut short. Stop playing with me, nigga, because every time I see you, you ain’t really about that sh**, you dumb slow stuttering motherf*****.”

Charlo was a 20-to-1 favorite over Centeno. The fight didn’t last long. Round one saw Jermall stalking his man while Centano stayed as far away as possible and held when Charlo got in close. Then, forty seconds into round two, Jermall landed a punishing right hand as the opening salvo in a four-punch combination that ended with a vicious left hook to the jaw that dropped Hugo for the count and then some. It’s unclear why referee Steve Willis bothered to count since Centano had zero chance of getting up.

That set the stage for Broner-Vargas.

Broner has prodigious talent that has been undermined by a notable lack of discipline in and out of the ring. He has stepped up in class to fight a world-class opponent on three occasions. Each time (against Marcos Maidana, Shawn Porter, and Mikey Garcia), he lost.

It has been said that trouble follows Broner wherever he goes. An equally valid hypothesis might be that Broner follows trouble.

TMZ reports that Broner has fathered seven children with six different women which, to Adrien’s way of thinking, might evince a commitment of sorts to one of the women.

In addition to a string of juvenile arrests, Broner has been charged with robbery, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, battery, illegal possession of a weapon, domestic violence, and intimidation of a witness. On February 13 of this year, he added to his rap sheet with a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery after a woman accused him of groping her in an Atlanta shopping mall. The woman, Kaila Crews, is now suing him in a civil lawsuit for sexual battery.

Originally, Broner was slated to fight Omar Figueroa at Barclays Center to determine a mandatory challenger for the WBC 140-pound title. But Figueroa fell out after being arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated, Vargas was substituted, and the bout was changed to a catchweight of 144 pounds.

At the final pre-fight press conference on April 19, Broner called Vargas a “puto” (Spanish for whore) and Leonard Ellerbe (CEO of Mayweather Promotions, which was co-promoting the fight card) a “bitch-ass nigger.” But by then, it was clear that Adrien’s insults might lead to consequences more serious than discord within the promotion.

More specifically, Broner and Tekashi69 were engaged in a social media dispute that began when the rapper called Adrien a “clown” on Instagram. That led Broner to respond, “Ey 6ix9ine, don’t be commenting no f*** sh*** under my pictures, boy. Talkin’ bout clown, nigga. I’m about to pull up on you, nigga. I ain’t one of these rap niggas you be trollin’ with, nigga, quit playin’ with me, nigga.”

Tekashi69 then countered by calling Broner a “pussy” before suggesting in solid capital letters, “CHECK IN WHEN YOU GET TO BROOKLYN TOO. KING OF MY CITY.”

Thereafter, an April 18 open media workout was canceled as a security precaution and the final pre-fight press conference (previously scheduled for the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan) was moved to Barclays Center, where there was heightened security. It was also decreed that the Friday weigh-in would be closed to the public. At the weigh-in, Broner floated the idea of asking Tekashi69 to walk him to the ring on fight night. But that was quickly vetoed by the promotion.

When fight night came, there was a heavy police presence at Barclays Center: uniformed cops, plainclothes cops, gang units. Even then, a temporary lockdown was necessary when a gun was fired in the building.

Details are vague at the present time. But it appears as though there has been bad blood between Tekaski69 and Brooklyn rapper Casanova. On fight night, the two men and their associates confronted each other in a hallway near a VIP lounge in Barclays Center. A shot was fired and the perpetrator ran from the building. TMZ later reported that a .32 caliber shell casing was recovered by the police. It’s unclear how a man with a gun was able to evade what were supposed to be heightened security precautions.

As for the fight; Broner had been listed as an 11-to-10 favorite over Vargas, but the odds flipped during fight week. Adrien was the more physically-gifted fighter. However, as always, there were questions as to where his head was at. Jessie had lost by decision decision to Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao. But he was a credible opponent with a ninth-round knockout of Sadam Ali to his credit.

After a cautious first round with little aggression from either man, Vargas began throwing with both hands in the second stanza, mixing punches well to the head and body. The action continued in round three with Broner stepping up his own effort and going low often enough that it didn’t seem accidental.

At the midway point, Vargas had a substantial lead on the judges’ scorecards but appeared to be tiring. Then Broner began landing sharp effective punches. By round nine, Adrien was unloading and it seemed clear that he could hurt Jessie more than Jessie could hurt him.

But Broner, for all his talk, is a safety-first fighter. He’s more effective when fighting aggressively but rarely wants to take that risk. Despite being in control of the fight in the late rounds, he never put his foot to the pedal in an effort to knock Vargas out. Then, in an act of foolishness, Adrien took round twelve off.

That cost Broner the fight. Judge Julie Lederman gave the nod to Adrien by a 115-113 margin. But she was overruled by Eric Marlinski and Kevin Morgan, each of whom scored the bout a 114-114 draw.

In the ring after the fight, Broner confronted Vargas while Jessie was being interviewed by Showtime’s Jim Gray. Their exchange unfolded as follows:

Broner: Hey man, f*** all that. Let me see the mic. I beat your ass. Look at his face. It looks like I beat him with what they beat Martin Luther King with [it’s likely that Broner meant Rodney King].

Vargas: I’m gonna be honest. I’m an honest man. We went at it for twelve rounds.

Broner: We didn’t go at it. That’s gay.

Vargas: We can do it again.

Broner: I beat your ass like you stole something. I beat your ass like you were suspended from school. I beat your ass like you stole my bicycle, nigga.

Vargas: You can get some more if you want.

Broner: You’re bruised up.

Vargas: I’m ready to fight right now, fool.

Broner: C’mon man. You need peroxide and alcohol.

Vargas: You need to settle down.

Broner then turned his attention to Gray and asked, “Was you watching? You got cataracts? Are your eyes all f***** up? Did you see?”

Broner is more bark than bite. The expectation is that he will continue to fall short of what he might have been as a fighter.

Meanwhile, Gervonta Davis and Jermall Charlo attack like pitbulls. The open issue on each man’s resume is that neither has fought a world-class opponent. But that could change.

Davis says he wants to fight Vasyl Lomachenko next. Whether he really wants to is probably irrelevant because Top Rank (Lomachenko’s promoter) is likely to say that Gervonta isn’t a big enough draw yet and the fight needs more time to “marinate.” Davis versus Mikey Garcia would also be an attractive offering.

Charlo says he wants to fight Gennady Golovkin and seems to mean it. But after Golovkin disposes of Vanes Martirosyan on May 5, he’d like to pursue fights against Canelo Alvarez, Billy Joe Saunders, Danny Jacobs, and Sergiy Derevyanchenko before going anywhere near Charlo.

That will create an interesting scenario because Jermall is now the WBC’s “interim” middleweight champion and Golovkin’s next “mandatory” challenger. Look for the WBC to jump through hoops in an effort to maximize sanctioning fees in this situation.

*     *     *

Barclays Center was teeming with law enforcement personnel on Saturday night. But that didn’t keep a robbery from taking place. A young woman named Iranda Paola Torres was robbed. Thousands of New Yorkers witnessed the event.

Torres, like many Mexicans, journeyed to the United States in search of a better way of life. She was here to fight Heather Hardy, the Brooklyn native whose 21-0 ring record doesn’t reflect the times that opponents have been robbed in the past.

Torres entered the ring with a 12-2-1 ledger, but those numbers were deceiving. Her last six wins were against women who have a composite ring record of 3 wins and 29 losses.

Thus, Iranda was considered a “safe” opponent for Hardy. But the way Heather has been fighting lately, no opponent is safe. Hardy looked out of shape. She tired early, got hit a lot, and ran for most of the night. When the judges’ scores were announced (79-73, 78-74, and 78-74), they seemed to be on the mark. Then Heather was proclaimed as the winner.

The pro-Hardy crowd vociferously booed the decision, which brought to mind an email that I received from a reader years ago after an egregious decision went in favor of a Top Rank fighter.

“Did Bob Arum supply girls for the judges,” the reader inquired, “or did he perform the favors himself?”

Hardy bears responsibility for her poor performance. But the atrocious scoring isn’t her fault. The blame for that falls squarely on the New York State Athletic Commission.

The NYSAC needs to train a new generation of judges and other commission personnel. But it’s so mired in petty politics that incompetence and worse have become the accepted standard.

*     *     *

Too often, undercard fights fail to give fans their money’s worth. But the opening bout on Saturday night’s card at Barclays Center took things to a new level. Heavyweights George Arias and Tyrell Wright fought a sluggish eight rounds with Arias winning a close decision. However, the fight started before the arena was open to the public. That meant anyone who bought a ticket in the hope of seeing Arias vs. Wright couldn’t see the fight. So much for respecting the ticket-buying public.

*     *     *

A word of remembrance regarding Bill Nack, who died on April 13 at age 77 after a battle with lung cancer.

Nack is best known for his literary output during a 23-year sojourn at Sports Illustrated and a 1975 book that remains the definitive study of Secretariat, horse racing’s greatest champion.

The horses were Nack’s first love. But he was a talented wordsmith who could write well about anything. He didn’t turn his attention to boxing often. But when he did, it was worth reading.

Among the articles Nack wrote about the sweet science (collected in a 2003 book entitled My Turf) were a portrait of “Young Cassius” that celebrated Muhammad Ali’s fiftieth birthday; a ground-breaking exploration of the dark side of Rocky Marciano; a study of the lasting enmity that Joe Frazier felt for Ali (written on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ali-Frazier I); an insightful look back at the Dempsey-Tunney “long count” fight; and a piece that humanized Sonny Liston.

Nack’s work was always well-researched and beautifully written. He was a good writer and a nice man.

Photo credit: Janer Bigio / Mayweather Promotions

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be 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.

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

Arne K. Lang

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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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