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Has the U.S. Lost its Presence in Boxing? Part Two of Our Latest Survey

Ted Sares

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More than 50 boxing notables shared their thoughts in our latest TSS survey. As is our custom, we listed the respondents alphabetically. Those with last names beginning with the letters “A” through “L” were included in PART ONE. Here’s PART TWO. We welcome your feedback.

PAUL MAGNO-writer and author: The decline of boxing in the U.S. has opened the door for expansion across the globe. So, really, it’s kind of like a good for you, not-so-great for us scenario. At the very least, though, it establishes the fact that boxing is still a sport that can reach the mainstream if presented correctly. American fight fans just have to roll with the punches and accept that they’re no longer the center of the fistic universe. They’ll have to get used to watching fights at odd hours at “away” venues. The American fight game can learn from all of this and rebuild based on those lessons—if it decides one day to smarten up.

ADEYINKA MAKINDEbarrister, writer and contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing: The decline in fighters from Western developed countries after the Second World War saw a corresponding rise from poorer parts of the globe. The rise of the Griffiths and the Paret’s confirmed that trend. Also, if the U.S. does not hold any of the Heavyweight titles, that’s indicative that it is “no longer a major player in professional boxing.” Also reflecting this “re-adjustment” is the box office success of non-American boxers in their homelands. Anthony Joshua can fill stadiums in Britain and command huge guarantees from Saudi sponsors. However, in terms of financial muscle, the situation is less clear as DAZN is a multinational brand with huge American input. ESPN and PBS are still in there. There are fewer American boxing superstars, but the US continues to be a major player as a centre for raising monies as well as locations such as Las Vegas and NYC.

LAYLA McCARTER-WIBF welterweight champion and former world title-holder in multiple divisions: Perhaps the U.S. has lost its presence as the major player in pro boxing, but I believe this trend to be temporary. Promoters and networks come and go. Great ones like King and Arum are aging out of the sport. The UK is having its run now, but I’m confident that new promoters will emerge in the U.S. and once again be successful.

KELSEY McCARSON-TSS writer: I think the U.S. will remain the fulcrum of professional boxing for the foreseeable future but that the rise in global audiences that are able to digitally cross borders will reveal more competition than ever for U.S.-based promotional companies. It would seem like that’s a good thing. One of my favorite things about boxing over the last few years is Eddie Hearn’s rise to global prominence. In the old days, Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya had a virtual monopoly through their partnerships with HBO. Now, there are many more ways fighters can get paid to fight on TV and streaming platforms.

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“…how can we profess to be a major player when the sport is on life support here in the United States with no vaccine to save it?” Dr. Stuart Kirschenbaum

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SCOOP MALINOWSKI-writer, author, creator of BIOFILE: America no longer produces the abundance of great champions it once did. The best fighters are developed in other nations, particularly Eastern Europe. American tennis is in a similar situation.

JASON MARCHETTI-boxing writer: I disagree. The US is still a major player in professional boxing, although there continues to be inconsistencies of what promoters and fighters say versus what they agree to. The sanctioning bodies and promoters control which fights get made instead of the fans, and its killing the sport in the US.

LARRY MERCHANT-legendary HBO commentator; 2009 IBHOF inductee: Trick question. Boxing hasn’t been a mainstream sport in the U.S. for decades, yet four networks show boxing regularly and we have more consequential fighters and fights in the lightweight, welterweight and middleweight divisions by far than any other country. And even though we may have to wait for another comeback by George Foreman to make a heavyweight impact on casual fans, most heavyweight championship fights recently have been staged, yes, in the U.S. That said, Great Britain and probably Mexico reign as the pound-for-pound champions for their “presence”—or passion— and that does count for a lot.

ROBERT MLADINICHFormer fighter, retired NYC Detective, author, writer, and actor. It’s sad but the United States has taken a back seat to Europe in attracting fans to live shows. Wilder vs. Fury 2 could have brought nearly 100,000 fans to an arena in England. Years ago that fight would have broken attendance records here.

DIEGO MORILLA-boxing writer; Copy Editor of The Ring en Español : Sometimes certain countries gain more ground at certain times, depending on the level of activity of their fighters. Japan is now enjoying huge success. The quality of their fighters in those lower divisions is off the charts. That’s just an example of one country “exploding” in a particular region. Since the most visible weight class is the heavyweights, fans tend to assess the value of boxing in general depending on the quality displayed in that division. The U.K now rules the heavyweights with as many as five in the top 10. It used to be Eastern Europe and the Klitschko’s. Now it’s England. This surge may be responsible for this notion that the US is losing ground in boxing, but the level of quality in the U.S. is so deep that it’s only a matter of time before it bounces back to the top and claims at least half of the pound-for-pound names, as well as a similar number of names in the list of best paid and most relevant athletes in the world.

ERNESTO MORALES (aka GENO FEBUS)-writer, former fighter: For decades the Western Hemisphere fighters & trainers, managers, promoters, and fans were spoiled believing they had a never-ending superiority. When a U.S. fighter lost abroad it was considered a fluke/upset. As time went, non-U.S. fighters trained harder, their hunger grew, and became CONFIDENT that they were just as good if not better, with the main reason for their success being their extensive and superior amateur programs. Heavyweight is the most influential division worldwide, and it’s OWNED by Europe.

LUIS PABON- elite referee: Undoubtedly the Europeans have been gaining ground, especially the larger weights. Uzbekistan, Russia, Ukraine, they are very good, but even in the USA the 130, 135, 147, 160 are the best divisions, and the Mexican-Americans, who are USA, they are also very good. I think it is global. Europe, Japan, Mexico, they are very good but even together they do not beat the USA.

JOE PASQUALE-professional judge: Team sports are supported & easier. And since WW2 there are fewer inner city gyms. Less media attention for amateur boxing world & Olympic events has resulted in fewer participants and professional contenders from the USA. Boxing has become more global like the world economy. Talent is emerging from countries where there is more national and government support for boxing. China has massive amateur boxing programs with thousands of boxers supported and educated. The USA barely does that for their amateur team sports and nothing for boxing except at a minimum on the Olympic level.

DENNIS RAPPAPORT: former co-manager of Gerry Cooney, among others; elite promoter: Historically the best fighters were from the U.S. In recent years the Eastern Europeans, Germany and England have made major strides. England has produced some excellent fighters and the sport’s popularity has been overwhelming. The Russians, Ukrainians and former members of the USSR are very hungry and determined and have impressive amateur pedigrees. The Latins have always been a major force and now with the emergence of The Philippines, pose even more competition. Bottom Line is the momentum, at least for now, has shifted away from US dominance.

JOHN RASPANTI-lead writer/editor for MaxBoxing; author: I don’t agree. Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles are major players in promoting and staging the most important fights. Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder fought last month in Vegas. Fight three will probably be back in Sin City. Vasyl Lomachencko and Teofimo will likely fight in New York in a few months. Major fights are scheduled in Southern California. The United States is a big time player in the sweet science and will continue to be in the foreseeable future.

CLIFF ROLD-writer and Managing Editor of BOXING SCENE: How could it have lost its presence? By and large, the US is still the richest market in the sport. This is where the greatest fortunes are possible. As long as this is true, it will be a premier part of the game.

FRED ROMANO-boxing historian, author and former HBO Boxing consultant: There certainly is a broader representation of quality fighters from places outside the United States compared with a couple of decades ago. Boxing is also more global in terms of financial control and preferred venues as well. Nevertheless, the US boxing presence is still stout, and the US will remain a major player in the sport in all respects.

DANA ROSENBLATT-former World Middleweight Champion; inspirational speaker and commentator: The U.S. is close to losing its lead in worldwide boxing due to boxing not being as widely present in the Boys Clubs. The loss of weekly fights on the major networks is also another reason why we have slipped in terms of our dominance of the sport.

TED SARES-TSS writer: The U.S. is behind at the top and especially so in the heavyweight division. It never was much of a force at the bottom divisions where Asians and Latinos thrive. It’s in the middle that the U.S. will maintain a competitive, if not  premier, spot with other nations. Fighters like Crawford, Tank, Spence, Thurman, Porter, Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia, Plant, Andrade, the Charlos, Hurd, Williams, Harrison, Lubin, Prograis, Hooker, Zepeda, Diaz, JR., Farmer, and Colbert ensure this.

RICHARD SCHWARTZ-elite cut-man and RING 10 board member: The rest of the world is catching up to the U.S. just like in basketball.  We still produce some of the world’s best like Mayweather, Crawford, Spence, the Garcia’s, Wilder, etc. Boxing has always been populated by those from the lowest socio-economic group and will continue to be, but many good athletes are going into other athletic endeavors. Many world champs and great fighters are now coming out of European countries. When I was growing up, I could only think of Ingemar Johansson. New York is no longer the mecca of boxing; that title has been taken over by Las Vegas, but the sport will continue to survive the world over.

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY-former world title challenger; you name it in boxing, he’s done it!: I wouldn’t say that the USA has lost its presence entirely as the major player in the game but we have been joined by the most serious competition we have ever had. The U.K. may actually be number one right now but that doesn’t mean the U.S. has been wiped off the boxing map. Many countries who were not able to turn out professionals back in the 80’s like Cuba and Russia are now seeing some of their greatest amateurs turning pro and they are simply achieving what many great Americans have done in the past. We are not off the map; we have just been joined by many others, that’s all.

MIKE SILVER- author, writer, historian: Until the USA has an undisputed world heavyweight champion, it will appear to have lost dominance over the sport. Although certainly not as dominant a major player as in previous decades, the USA still holds 15 of the 37 title belts from featherweight to heavyweight. That’s 40 percent, which isn’t bad. I don’t include the six weight classes from light flyweight to bantamweight because there just aren’t enough small Americans competing in those divisions, nor is there much interest in them.

ALAN SWYERfilm producer, creator “El Boxeo”: Though boxing has gotten a recent surge thanks to the heavyweight division — first Ruiz’s upset win, then Fury mauling Wilder — the powers that be have accepted its status as a niche sport. Bud Crawford may well be the best fighter in the world, but outside of fight fans, who knows about him? Or Lomachenko? How many newspapers even cover boxing regularly? Far too much changed when the Olympics — the spawning ground for Ali, Leonard, Oscar, and others — not merely de-emphasized it, but worse turned it into fencing. As I showed in my documentary “El Boxeo,” the popularity of the sport today owes largely to Latinos, followed by Brits and Eastern Europeans. Other than Mayweather (plus Andy Ruiz during his fifteen minutes of fame), what boxer has captured the imagination of the casual American sports fan of late?

RICHARD TORSNEY-former fighter; boxing official: (1) Boxing has always been practiced by the downtrodden. Young people in the US have more opportunities than in the past. Education is broadly available. US athletes can choose sports such as basketball, football, soccer, baseball, etc., that affords them reduced or even free college tuition. Boxing does not. Thus, we have fewer practitioners.  (2) In days gone by the US media treated boxing as an important sport. It doesn’t any longer. Without publicity, interest is lost, fans don’t fill arenas and young folks don’t get to see their names and photos in the paper. Without media coverage it’s like a tree falling in the woods…, it makes no noise.

BOB TRIEGER-boxing publicist: I agree that America has lost some of its presence, but not all of it. Every trend in boxing has been in cycle and I’m confident that Americans will once again rule. NYC and LV remain two of the top markets in the world. It will be interesting to watch how America responds to the Coronavirus pandemic. America still produces many of the best boxers and that will not change,

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS-the voice of Boxing in the Beltway: I think it depends on the weight class.  We are starting to lose credibility in the heavyweight division definitely. However, from 140-160, I think the US is in good shape.

PETER WOOD-author, former fighter, NY Boxing Hall of Fame inductee: I will answer this question with another question: If the US has lost its presence as a major player in professional boxing, who has replaced us?…I rest my case.

Observations:

The responses were pretty much evenly divided between “agree” and “disagree.”

Surprisingly (at least to me), many felt that as long as the U.S. does not rule the heavyweight division, it does not rule boxing.

I thought Brian “The Bizz” Bizzack summed up the downward trend of U.S. Boxing very well, but Larry Merchant made the case for the U.S. and many agree with his analysis if not his conclusion.

Iceman John Scully and many others opined that other countries have simply caught up with the U.S–and that’s a difficult one to debate.

Clearly, media coverage has been especially poor. Rich Torsney nailed it when he says, “Without media coverage it’s like a tree falling in the woods…, it makes no noise.”

Once again, my heartfelt thanks to everyone that contributed, particularly in these difficult times.

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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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