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“Cassius X: The Transformation of Muhammad Ali”

Thomas Hauser

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BOOK REVIEW by THOMAS HAUSER — Music was the lifeblood of cultural change in the 1950s and 1960s. Cassius X: The Transformation of Muhammad Ali by Stuart Cosgrove (published by Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press) focuses on Cassius Clay’s involvement with the Nation of Islam in the years leading up to his 1964 triumph over Sonny Liston and the expanding reach of what Cosgrove calls “Black music” during that time.

Cassius X is divided into six chapters with a coda entitled “Requiem.” Each chapter is set in a particular city – Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, London, and Miami again – that was the site for one or more pivotal events in Clay’s life. In each instance, Cosgrove describes Clay’s life and the music scene in that city in depth.

For example, the first chapter (“Miami”) includes a graphic portrayal of racial injustice in the segregated American south as well as Clay’s early involvement with the Nation of Islam and the origins of his friendship with Sam Cooke (a pioneering singer and songwriter of that era). The second chapter (“Detroit”) contains an interesting recounting of a 1962 journey that Cassius, his brother, and Sam Saxon (who introduced Clay to the Nation of Islam) took to Detroit to attend a Nation of Islam rally overseen by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. In “Philadelphia,” the racist underpinnings of Dick Clark’s enormously influential “American Bandstand” television show are explored.

Cosgrove is a Scottish author, journalist, television executive, and TV host with a scholarly interest in music. He’s passionate about his subject and puts words together well. His writing is infused with interesting nuggets of information such as the fact that three records recorded by Sonji Roi (Ali’s first wife) were released after their marriage fell apart. But there are problems with his work.

The biggest problem is that Cassius X is riddled with factual inaccuracies. The red flags begin to appear in the first chapter when Cosgrove writes that Tony Esperti (Clay’s third professional opponent) was “assassinated in a mob hit” in 1967 by a member of the Gambino crime family and adds, “The coroner described it as the perfect execution – a single lethal bullet to the brain.”

“That’s interesting,” I said to myself. I made a note to praise Cosgrove in this review for that bit of information. Then something in the back of my mind cautioned, “Wait a minute!”

Muhammad Ali fought fifty different opponents in his 61 professional fights. I keep a list of which opponents are still alive and the date of death for those who are no longer with us. Tony Esperti died in 2002. I have photographs of him that were taken in 1979. Yet Cassius X dramatically recounts his 1967 “execution” in a Miami steakhouse. In reality, Esperti was the perpetrator of the crime in question.

Unfortunately, there’s more.

Cosgrove writes that “more myths have congregated around Sonny Liston than any boxer before or since.”

I take issue with that. Let’s start with Joe Louis who (among other myths) inspired the allegorical tale of a black prisoner in the moments before his execution crying out “Save me, Joe Louis!” No one is said to have cried out, “Save me, Sonny Liston!”

Cosgrove also writes, “Liston won twenty-six consecutive bouts over five years, and his title-winning victory on September 25, 1962 [over Floyd Patterson] broke the record for consecutive heavyweight victories.”

But Rocky Marciano won 49 fights in a row and retired from boxing with an unblemished record. Joe Louis won 34 fights in a row after his 1936 loss to Max Schmeling. The last time I looked, 49 and 34 were more than 26.

Cosgrove writes that Angelo Dundee “panicked” after Henry Cooper dropped Cassius Clay with a left hook in round four of their 1963 fight. That’s not true. To the contrary, Dundee saw Clay through the crisis.

Similarly, the fatal 1962 encounter between Emile Griffith and Benny Paret is mis-told. After writing that Griffith was “the reigning welterweight champion” at the time (he wasn’t), Cosgrove states that Grffith “lost control” during the final sequence of punches and informs readers, “Referee Ruby Goldstein was tugging at Griffith from behind, pulling him off. As Emile, berserk, struggling passionately in Goldstein’s embrace, was dragged away, Paret, now obviously senseless, crumpled slowly and collapsed.”

That’s inaccurate. All Cosgrove had to do was go to YouTube and watch a video of the fatal round. If he had, he would have seen that Griffith stopped throwing punches and stepped back the moment that Goldstein intervened. Is simple fact-checking too much to ask of a seasoned professional like Cosgrove?

Errors like these make it difficult to know how much of Cosgrove’s factual recitation in other areas (such as music) can be trusted.

Here I might add that Cosgrove writes of a week that the writer Tom Wolfe spent with Clay in 1963 and states, “Wolfe sensed that his simplistic poetry and superficial boasting disguised a deep understanding of business and finance.”

I don’t know what Wolfe “sensed.” I do know that it’s ludicrous to suggest that Clay (or Muhammad Ali) had “a deep understanding of business and finance.”

That brings us to Cassius Clay and the world of music.

Cosgrove equates Muhammad Ali’s ultimate success with the rise of rhythm and blues and (ultimately) hip-hop to become “the preeminent form of popular music in the world.”

Reinterpretations of history are always welcome when solidly grounded. And there’s a lot of interesting information in Cassius X about Clay’s transformation to Muhammad Ali, the Nation of Islam, and the music of that era. But there are times when Cosgrove’s methodology of viewing Clay through the prism of music comes across as forced.

I’m not a scholar with regard to popular music from the 1950s and 1960s. But I know it pretty well, having lived through that time. Lloyd Price and Chubby Checker (acknowledged by Cosgrove to have been important figures during that era) have been guests for dinner in my home. My first real bond with Ali when I began spending time with him while researching Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times (published in 1991) was music.

Muhammad was four years older than I was, but we’d grown up with many of the same songs. We’d drive from the airport to his home in Berrien Springs or be in his car on the way to a restaurant. We’d pop a tape of songs sung by black recording artists into the cassette player and sing along.

“I can’t believe you know all the words,” Muhammad said to me one evening. “I never would have thought it.”

Cosgrove has an impressive resume. Among his many credits, he’s the author of a three-book study of soul music. That said; there are places where he falls victim to hyperbole in advancing his thesis. Twist and Shout, first recorded by the Top Notes and made famous by the Isley Brothers (two black vocal groups) was not “the song the Beatles had become synonymous with” when they came to the United States in 1964. A Christmas Gift for You featuring Darlene Love and the Ronettes was not “one of the greatest pop albums of the era.” It was a celebration of a certain style of music but a repetitive and formulaic compilation. Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 is an excellent recording but not “universally acclaimed as one of the greatest live albums of all time.”

Cosgrove writes that sports columnist Jimmy Cannon “erupted when he learned about the Beatles meeting Cassius in Miami” in 1964 and that Cannon wrote, “Clay is part of the Beatle movement. He fits in with the famous singers no one can hear and the punks riding motorcycles with iron crosses pinned to their leather jackets and Batman and the boys with their long dirty hair and the girls with the unwashed look and the college kids dancing naked at secret proms held in apartments and the revolt of students who get a check from dad every first of the month and the painters who copy the labels off soup cans and the surf bums who refuse to work and the whole pampered style-making cult of the bored young.”

That’s a dramatic quote. But Cosgrove puts it in a misleading context. Cannon wrote those words in 1966 after Ali was reclassified 1-A by his draft board and uttered the words, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” That was more than two years after Clay met the Beatles.

And Cosgrove writes about Clay’s dalliance with singer Dee Dee Sharp as a serious relationship before characterizing it more accurately as a “brief affair” and then exaggerating its gravitas again.

There’s also some sloppy copy-editing. By way of example, Cassius X states that Sonny Liston refused to allow Liston-Clay I to be shown on closed circuit in theaters in New Orleans “if the seating in New Orleans was not segregated.” I assume that Cosgrove meant “integrated.”

These flaws are disappointing because Cosgrove has a lot to say that’s of interest. At its best, Cassius X contains some very good – even enlightening – material on the evolution of music in the 1950s and 1960s and Cassius Clay’s sojourn through that time.

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

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Tyson and Jones Box to an Unofficial Draw in a Predictable Stinker

Arne K. Lang

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The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, an American institution, went belly-up in 2017, but a different kind of circus played to an empty house at the Staples Center in Los Angeles tonight. The main attraction wasn’t Jumbo the elephant but Iron Mike Tyson in his first ring appearance in 15 years. In the opposite corner was Roy Jones Jr, who at age 51 was the younger man by three years.

Tyson vs. Jones was the main piece of a 4-hour boxing and music festival live-streamed in the U.S. on the TysononTriller.com app at a list price of $49.95. This was the first live event on “Triller” which allows people to create their own music videos and was designed as a rival to China-owned TikTok, one of the biggest recent success stories in the internet world.

The California State Athletic Commission, which sanctioned the match, insisted that Tyson vs. Jones would be an exhibition. They would fight 8 two-minute rounds with 12-ounce gloves and if there were a knockdown, the referee would not give a count and the bout would or would not continue at his discretion. The rounds would not be scored and no winner would be named.

Of course, the promoter chafed at these restraints and did his best to create the impression that this was a legitimate prizefight. Retired boxers Vinny Pazienza, Chad Dawson, and Christy Martin were lassoed to serve as judges, scoring the fight from a remote location, and the WBC commissioned an honorary belt to present to the winner.

The advance hype was enormous. A clickbait-obsessed media lapped it up including photoshop-enhanced images of Mike Tyson’s physique.

In the second round, Tyson landed a double left hook and that was the only indelible moment in the match. By the third round, both looked and sounded tired and by the sixth round Jones was thoroughly gassed out and took to clinching to make it to the final bell.

For the record, the scores were 79-73 for Tyson (Martin), 80-76 for Jones (Pazienza), and 76-76 (Dawson). On the internet, the clear consensus was that Tyson had the best of it.

Mike Tyson, 50-6, 2 NC (44 KOs) last fought in June of 2005 when he was stopped by third-rater Kevin McBride. Roy Jones (66-9, 47 KOs) was active as recently as 2018 and won his last four, but against hand-picked opponents including a boxer making his pro debut. His last fight of significance came in 2011 when he was brutally KOed by Dennis Lebedev in Moscow.

Jones, who weighed 210 ½ tonight, weighed 157 when he made his pro debut in 1989. In his prime, he was pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world, but that was back in the previous century.

Both fighters were reportedly guaranteed $1 million with Tyson’s take potentially reaching $10 million if certain financial targets were met.

Other Bouts

YouTube sensation Jake Paul, who we reluctantly concede has more than a modicum of talent in the fisticuffing department, knocked out Nate Robinson in the second round and it was a clean knockout with Robinson knocked out cold. The 36-year-old Robinson, the former NBA point guard who was a three-time slam dunk champion during his 11-year NBA career, is a well-rounded athlete, good enough to start as a cornerback in football during his freshman year at the University of Washington, but his athleticism didn’t translate to the squared circle as he looked like a common bar brawler.

Former two-division belt-holder Badou Jack (22-3-4), who said he appeared on the card as a favor to his friend Mike Tyson, was a clear-cut winner over hard-trying but out-classed Blake McKernan in an 8-round cruiserweight match.

At age 37, Jack’s career is winding down. He tipped the scales at 188 ¾, 14 pounds more than in his previous engagement vs. Jean Pascal. McKernan, a natural cruiserweight from Sacramento, was undefeated coming in (13-0), but was over his in over his head against Jack, a former Olympian and veteran of seven world title fights.

In a good action fight, Worcester, Massachusetts lightweight Jamaine Ortiz, a carpenter by trade, improved to 14-0 (8) with a seventh-round stoppage of Sulaiman Segawa (13-3-1), a Maryland-based Ugandan.

In the first bout on the program, Fort Worth featherweight Edward Vazquez improved to 9-0 (1) with an 8-round split decision over Jamaine Ortiz stablemate Irvin Gonzalez (14-3).

Heavyweight Juiseppe “Joe” Cusumano improved to 19-3 (17) with a sixth-round stoppage of late sub Gregory Corbin (15-4). It was the fourth straight loss for the 40-year-old Corbin who came in at a beefy 291 ¾ pounds.

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Fast Results from London: Joe Joyce Stops Daniel Dubois in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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The historic Church House which sits in the shadow of Westminster Abbey was the site of tonight’s clash in London between unbeaten heavyweights Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce. The bout lacked the gloss of a world title fight, but didn’t need it. The oft-postponed match, originally slated for the 02 Arena in London on April 11 with promoter Frank Warren anticipating a sellout, was fairly hyped as the most anticipated fight since Fury-Wilder II which was the last big fight before the coronavirus clampdown.

Dubois, 15-0 with 14 KOs heading in, was a consensus 7/2 favorite in man-to-man betting, He was younger, faster and punched harder, but ultimately it would be his “O” that had to go. Joe Joyce, an inch taller at six-foot-six and 15 pounds heavier at 259, emerged victorious with a 10th-round stoppage in what was a good back-and-forth fight with a divided opinion as to who had the edge through the completed rounds.

Joyce really didn’t do much but throw a jab, but he landed that jab consistently and it was a hard, thudding jab that caused Dubois’s left eye to start swelling during the mid-rounds of the fight. The damaged eye eventually shut and when Joyce reached it with another hard jab in the 10th, Dubois surrendered by taking a knee. The presumption was that he had suffered a broken orbital bone.

The 35-year-old Joyce, nicknamed Juggernaut, is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. He lost by split decision to Tony Yoka in the semifinals of the 2016 Olympics and had to settle for a silver medal. Prior to turning pro, he was 12-1 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing with his lone defeat coming at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk. With today’s career-defining win, he upped his pro ledger to 12-0 (11).

Other Bouts

Top-rated WBC super lightweight contender Jack Catterall (26-0) won a predictably one-sided 10-round triumph over 33-year-old Tunisian Abderrazak Houya (14-3). Catterall scored two knockdowns en route to winning by a 99-90 score. This was a stay-busy fight for the Lancashire man who was the mandatory challenger for title-holder Jose Carlos Ramirez and accepted step-aside money with the promise that he would meet the winner of the unification fight between Ramirez and Josh Taylor which is expected to come off in February.

The lead-in fight was a 10-round contest in the super welterweight division between 21-year-old Hamzah Sheeraz and 33-year-old Guido Nicolas Pitto. The fight was monotonous until Sheeraz (12-0, 8 KOs) kicked it into a higher career in the final stanza and brought about the stoppage. Pitto, from Spain by way of Argentina, declined to 26-8-2. The official time was 1:11 of round 10.

In an 8-round cruiserweight bout, Jack Massey improved to 17-1 (8) with a 79-74 referee’s decision over Mohammad Ali Farid (16-2-1). Massey was making his first start since losing a close 12-round decision to Richard Raikporhe in December of 2019 for the vacant BBBofC title. The well-traveled, one-dimensional Farid had scored 16 knockouts in his previous 18 fights while answering the bell for only 33 rounds.

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Daniel Jacobs Edges Past Gabe Rosado on a Matchroom card in Florida

David A. Avila

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Former world champion Daniel Jacobs needed the last round to win by split decision against upset-minded Gabe Rosado and keep his place in line on Friday for lucrative super middleweight matchups.

But when the ring announcer erroneously announced the winner was from Philadelphia, confusion reigned for a moment until Jacobs was correctly called the winner.

Brooklyn’s Jacobs (37-3, 30 KOs) jumped out ahead against Philly fighter Rosado (25-13-1, 14 KOs) and held on for the win in front of no fans at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. For a second, many thought Rosado had won.

Both were careful during the first three rounds measuring each other’s distance and looking for openings to counter. There were very few.

It was the kind of fight expected by those who know boxing: two veterans with immense experience against top-flight world champions. Mistakes were few.

Jacobs, a former middleweight world champion, had fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in close but losing efforts.

Rosado had battled Golovkin too, six years ago in a bloody affair that ended in a loss. He had also lost to other champions like Peter Quillin and Jermell Charlo. But none were able to knock him out.

Both were aware of each other’s reputation. Bitter words had been exchanged for years and now they finally got their chance to prove their mettle and they did.

Though Jacobs was recognized as a knockout puncher, Rosado’s resilience was just as well known. Both neutralized each other for most of the fight with their feints and jabs to the body. Neither was willing to leave openings for each other.

Jacobs scored big with a left uppercut at the end of the seventh round. While Rosado wowed viewers with a sizzling right cross in the 11th round.

It was 1950s style, boxing with intelligence. Each found it difficult to land combinations, let alone find openings to score knockout blows. Instead, they had to be satisfied with scoring enough to convince three judges the actual winner.

Neither was able to pull out ahead with any conviction.

After 12 rounds one judge saw Rosado the winner 115-113 while two others saw Jacobs the winner 115-113 to give him the win by split decision.

“It felt just a little weird. It felt like a sparring match,” said Jacobs about fighting without fans in the audience. “This wasn’t a valiant effort.”

Rosado was certain he was the true winner.

“I thought I won the fight. I surprised him,” said Rosado who trained with Freddie Roach for this fight. “I’m a veteran, I know how to fight.”

Indeed, he does.

Jacobs now stands poised to fight one of many super middleweight champions in need of a marquee name.

“I live to see another day,” he said honestly.

Other Bouts

Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0, 6 KOs) proved he was not an easy touch and knocked out former world champion Julius Indongo (23-3, 12 KOs) to march forward in the welterweight division while grabbing the vacant IBF Inter-Continental title.

In a fight featuring southpaw versus southpaw Yeleussinov caught Indongo with a roundhouse left the first time they exchanged and down went the former super lightweight world champion. Indongo beat the count and survived the round.

Indongo wasn’t as lucky in the second round as Yeleussinov again connected with a left and down went the fighter from Namibia again. He would not get up at 1:24 of round two giving the knockout win for Yeleussinov.

A battle between undefeated heavyweights saw Azerbaijan’s Mahammadrasul Majidov (3-0, 3 KOs) use roundhouse rights to stagger the heavier Sahret Delgado (8-1) to win by knockout in the third round. Majidov actually helped Delgado get to his stool after knocking him out on his feet at 47 seconds of the third round.

Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1) defeated Mason Menard (36-5) by majority decision after a 10- round lightweight fight that saw a lot of clinching and leaning.

Nikita “White Chocolate” Ababiy (10-0) out-fought Detroit’s Brandon Maddox (7-4-1) to win by unanimous decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Ababiy hurt Maddox with body shots but found Maddox more resilient than expected.

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