Muhammad Ali Collection: Memories Of “The Greatest”

  • January 17th, 2012
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By Scoop Malinowski

We all know about the legend of Muhammad Ali, inside and out, but to celebrate his 70th birthday, I present to you a new, different perspective of “The Greatest.” Here is a collection of diverse, personal memories of Ali from various sources associated with boxing, opponents, fans, media, etc…

Mike Schreck (Boxing Fan): “I met Ali on a promotion tour for his own brand of cologne. It was at Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT in 1990. Muhammad was signing memorabilia at a table and when the line got to me, I said to him, ‘God Bless you champ.’ And at that, he stood up and motioned me to come around the table to him. Then he went into a boxing stance. As I did, my wife snapped a picture of us. It was a true highlight of my life. Muhammad Ali is a very gracious man.”

Bob Foster (Ali opponent and former Light Heavyweight champion): “I was on the same card at Caesars with Muhammad Ali. He fought Jerry Quarry and I was fighting his brother Mike Quarry (billed as “The Quarry Brothers vs. The Soul Brothers”). Before the fights that night, Ali bet me $1,000 that he could stop Jerry Quarry before I could stop Mike. I said, ‘I’ll take that bet.’ Because I knew Ali couldn’t punch that hard. And Jerry was tough. I ended up winning the bet. I knocked Mike Quarry out with one shot. And Ali paid me too. ‘Cause he knew if he didn’t, I’d have kicked his ass, right there in Caesars Palace!”

Marion Boykin (New York-based boxing TV show host): “I once traveled with Ali on a book tour many years back in New York City. I was glad to be included on the bus of writers and will always be beholden to super-writer, Tom Hauser for making sure I was there. Tom had helped Ali with a big photo book and a book of Ali quotations and thoughts. We were all a part of the push to get the books out there to Ali’s millions of fans. During the ride I spent most of the time in the back of the bus, wouldn’t you know it, with another great champion, Roy Jones Jr. It was fun as we went from school to school for ceremonies hyping the books. But the most interesting part of it was stopping at one high school and having a little lunch. Ali sat with my photographer, Terrence Nelson and I and we shot-the-breeze a bit. He was in the beginning strains of his coming battles with Parkinson’s but he was still very alert and quick. As we ate, the conversation got interesting…I happen to love magic and sleight-of-hand and so, of course, does Ali. He took out a little handkerchief and made it disappear and was quite proud of himself about it. But then I pulled out a few coins and made them go from this hand to that hand invisibly and he was blown away, I had absolutely floored the champ on what was perhaps just another routine day for him – or so he might’ve thought. He immediately asked me how I did that and I responded, ‘Champ, you know us magicians can’t reveal our secrets.’ He bent over and begged me closer, and as I did to hear what I thought would be a secret whisper between Magis, he grabbed me by by my collar, flashed that old Ali battle snarl and said, ‘I said…HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!’ He startled me at first, as I quickly thought I had become Joe Frazier or George Foreman to him but he immediately then flashed his big playful smile as he released me and said, ‘Man, that was a good one…You’re even faster than me.’”

Mrs. Deanna Dempsey (Wife of former Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey): “We met Muhammad Ali in San Juan, Puerto Rico after he beat Jean-Pierre Coopman in 1976. He was young and handsome and vital and so full of life. After the fight, as he was coming down the steps from the ring, Ali spotted Jack and he said, ‘Mr. Dempsey, can I call you Jack?’ Jack said, ‘Everybody calls me Jack.’ Then Muhammad said, Oh Jack, you were the greatest!’ And Jack said, ‘But Muhammad, I thought you always said YOU were the greatest?’ Ali said, ‘Jack. When I say I’m the greatest, it’s all bullshit!’”

Riddick Bowe (Former World Heavyweight champion): “Muhammad Ali is what enticed me to get into boxing. I liked his spirit and I liked his style. And I liked the way he spoke. See, what happened was, I was in junior high school – I was in 8th grade, I was 13 years old – and the reading teacher brought in a tape of Ali. And I just fell in love with Ali from that point on. I said, ‘I wanna be heavyweight champion of the world.’ And in about ten years later it took place and it happened. My teacher, she called around a couple of gyms so I could start boxing. So we finally decided to go to Bed-Stuy Boxing Association Club. And I walked into the gym, fought in the Kid Gloves, the Golden Gloves, the Junior Olympics, and I realized in that time I could be champ. Because I did feel a certain ease, you know? A lot of guys had a lot more experience than I had but I was beatin’ up all them guys like I was there the whole time they were.”

James ‘Buster’ Douglas (Former World Heavyweight champion): “Muhammad Ali made such an impact on boxing and was a beautiful boxer. He had a beautiful jab. I met him on several occasions, kicked it with him, we had a ball. It isn’t like it usually is where your expectations are too high. It wasn’t like that. It was even more than I expected. He said he liked my style. He told me he was jumping up and down, and jumping out of his chair watching the Tyson fight. It was a thrill to bring pleasure to a man who brought so much pleasure to me.”

Ray Lewis (NFL Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowl linebacker): “When he fought Sonny Liston and won, some doubted Ali’s athleticism, and they wanted to see him fail. But, he persisted and won, over and over. Later, when he gave up his title based on personal convictions, some doubted his integrity. Today, he is considered to have been the greatest athlete of all time, but it is his integrity, his dedication to peace and civil rights, that defines him. To this day he leads by example, and that says it all…He used his fame to persuade people all over the world to reconsider their views on war and peace and on racial relations. No athlete accomplished more for mankind than Muhammad Ali. No one.”

Bernard Hopkins (Former Middleweight and Light Heavyweight champion): “I met Muhammad Ali a few times. He came to Ecuador for my first title fight against Segundo Mercado. Don King brought him. He still had his sense of humor. I had goosebumps. When I started my career I never thought I’d be next to guys like that. Me and his birthdays are a few days apart, we’re both Capricorns.”

Angelo Dundee (Ali’s trainer): “I first met Ali when he was an amateur in 1959. I used to go to Louisville with my fighters – Jimmy Beecham, Luis Rodriguez, Willie Pastrano. In fact, the biggest draw in Louisville was Willie Pastrano. And Willie fought Alonzo Johnson. That’s when I met Muhammad. Muhammad called me from the hotel lobby…’This is Cassius Marcellus Clay. I’m the Golden Gloves champ of Louisville. I won the Gloves in Chicago, I won the Gloves in Seattle. And I want to talk with you.’ I said to Willie, ‘If the guy is some nut downstairs and if you want to let him come up and talk with us?’ And Willie said, ‘Ehh, well the TV stinks. Let him come up.’ And Muhammad came up. Very interesting young man. Kid wanted to know about how my fighters train, how they ran. Because he said he watched me a lot on TV. I had a lot of TV fighters back then in those days. It was a ton of fun. He was a student of boxing. He wanted to know the intricate things about it. I worked with the kid. Showed him the do’s and don’ts. Naturally, he had his own ideas and conceptions on what should be done. But I sort of gave him some advice. That was the first time I met him. And when my fighters would come back to Louisville, he would look them up. A lot of times I wouldn’t be with them. Like Luis Rodriguez would fight in Louisville. Muhammad would go in there and come into the fight with Luis. He grew to love Luis. Because Muhammad got to like all my guys. My guys were easy to like, ’cause they’re good kids. You’ll find out something, by the way, 99% of fighters are good kids. Because of the life they’ve got to lead. It’s a tough life. And nobody has bigger respect for the fistic guys than me. ‘Cause I appreciate what they’ve got to go through.”

Melvin “Doc” Stanley (New York City-based print and radio media): “Muhammad Ali, wow. Ali has always been so very special to me for a multitude of unique reasons. Greatest fighter, athlete of our lifetime. Only Pele can be mentioned in the same breath as an international and global figure, both men the most renowned athletes of our generation and quite possible of all times. And in a time where their world wide fame was produced with a fraction of the media methods, tools and outlets that are used today. Word and mouth were major factors, living legends truly befit them both. Ali was both a student of the sweet science and knew its history and the legends and stars that preceded him. They may have said, ‘Screw Babe Ruth,’ during the World War, but nobody knew or heard of the Babe in a Brazil, Suriname, Aruba, Egypt, or a hut in South Africa or a village in Zaire. Ali and Pele can lay claim to such and although they shouted Ruth’s name during the war, only Ali and Pele had wars stopped to see them both perform.”

“The love I have and profess for Ali curtails so many facets. First, the boxer as it is the sport I hold most dearest to my heart. He being the best ever and at his weight class too.
But beyond that, also his character, charm, intellect, wit, honesty, mindset and heart inside and outside the squared circle. And him being a great father to all of his children and a true friend to his friends. A man of compassion and forgiveness.”

“And who can ever forget his stand against being drafted, standing on both his religious conviction and also the saving of lives of his multi-racial and ethnic fans, the young, the elder, both black and white.”

“That stand cost him his prime boxing and earning money years and a shot at being undefeated, yet it also propelled him into immortality, stardom beyond superstar status, he surpassed the other renowned gods of boxing – Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Ray Robinson, Jack Johnson and Rocky Marciano. They were leapt over and surpassed. And he too gained the respect, ears, eyes and love of all mankind, here, abroad and any life form on neighboring planets.”

“Jew, gentile, catholic, atheist as well as Muslim, sided, admired, respected and supported him, mentally, physically and spiritually. He may have been a Muslim religion-wise but he was the Peter Pan, the pied piper of all mankind.”

“Emilano Zapata, Che Gureva, Jack Johnson, Zorro, Superman, Batman, Shaft, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Dr. J, Michael Jordan, the Beatles all rolled into one and multiplied by 100, divided by the square root of Ali.”

“The world was his oyster and platform, he was now Muhammad Ali, first, who also happened to be a fighter, who was heavyweight champion of the world, belt or not.”

“Ali is and always will be a People’s champion and is now loved by all aspects of our society.
Seen as Ali by most, not as the black fighter. There were those that didn’t always love him, but he was always respected and admired, as both an athlete and a man.”

“Now his taking in the Muslim religion put him in a sphere and status, where he both transcended more than the fight game, but also the religion, although again, he was a Black Muslim, the American made and founded sect, the world and Muslims worldwide, saw him as a Muslim. He did as much for the religion as he did for the sport of boxing.”

“Earnie Shavers once told me, ‘Every fighter and athlete after Ali, owed him. Before Ali came along, guys were fighting for $20,000 dollars for the heavyweight championship of the world. Ali changed the scope of salaries globally and domestically. And also he changed the public relations world and mind set of boxing.”

“The late media boxing icon and public relations legend, John Francis Xavier Condon, told me how he and Ali went out into the streets of New York City, during a newspaper strike and sold out the Garden. He predicted knockouts, recited poetry, appeared on talk shows to talk not about simply boxing.”

“Fighters started copying his gestures – hands low, standing in their corner and not sitting on their stool between rounds, shaking their heads saying they were not hurt when hit, and predicting victory – all unheard of prior to Cassius Marcellus Clay. He was a PR man’s dream. And fight fans loved, were amazed and dazzled by him, nobody boasted of winning, predicted knockouts, nicknamed their foes, ‘The Wash Woman’ or ‘The Bear.’

“The Hall of Fame boxing champion, Jose Torres once told me that everything Ali did in the ring was wrong and exactly what you taught fighters not to do – hands low, backing up, moving your head to avoid punches. Arturo LeConte, legendary Panamanian boxing photographer, told me, that, ‘All you had to do to sell out a boxing magazine was to put Ali’s face on the cover. A story would be nice but not needed.’

“His demeanor was always that of reachable, comic, friendly and humble with the media and fans. Memories? I have so many, but my first. Tommy Kenville, MSG media icon, told me in the press room prior an old Garden card, ‘Mel, the champ is here.’ I knew who he meant. He had no title at the time – he had lost to Norton months prior, but he was,well, Ali. I spotted him sitting near ringside and I asked him to sign a photo and he looked at me with a little mock shock as he turned from looking ringside and said, ‘In the middle of a fight?!’ When the round stopped he signed and then I started my first interview with the legendary Muhammad Ali and as he talked, other reporters joined us. I’ve been blessed by God to meet and be with him and have more photos with him than any other iconic figure of our generation.”

“Other memories? Well, me being the first reporter to interview him and helping hold him back from going after Joe Frazier at their second Ali-Frazier press conference at the Garden at the Hall of Fame club. Another – him autographing a photo for my lady at the time and him saying to me as he glanced at her picture, ‘A fox, where did you get a fox?’”

“Ali winning the first ever Potamkin Award and at the affair, which Howard Cosell attended, I asked him to sign a couple of photos, after he did I started to walk away and he asked me what was in the bag. I told him it was some more stuff but he need not or couldn’t sign everything. He said, ‘Give it to me.’ And he autographed all I had. How can you not love him?”

“I remember him doing magic tricks at the first and only fight card at the Meadowlands arena. And him giving me the last radio interview prior to Ali-Frazier II in his hotel lobby. And as I went to the fight that night, there I was on the back page of the early edition of the Daily News walking down the street with Ali.”

“I say this all the time, If Ali had time for photos, the media, autographs and fans, then every other athlete after him should too. For Ali is number one and all others are a very distant second. Thanks for asking.”

Chuck Wepner (Ali opponent): “The Ali fight, that was the best I ever felt in the ring. Going 15 rounds. It’s the only fight I ever trained for full time in my career, my entire career. I got sent to camp by Don King. The other fights I used to have to run in the morning, work in the day, train at night. It’s tough to really get on top of your game when you have to do that. For the Ali fight, I trained for seven weeks and I showed a lot of people I was better than they thought I was. After the fight Ali said, ‘I told you that guy was a tough guy. I would never fight that guy in an alley, he was a great fighter.’ That’s why he never gave me a name (like) the Mummy. He said, ‘I respect Chuck Wepner.’ He was always a gentleman to me and he always respected me and I respect him back. I love Muhammad Ali. It was not only a great opportunity for me but a great honor to fight him.”

Mario Costa (Boxing trainer): “I was in the dressing room with Mike Tyson after he lost his last fight to Kevin McBride in Louisville. Muhammad Ali was there. After the fight, Ali came to the dressing room to be with Mike. Mike wasn’t talking, you could tell he was sad. I remember they were both sitting on a bench together, just the two of them. Two great champions. It was very quiet. And Ali pulled out his comb and started combing Mike’s hair, like to tell him, You’re still pretty like me. He was trying to make Mike feel good at such a down moment.”

John Scully (Former Light Heavyweight title challenger): “One day in June of 1991, I went to the West Farms Mall to see Ali at the JC Penny store where he was appearing to promote his new cologne. The most memorable thing about that afternoon was that there was such a long line of people waiting to see him and get his autograph. I initially got in line but I took one look and realized that it would be hours of standing just so I could meet him for a few seconds. I am not really an autograph type of person and, really, I just wanted to see the man. So I got out of line and walked up to the counter where Ali was and, I don’t know, when I saw him sitting there it was a very strange thing. Picture the feeling that a five year old boy must get when he sees Santa Claus in the local mall for the very first time. Then magnify that feeling by ten.”

“As luck would have it, at the exact time that I was standing there just looking at Ali, one of his associates came over to talk to the store security guard that was standing right next to me. He asked where the best seafood restaurant in Hartford was. I knew already that it was the Capitol Fish House at the corner of Capitol and Main. I cannot remember if the security guard told him that also or even if a time was mentioned but I just remember going to the Capital Fish House that night and seeing a stretch limousine parked out front. I drove around to the side of the restaurant and there, sitting in the window of the back dining room with his wife and a few other people, was the man himself, Muhammad Ali.”

“I instantly took off on the two mile or so drive back to my apartment where I quickly changed my shirt and grabbed my scrapbook before heading right back to the restaurant. I walked right in to the back dining room and headed to the table where he sat with his small group. They were the only ones back there so there was no disputing who I was there to see. What happened next is the absolute greatest thing that could have happened, a boxing fan’s – and boxer’s – dream. Ali got up slowly and started to head away from me. I remember feeling so bad, so nervous. I thought he was maybe in a bad mood and was going out of the room until I left. He had signed hours and hours worth of autographs that day and I figured he was very tired. I was surprised he would leave so abruptly but I understood, too, I guess. I imagined myself as the only guy in the world that Ali turned down.”

“But, I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong in my assumption as Ali came around the table and headed directly towards me. When he got close enough he put his hands up and, making that famous Ali face where he bites his bottom lip and tilts his head to the side – that seems to say like, ‘C’mon Sucker!’ – that I had seen countless times. He got in his boxing stance. I took the hint, put my jacket on the table in mock anger, and set up like we were gonna rumble! It all happened so fast! Everybody was watching and laughing as we moved closer to each other and went right to it. No conversation. No debating. Ali came to me and started snapping his jab out at me and one thing I distinctly remember is that he seemed to be very far away from me when he let it go but his fist still came so close to my face that I briefly felt the apprehension that came with thoughts of him mistakenly smacking me in my forehead with that famous jab. The man has range. The other thing was that I was caught off guard by how fast with the jab he still was. I was surprised at how quickly it traveled and how close it came to my face before it quickly recoiled like a cobra snake.”

“I wanted to show him that I was a boxer, too. It was like I was at an audition. I wanted him to see that I was a real boxer, too, and I specifically remember giving him a feint and when he kind of flinched at it, I ducked down and snapped a straight and sharp left jab into his belly. Then, the greatest thing happened. I am so glad that I was quick-witted enough to catch it and reply properly. After I caught him with the jab he put his hands down a little, bit his lip and widened his eyes like he does and said loudly, ‘What? You called me nigger?!’ Now, when he used to pull that bit on Cosell back in the day when I wasn’t even born yet – I was born the year he went into exile, 1967 – they had a little routine where he would say that to Cosell and Cosell would act all scared and nervous and, after some tense moments, Ali would say, ‘Man, you musta said trigger.’ I had seen the films and read enough books to know the routine. So, I think I shocked Ali and everybody in that room with my reply.”

‘No, no, I said trigger,’ I told him.

“Everybody in the room, especially the man himself, really got a kick out of that one! I have several great pictures from that day and one of them is of me doubled over in laughter after I said that with Ali smiling.”

Boxing Fan: “I was lucky to meet Ali in November 1993 when he was helping promote Howard Bingham’s book ‘A 30 Year Journey.’ Incredibly, Ali was in my hometown of Kingston, just outside of London, England. I even managed to get a laugh when I asked him if he ever found the kid who stole his bike. I remember Ali stayed at the venue until everybody had been seen – eventhough he was, even then, not in the best of health. Unlike so many lesser known celebrities who seem to treat the public and their fans like they’re an inconvenience.”

Eric Bottjer (Boxing matchmaker): “I’ve seen Muhammad Ali a half-dozen times. In my only interaction with him, I followed him to a hotel hallway after he had been introduced at a black-tie boxing event in Washington D.C. Obviously tired and visibly shaking, Ali walked alongside a sole bodyguard. I approached him from behind and timidly asked him to sign my program. The bodyguard shook his head and motioned me away. Ali put a hand on the guard’s shoulder, gently moved him aside and signed the book. He glanced at me to see the look he’s seen thousands of times. He shuffled on and I decided I’d made a damn fine choice for a hero.”

(Note: This feature is currently being developed into a book about Muhammad Ali. Ali & Cosell oil painting by Scoop Malinowski/ Ali scultpure by artist Barrymore Alan Moton.)

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