By: Ken Hissner
Back on December 25th in 1978 in the UK host Eamonn Andrews surprised Muhammad Ali at the New London Theatre when Ali showed up with Reg Guthridge a journalist and boxing ring commentator through a theatre door and was Ali surprised! Ali got a big applause from the audience and kept shaking his head like “is this for real?” Pertaining to Guthridge Ali said “he lied to me!”
The first guest was his third and then current wife Veronica from backstage said “he said he was afraid of me!” She said they met in Salt Lake City where he was training.
Singer Tom Jones appeared on film claiming Ali showed up at one of his performances back stage when they first met and said “I wonder if this is a bigger surprise then when Henry Cooper hit you with that left hook?” Than added “nice set up this time I can talk to you without being interrupted!” He added “you made a recording of Stand by Me. “I told you if you don’t take up singing I won’t take up boxing!”
Then Ali’s parents came out. His mother Odessa Ali nicknamed “Bird” due to her small nose. His mother said “when he was eighteen months old he was strong and was swinging his arms and knocked out one of my teeth and loosened another.” Then Ali’s brother Rahman Ali came out who was eighteen months younger and also was a boxer (14-3-1).
Then by film came his father’s sister and Ali’s Aunt Eva in her barber shop in Louisville giving former heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis a haircut. “I change your diapers and all you could say was “GG” and later said it meant Golden Gloves,” said Aunt Eva. Then another film came on with Ellis racing by foot next to a school bus like Ali did growing up and ran up to a school where Ali attended and there was his third grade school teacher Mrs. Carter. “Muhammad came to the YMCA that I worked at after retiring from teaching with a check for $10,000.00 for underprivileged children,” said Mrs. Carter. Next thing you know Mrs. Carter and Ellis came out from back stage.
Andrews mentioned Ali’s bike being stolen when he was twelve and from back stage and there came the voice of Ali’s first amateur trainer Joe Martin along with Fred Stoner another trainer of Ali’s. Ali said “don’t tell me you have my bike?” Ali talked how he would secretly go from Martin’s gym to Stoner’s gym who was the better trainer. Ali said the reason pertaining to Stoner who was black was “he got the complexion and connection to get the protection.”
Then by film at a factory in Kentucky was Ali’s first amateur opponent Ron Oakie who lost a split decision to Ali. Then from back stage out came Oakie. Next out was Ali’s professional trainer Angelo Dundee who said “people would say he must have been difficult to train but he was the easiest boxer I ever had to train and we never had one argument.”
Next guest was from the 1960 Olympics in Italy that lost to Ali in the finals from Poland Ziggy Pietrzykowski. He was followed by Olympian Wilma Rudolph from the same Olympics where in track she won three Gold Medals and one Bronze Medal. They were in a parade together when they came to the states. As he hugged her when she came out (rumors back in 1960 it was Ali’s first love) Ali would look over at his wife as if to see was she jealous.
Ali commented “I feel like a little kid at Christmas getting a toy!” Next out was Drew Bundini Brown who made up the phrase “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” Ali commented “I never saw him so well dressed and sober!” Brown said “I worked with the great “Sugar” Ray Robinson for seven years and called Ali a phony when he said he could name the rounds when his opponent would fall.”
Then out came Ali’s personal photographer Howard Bingham to whom they were the best man at each other’s weddings. Then out came British champ Henry Cooper who dropped Ali when they met in the UK but lost the fight. Ali said of Cooper “you hit me so hard you jarred my kin folks in Africa!”
By film was actor Anthony Quinn who starred in the movie “Requiem for a Heavyweight” that Ali did a cameo in. Next out was Ali’s former three fight opponent “Smokin” Joe Frazier. After they hugged Ali sat down as Frazier started talking how he gave Ali a ride in his Cadillac to New York. “I couldn’t get a word in the whole trip,” said Frazier. Then it was former great world champion on film Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis who was recuperating from a stroke.
Finally out with their nanny came Ali’s two young daughters that he hugged and kissed while holding both of them in his arms!
All in all in was a great show with plenty of laughs!