No, Vasyl Lomachenko Is “Not Already the Greatest Ever”
By: Sean Crose
No, Vasyl Lomachenko is not, as some are saying “already the greatest ever.” At least the scant evidence available doesn’t indicate as much. If Lomachenko is, in fact, the best in history, it will be some time before any of us find out, anyway. For Lomachenko is still basically somewhat new at his job as a professional prizefighter. Oh, he’s made his mark, both in the amateurs and in the pro set, but a great boxer generally needs great challenges in order to be recognized as a legend, much less be recognized as the best who ever lived.
To date, Loma, as he’s called, has had one major pro challenge in the guise of rugged Orlando Salido. And Loma lost that one. While it’s true Salido played dirty before and during the match, a loss is still a loss. Besides, had Loma been more established as a pro fighter – it was only his second pro bout – he might have emerged the victor, regardless. After all, experienced fighters are more apt to know how to deal with the likes of Salido after a certain point in their development. The case of Salido, then, was nothing if not a case of biting off more than one could figuratively chew. An understandable mistake regarding the hype surrounding Loma, sure, but a mistake, nonetheless.
Even if that’s all in the past, though, Loma still has a ways to go before knocking, say, Ray Robinson, off his perch as the widely regarded all time best (or even Roy Jones Junior, for that matter). What Loma is at this point in his career, almost four years after his first pro fight, is a very established professional. And a very good one. He’s not, however, a guaranteed Hall of Famer, at least not as a professional ring tactician. Far from it. What Loma is – what he truly is – is an insanely promising fighter. Perhaps the most promising in history. Keep in mind, though, that many insanely promising fighters have fallen short of expectations. Adrien Broner is, in fact, only the most recent example of this.
To be fair, though, Loma is no Broner. This guys works hard. Incredibly hard. It even appears he views his craft like a mathematician views an equation. His training deals with both the physical as well as the cerebral aspects of the sport. That’s something worth noting. He’s also shown himself to be amazing in the ring. Just amazing. His angles. His footwork. His aggressiveness and finishing power. There’s a reason the 8-1 super featherweight titlist is so well regarded – because he deserves to be. Just don’t call him the greatest to ever lace up a pair of gloves. Not yet.
At least let him get by the 25-2 Miguel Marriaga this weekend in Las Angeles first.
Never Mind The Post-Fight Hype, Joshua-Klitschko Was A Big Deal. Here’s Why.
Never Mind The Post-Fight Hype, Joshua-Klitschko Was A Big Deal. Here’s Why.
By: Sean Crose
Some people are driven insane by the kind of hyperbole that surrounds any major event. For instance, I get put off by fellow Star Wars nuts who simply praise all things Star Wars to the Yavin 4 moon, regardless of quality (Rogue One wasn’t all that great, people!). With that in mind, I can understand why some are already getting annoyed by the breathless accolades Saturday’s Joshua-Klitschko extravaganza has been receiving. Still, there’s something equally off-putting to me about those deflating types who are always apt to shrug at something others genuinely love and admire. I know such people, and I sometimes wonder if their chronic dismissiveneness is, in fact, some kind of strange psychological power play. Sure enough, a few of these naysayers appear to be weighing in on Joshua-Klitschko, as well.
Let’s take a step back and try to view things objectively, then. On the surface, Anthony Joshua stopped Wladimir Klitschko in front of almost six figures worth of people in a back and forth heavyweight title fight. That’s it. Or is it? Was there really more to the bout than what was on the surface? Are those breathless masses right in this case? Upon consideration, I think they actually are. All the praise may get a bit much to swallow at times, but hey, this was one of those events that earned the loud chorus of cheers it’s receiving. If people are going to go bonkers for something, at least this time it’s for something worthwhile.
For starters, Joshua-Klitschko was held in front of ninety thousand people. That’s ninety thousand. Sure, that in and of itself might not be that impressive in the larger scheme of things (Didn’t Dempsey fight in front of bigger crowds on several occasions?), but Saturday’s live audience at London’s Wembley Stadium was absolutely electric. Watching the bout live on Showtime, it was literally hard to hear ring announcer Michael Buffer speak into a microphone over the uproarious crowd. That says something, and what it says is this fight brought with it more energy than most of us have seen in years. The crowd at Wembley was pumped up to epic proportions. Never mind boxing, I’ve never, to my knowledge, felt that kind of vibe through the television for a sporting event of any kind.
And that’s saying something.
Yet Joshua-Klitschko was also an electric fight. Seriously. This one played out like a super sized version of the first Leonard-Hearns throwdown, with one man dominating, then another, for round after round, until Joshua found the strength within himself to finish his masterful opponent off for good. That sort of thing, simply put, is good boxing. No, it’s great boxing. People will be talking about this bout – not the hype – the bout itself, for years to come. And with good reason. It may not have been as shocking as Tyson-Douglas, but it was enormously entertaining, perhaps the best heavyweight title fight in the past 25 years.
And that’s saying something, too.
What made the bout even more intriguing, however, was the knowledge that there were still questions to be answered afterwards. When Mayweather beat Pacquiao, the story was essentially over. Yet this particular story can go in a million different directions – and it’s not self-contained like the Floyd-Manny throwdown was. Will there be a rematch? Will Joshua get his match with a cleaned up Tyson Fury? Will the thunderously hard hitting Deontay Wilder end up stealing the heavyweight crown when the dust finally settles? And what of Joseph Parker? And what of Luis Ortiz? And what of…
Make no mistake about it, we live in an age where the volume is always turned up to full blast. On this particular occasion, however, the music is simply good enough to warrant it.
Vasyl Lomachenko: Where Does He Rank Among Boxing’s Greats?
Vasyl Lomachenko: Where Does He Rank Among Boxing’s Greats?
By: Harry Hogg
Hailing from a small port side town in southwest Ukraine, Vasyl Lomachenko’s rise to the top of boxing has been nothing short of sensational. In the space of three years, the man they call ‘High Tec’ is a two time world champion in two different weight classes, fighting in some of boxing most prestigious arenas. Achievement’s that most fighters spend their entire careers chasing, Lomachenko has reached in just 9 professional outings. His dazzling movement and footwork flow rhythmically with his deadly punch accuracy and hand speed. Off the back of his brutal dismantlement of Jason Sosa in Maryland, Lomachenko is now recognized by many as the best fighter in the world. Heavyweight legend George Foreman described him as “The best fighter since Muhammed Ali”.
But the manner in which he has so easily despatched of his opponents has stirred the echoes of another question, where does he rank among boxing greatest?
Lomachenko turned professional back in 2013 after an amateur career which boasted a monstrous record of 396 victories with just 1 defeat, as well as two Olympic gold medals. Under the guidance of Bob Arums ‘Top Rank’ promotions, the Ukrainian claimed his first world title in just his third fight.
A majority point’s victory over the world class Gary Russel Jr ensured Lomachenko’s place in history, equalling Saensak Muangsurin’srecord as the only other fighter to claim a world title so quickly in their career.
A record that dwarfs those of his modern day rivals, with Floyd Mayweather having to wait until his 18th
fight and Manny Pacquaio his 25th. Going back further with the likes of Whitaker, Ali, Duran,and Chávez who were all taken into double figures before eventually claiming their world titles.
The stats for Lomachenko are impressive as well, according to the data collected by CompuBox, the 29 year tops the Plus/Minus list (Percentage of punches landed minus punches taken) with +20.9.The highest score since Floyd Mayweather’s +24.5 in his retirement fight against Andre Berto in 2015.
But perhaps the most impressive statistic of them all is the percentage of punches landed on Lomachenko. With just 16.1%, no other fighter in the world today comes close, even the magnificent defensive genius Guillermo Rigondeaux. Astatistic that speaks volumes for Lomachenko when you consider his full throttle intensive attacking style. As oppose to Rigondeaux’s tight guard and counter-punching stance.
The numbers are there for all to see, but focusing solely on his in ring technical ability, there are few that compare. Once described as boxing’s “Picasso” Lomachenko oozes class and seems flawless in every department.
A lot is made of his electric movement and ability change the angles instantly, keeping his opponent guessing where the next punch is coming from. Add that to his ferocious intensity, speed and excellent defensive awareness, you have arguably the most complete fighter of his generation.
Widely regarded as the best amateur fighter of all time, his finest performance to date was undoubtedly his 2016 victory over Nicolas Walters in Las Vegas. A fitting way to mark Bob Arums 2000th promotional event. Walters, supposedly meant to be the Ukrainian’s toughest test, was outclassed from start to finish. The golf in class was such that Walters refused to continue after the 7th round. “I was holding on just to survive the round, It would be stupid to come out after that last round” said Walters.Rarely have we seen someone make a top level opponent look so ordinary. The performance was reminiscent of Mayweather’s masterclass against Saúl Canelo Álvarez backin 2013.
Making the transition from the amateur ranks to the professionals is no easy task. Fighters are often eased into the paid ranks with countless safe fights against below average opponent’s, before eventually making the step up to world level.
Lomachenko is the exception to that rule, and the reason why is evident. His persistent desire to fight top level competition one after another without the need for warm up bouts is admirable.
This of course comes with a great deal risk, minor errors can be punished, Lomachenko found this out first hand in his one and only defeat of his professional career in 2014. A controversial split decisionloss to the tough Orlando Salido in Texas.
Despite the controversy surrounding Salido’s significant weight advantage and persistent low blows, Lomachenko would have no doubt learnt from his slow start, and reluctance to let his hands go in the first half of the fight.A potential rematch between the two would surely bring a different outcome.
His promoter Bob Arum described him as being “in a class of his own, there’s nobody who can do what he can” he said. “Anybody who loves boxing has to love this kid and the way he performs”.High praise indeed, from one of boxing’s most respected figures. A man who has promoted some of the sports most premier superstars such as Pacquiao, Ali, Chávez, De La Hoya, Hagler and Hearns.Arum noticed Lomachenko’s outstanding ability did not hesitate to throw him in deep end straight away.
It is difficult to say with any real certainty were Lomachenko ranks amongboxing’s greats at this early point. After allhis professional career consisting of nine fights is only just short of four years old. But one thing is for certain, we have never seen a fighter quite like him in recent memory. Despite already laying claim to two world titles and being widely considered as the worlds pound for pound king, the Ukrainian star knows that his toughest tests are still to come. Potential super fights against the likes of Mikey Garcia, Terence Crawford or even the exciting Gervonta Davis loom on the horizon. But from what we seen so far, Lomachenko has everything he needs to go on a cement himself as one of boxing’s greatest ever fighters.
Just How Good was Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson?
Just How Good was Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson?
By: Ken Hissner
Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer rated Jack Johnson as the best heavyweight he ever saw. This writer would have to say he would be in anyone’s top five and possibly as high as No. 2.
Johnson was born in Galveston, TX, in March of 1878, and passed in June of 1946 at the age of 68 while living in Raleigh, NC. His record was 56-11-8 (36) and 15-0-3 NWS. He lost 5 of his last 7 matches between the ages of 48 and 53 when he retired in April of 1931.
Johnson’s height was 6’0½ with a first recorded weight of 185 in 1902 while the heaviest was 242 in 1916. In title defenses he was 7-0-2. His trainer was Henry “Pop” Blanken. His managers were George Little, Sam Fitzpatrick and Alex MacLean. Johnson was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990 and also inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. His career started in 1897 and finished in 1931.
Johnson won his first 3 matches by knockout before losing to Klondike Haynes (was black) in 1899 by technical stoppage in 5 rounds due to exhaustion. He would go onto fight Haynes to a draw in 1900 in June and in December stop him by technical knockout in 14 rounds. In February of 1901 he was knocked out by Joe Choynski. In November of that hear he lost a decision in 20 rounds to Hank Griffin. They would fight 2 more times with both ending in a draw.
One of the best colored boxers was Sam McVea whom Johnson defeated in over 20 rounds in February and October of 2003. In April of 2004 Johnson would knockout McVea in the 20th round. In March of 2005 he would lose a close if not controversial bout to Marvin Hart who was suspected to have only vision in one eye. Just 4 months later Hart would win the vacant heavyweight crown stopping Jack Root. Then lose it on his first defense to Tommy Burns.
At the early part of his career Johnson being black was not allowed to fight white boxers which would change over time. In February of 1903 he won the “Colored Title” with a 20 round decision over Denver Ed Martin. One of the best colored boxers was Joe Jeannette whom Johnson fought 5 times. In their first meeting in May of 1905 Johnson W3NWS, In November he lost by DQ in 2. In December he W6NWS and in January of 1906 Won 3 and in March won in 15 in a defense of his “Colored Title”.
In April of 1906 Johnson defeated Sam “The Black Tar Baby” Langford, 32-4-15, over 15 rounds. Johnson being outweighed Langford 185 to 156 ½ knocking him down in the 6th round. It would be year’s later when then world champion Jack Dempsey would say “I only ducked one man and that was Sam Langford.”
In July of 1907 Johnson would knock out former 3-division champion Bob Fitzsimmons, 61-6-4, in 2 rounds. In November of 1907 he knocked out “Fireman” Jim Flynn, 33-8-13, 11 rounds which put him in line for a possible title fight with Burns. In July of 2008 he stopped Ben Taylor, 23-13-3, in the 8th round in the UK.
In order to get a title fight and being the first black to get that chance Johnson’s backers had to guarantee Burns 30k which was double what anyone ever got in a heavyweight title fight. Named “The Little Giant of Hanover” Burns, 42-2-8, was only 5’7″ and gave away 5½ inches in height to Johnson and only weighed 168½ to Johnson’s 194 and with a record of 36-5-7.Johnson stopped Burns in 14 rounds in Australia. It was the Canadian Burns third fight in the country “down under.”
In Johnson’s first title defense in May of 1909 he took on the former light heavyweight champion “Philadelphia” Jack O’Brien, ending in a draw 6 NWS. The decision was received by mixed feelings. Johnson came in at 205 to O’Brien’s 162½. In October of 1909 Johnson defended against Stanley “The Michigan Assassin” Ketchel, 48-3-4, who won the middleweight title in his in November of 2008. In the 12th round Ketchel dropped Johnson who had his hands to his side. Johnson immediately got up and tore into Ketchel knocking him out with a right to the chin. It was said Johnson had 2 of Ketchel’s teeth embedded into his glove from that blow.Johnson weighed in at 205½ and Ketchel 170¼.
In July of 2004 the former unbeaten heavyweight champion James J Jeffries, 19-0-2, who hadn’t fought in 5 years and 11 months while his weight reached 300 came out of retirement. He was more or less forced to come out as a “white hope” to stop Johnson. It lasted until the 15th round when the referee/promoter Tex Ricard waved it off if favor of Johnson after Jeffries was down twice.
Johnson had lived in Spain, Mexico and France. He was fluent in French and Spanish. He fought in those three countries along with Cuba and Canada. It would be 2 years since the Jeffries fight when Johnson returned to the ring. He gave a rematch to Flynn and won by DQ in 9 rounds. Johnson was arrested in 2012 and put into prison over the Mann Act and escaped through Canada and ended up in Paris, France.
In December of 1913 in France Johnson took on Battling Jim Johnson, 20-6-2, who was black and they waltz to a 20 round draw. In June of 2013 Johnson defeated Frank Moran, 21-6-2, over 20 rounds. In April of 1915 Johnson went to Havana, Cuba to fight the giant Jess Willard, 20-3-1. In the 26th round Johnson hit the canvas onto his back. He raised his arms to block out the sun. He didn’t beat the count and Willard became the new champion.
Johnson would move to Spain and score 3 wins. Then off to Mexico for 5 more wins. He would return to Cuba after an absence of 3 years to post 2 more wins. In 1924 he went to Canada to post a win. It would be another 2 years of inactivity when he got a win in Mexico. Just 4 weeks laterin Mexico he suffered his first defeat in 11 years since losing to Willard. He was 48 years old. His 13 fight winning streak was broken. He would lose 5 of his last 7 fights fighting up until the age of 53 when he defeated Brad Simmons, 28-13-3, after having lost to him twice.
Johnson’s career ended after 34 years. After retiring Johnson attempted to train future world champion Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, but the managers felt it would be a mistake and passed.
As you can see Johnson defeated many men smaller than him. His career really ended with the Willard loss and we will never know if he took a dive or not. He may have been a better boxer prior to winning the title.His arrogance made him a very unpopular champion along with crossing the line marrying a pair of white women. He was without a doubt one of the greatest boxers in the history of boxing.
From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali: Goodbye to the Greatest
From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali: Goodbye to the Greatest
By: Eric Lunger
As a New Year begins, I have been thinking a lot about Muhammad Ali, who passed away last June. I was born two years after Cassius Clay (as he was then) defeated Sonny Liston in Miami to become heavyweight champion of the world. I vaguely remember watching Ali’s last fights on TV, but I didn’t become a serious boxing fan until the 1980s and the emergence of “Iron” Mike Tyson.
I recently read David Remnick’s KING OF THE WORLD, originally published in 1998. Remnick does an excellent job conjuring the reader into the world of the Jim Crow South with its crippling segregation.
However, the strength of Remnick’s book, in my view, is the way it shows how the white boxing media (in those days, mainstream media) delineated the identities of Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Liston was cast as the villain, the dangerous criminal Black man with shadowy ties to the Mafia, while Patterson was the accommodating, polite, Christian “Negro,” who articulated the slow aspirations of the burgeoning integrationist civil rights movement.
By defeating Liston, converting to Islam and changing his name, and then beating Patterson, Ali exploded both stereotypes. He refused to be a Liston-type villain or a Patterson-type “Uncle Tom,” as Ali later lambasted some of his opponents, notably Joe Frazier. Ali was saying to himself and to America, a Black man can be whoever he wants to be. Ever eloquent, Ali said it best at a press conference: “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.” I am free to be what I want – with that phrase, much more than his ability to dance in the ring and his unprecedented skills, Ali the boxer broke the boundaries of what was expected from an African-American athlete, or any athlete for that matter.
If that were all, Ali would be remembered as a great champion and a great human being. But his opposition to the Vietnam War, so principled and so self-negating, catapulted Ali into a different realm. Again, Ali’s words:
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?
Without gratuitous self-aggrandizement, without self-referential praise, Ali articulated the hypocrisy of the war, as he saw it, and the hypocrisy of a segregated Nation. Some fifty years later, it’s easy to underestimate the personal damage that Ali was inflicting on himself. As expected, he was sentenced to prison and fined, stripped of his titles, and barred from boxing. In all, Ali lost more than three years at the peak of his powers, and his reputation was shattered. Eventually vindicated by the Supreme Court, Ali resumed his boxing career in 1970, and the great bouts with Joe Frazier and George Foreman followed. But for many, Ali’s opposition to the draft and his refusal to compromise his principles made him “The Greatest.”
Muhammad Ali died on June 3rd, 2016. He had grown up in segregated Louisville, Kentucky, but when he passed, an African-American was president of the United States. Being a symbol is perhaps too heavy a burden for any human being to carry, and Ali had his faults like all of us. But I still watch Ali’s fights with wonder at his preternatural skill in the ring, and his courage beyond it.
Who Was Sweeter than “Sugar” Ray Robinson?
Who was Sweeter than “Sugar” Ray Robinson?
By: Ken Hissner
“Sugar” Ray Robinson to this writer was the greatest P4P boxer that ever lived. When I hear names like Whitaker, Mayweather and Leonard I have to wonder what people are thinking. Henry Armstrong would have cleaned house with these three within a month. I take nothing away from Leonard who was the best P4P in his days.
If only Robinson like too many boxers didn’t stay around too long. His amateur record was 85-2 with 69 knockouts. The two losses were under his real name Walker Smith. He defeated 16 former, reigning or future champions. He won his first 40 professional fights before losing to Jake LaMotta, 30-5-2, in 1950. Robinson had defeated LaMotta in a previous bout and won their next three bouts.
Robinson would go onto win his next 88 fights plus a pair of draws before losing to Randy Turpin, 40-2-1, in the UK. Just two months later he defeats Turpin at the Polo Grounds in NY. He didn’t win his first title until his seventy-sixth fight for the vacant NBA and NYSAC welterweight titles beating Tommy Bell 39-10-2, in December of 1946. In his previous fight the month before he came off the canvas against Artie Levine, 45-9-5, but finished Levin off in the tenth and final round with a right to the solar plexus. Robinson said it was the hardest that he was ever hit with getting knocked down.
Robinson made two title defenses in 1947 including a non-title bout with Georgie Abrams, 48-6-3. A month later he defended his titles stopping Jimmy Doyle, 42-6-3, in 8 rounds. He was in the first of two wars with the Cuban “Hawk” Kid Gavilan, 46-5-2. It would be 18 months before they would meet for the world title. He had a non-title bout winning over Harry Brimm, 23-9-2, on a split decision.
Prior to the Brimm fight Robinson knocked out Young Gene Buffalo, 112-32-10, in the first round. At 147 he had his rematch with Gavilan, 53-6-2, in Philadelphia. It would be his last fight as a welterweight. He would state they were two of his toughest fights in his career with Gavilan. The following month he stopped Steve Belloise, 90-10-3 and five years after drawing with Jose Basora, 77-14-7, Robinson knocked him out in the first round.
At Convention Hall in Philadelphia Robinson knocks out Carl “Bobo” Olson, 41-3, for the Pennsylvania middleweight title, before some 28,000. Robinson defended the world middleweight title in the third meeting with Jake LaMotta, 78-14-3, stopping him in the thirteenth round.
Then Robinson was off to the UK losing for the second time. This time to Randy Turpin, 40-2-1, in a title defense, dropping his record to 128-2-2. The rematch took place two months later in the Polo Grounds with Robinson stopping Turpin to regain the title in September of 1951. Six months later he defeated Bobo Olson, 48-5, in a title defense. A month later he knocked out Rocky Graziano, 67-8-6, in the third round after he was floored in that round. Robinson gave up his title to fight for the light heavyweight title that Joey Maxim, 78-18-4, held.
Robinson was well ahead after thirteen rounds by 10-3, 9-3-1 and 7-3-3. It was held in Yankee Stadium and the temperature was 104 degrees. It was so hot that referee Ruby Goldstein had to be replaced after the tenth round by Ray Miller. Robinson couldn’t come out for the fourteenth round due to heat prostration. Six months later without any bouts Robinson retired in December of 1952 with a 131-3-2 record and age 31.
After being in retirement for two and a half years Robinson would make a comeback after a win in his next fight the gate keeper Ralph “Tiger” Jones, 32-12-3, defeated him. He would go onto win four fights including a split decision over Rocky Castellani, 62-8-6, earning a middleweight title fight with his old foe Carl “Bobo” Olson, 71-7, who was then champion. He would regain the title stopping Olson in December of 1955 and in a re-match.
Robinson would lose his title to Gene Fullmer, 37-3, and knock out Fullmer in a re-match. Fullmer was standing in his corner watching Robinson jumping up and down and said “why is Robinson jumping up and down since the fight hasn’t started yet” not realizing he was knocked out earlier. In back to back fights with Carmen Basilio, 51-12-7, he would lose and then with the title back in the re-match with both fights gaining Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year” in 1957 and 1958. This is when Robinson should have hung up the gloves with a 141-6-2 record.
It would be 22 months with one non-title fight before Robinson would fight again after the two wars with Basilio. He loses to light punching Paul Pender, 35-5-2, and five months later to Pender with both fights split decisions in Pender’s hometown of Boston. At the end of 1960 Robinson fight to a draw with NBA champion Fullmer and lose three months later. In 1961 and 1962 Robinson would defeat Denny Moyer, 30-5, and lose to him in a rematch. In January of 1963 he would return to the US from another European tour and posted a split decision win over Ralph Dupas, 98-17-6. After winning six in a row he went to Philadelphia and lost to future champion Joey Giardello, 90-23-8.
In 1965 Robinson would go to Jamaica and back to the US for three wins. He then lost in Mexico to Memo Ayon, 15-4-1, and in Hawaii, to Stan Harrington, 57-16-1, for the second time in two months. He would win three straight before ending his career losing to Joey Archer, 44-1, being dropped and losing a decision in Pittsburgh.
Muhammad Ali fold Robinson “if you change to become a Muslim I will have one million Muslims put up a $1.00 each to give you a million dollars”. Robinson declined. Robinson was well known to be the best rope skipper and was a good tap dancer.
For those who never saw “Sugar” Ray Robinson box please go to www.youtube.com
More Boxing History
The Greatest Wife: Exclusive Interview with Khalilah Ali
The Greatest Wife: Exclusive Interview with Khalilah Ali
By: Ron Scarfone
There are only two people still alive who know Muhammad Ali best and were a significant part of his life when he was in his prime. One of the two people is Dr. Ferdie Pacheco. The other person is Khalilah Ali. Khalilah was married to Muhammad Ali for ten years from 1967-1977. Dr. Ferdie Pacheco was known as “The Fight Doctor” and served as Muhammad Ali’s doctor and cornerman for about 15 years. Muhammad Ali was not allowed to box professionally for more than three years after refusing to be inducted into the United States Army in 1967. Muhammad Ali objected to the Vietnam War and the killing that was done in the name of war, but he was still convicted of draft evasion. Muhammad Ali was 25 years old at the time. He would not fight again until 1970.
He did get back into shape, but he was never the same boxer in spite of the success he had after he obtained a license to box again. His prime years were taken from him. When he returned to the ring, his trainer Angelo Dundee said that Ali was more flat-footed which made him easier to hit. Prior to his forced hiatus from boxing, it was very difficult for opponents to hit him. Khalilah was married to Muhammad Ali during the time that he could not box up until the time that his skills were so diminished that people were urging him to retire.
Pacheco left Muhammad Ali’s team in 1977 because he knew that his health was at risk and he did not want to be a part of it. Khalilah and Muhammad Ali divorced in 1977. Khalilah was a fighter like her former husband, but she trained in martial arts. Khalilah trained with Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly who both starred in the famous martial arts movie Enter the Dragon. Khalilah eventually became a ninth degree black belt in a style which was a blend of different disciplines.
Prior to the art exhibition, I met Khalilah for the first time at a healing get-together organized by a friend of mine. My friend wanted me to come because I am an energy healer and also so I could meet Khalilah. A book that I have in my collection is titled Ali: The Greatest Champ which was published in 1976. The book is about Muhammad at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. The book has a photo of Khalilah while she was there at the camp when Ali was training there. The book states that her name is Belinda which was her name before she changed it to Khalilah. When I arrived at the get-together, I immediately recognized Khalilah who was selling a coloring book that she had written. The book has no International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and it is self-published. Khalilah has written another book that would be much more lucrative, but it has not been published yet. It is an autobiography about her life and marriage to Muhammad Ali who was formerly known as Cassius Clay, but he changed his name after his conversion to Islam in 1964.
Khalilah told me about the art exhibition that she was having of Dr. Ferdie Pacheco’s paintings, so I went on opening night. A few of Pacheco’s paintings were on display for the public to view at Atelier 3 in Hollywood, Florida. One of the paintings of Muhammad Ali shows a young Ali at the original 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach, Florida. Another painting of Ali shows his face, but it looks like a Romero Britto painting with black outlines and bright colors. At the art exhibition, Khalilah spoke on a small stage to the people who came and said that we must have “gracism” instead of racism in our society.
Khalilah agreed to let me interview her at a later time and we met at a restaurant in Deerfield Beach, Florida. The city of Deerfield Beach is also where the headquarters of Don King Productions is located which is promoter Don King’s company. I brought my book titled Ali: The Greatest Champ to the interview and showed Khalilah her photo in the book. She was happy to see this book which she never saw before or knew about, although she did recall the time when the photographer for the book was there at Muhammad Ali’s training camp in Deer Lake which is where the photo of Khalilah was taken. Before I began the interview, I gave Khalilah the book for her to keep and she said to me that it is a great gift. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Boxing Insider: Hi Khalilah.
Khalilah Ali: Hi Ron.
Boxing Insider: Nice to see you again.
Khalilah Ali: Good to see you again. Ron the healer.
Boxing Insider: Yes, and I work for Boxing Insider. You married Muhammad (Ali) at 17 (years of age), right?
Khalilah Ali: Mmm hmm.
Boxing Insider: How old were you when you (first) met him?
Khalilah Ali: When I first had an encounter with him, I was 10 (years of age).
Boxing Insider: At the time when he was called Cassius Clay, you didn’t like his last name (Clay). You were saying it was kind of like mud. (Writer’s Note: Muhammad gave Khalilah an autographed photo of himself when she was 10 years old.)
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, I actually broke it down (for him). I said “Your name is Cassius Marcellus (Clay). Did you know that Cassius Marcellus was a Roman name?” He said “It is?” I said “Yeah, do you know what the Romans did to people?” He said “No.” I tore up the autograph (photo) and I gave it to him and I said “You need a name of culture, respect, and honor. Favorably a Muslim name. But you can take that back with you. I don’t want it.”
Boxing Insider: You were talking about his first and middle name which was a Roman name, but then you talk about the last name.
Khalilah Ali: Then, the “Clay” was dirt and mud. I said “That’s what your name is. Your name is Clay. That you’re mud. That’s what it is.” And he said “Yes.”
Boxing Insider: You were married to him in 1967, right?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, he had already won the title in 1964. He became a Muslim. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad gave him his Islamic name which he was looking for all the time from our first encounter. He had actually (originally) named him Cassius X after he became a Muslim. He said “No, I don’t want Cassius X. I want a name of respect. I want a name of culture. I want a Muslim name.” The Honorable Elijah Muhammad (therefore) gave him the name Muhammad Ali. He (Muhammad Ali) didn’t make up the name. He didn’t give it to himself.
Boxing Insider: You were married to him and they (the U.S. government) were attempting to draft him (into the U.S. Army because of the Vietnam War).
Khalilah Ali: No. They drafted him first, but he failed the psychological test. Then, he became a Muslim. All of a sudden, he becomes smarter. They drafted him again. They are not supposed to draft anybody twice, but America does what it wants to do. It makes the laws. It breaks the laws.
Boxing Insider: I know that. I believe you.
Khalilah Ali: That’s the whole point of being a Muslim. We know the white man’s ways.
Boxing Insider: The first time (he was drafted), you said he failed the psychological (test) and therefore he could not be in the war. They drafted him again?
Khalilah Ali: They overturned it and they drafted him again.
Boxing Insider: He did not want to fight in a war. He rejected it.
Khalilah Ali: That’s what Muslims do. We are conscientious objectors.
Boxing Insider: Then, the sanctioning body took away the title. The boxing commissions took away his license to box.
Khalilah Ali: Exactly. As a punishment.
Boxing Insider: During that three years (of inactivity), it was a very tough time. I know that you were supporting him financially during those tough times because he couldn’t box. He couldn’t make the money. How was that back then?
Khalilah Ali: There was a lot of support behind him. I was supporting him with the money that I had. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad supported him as well. The Muslim organization also supported him and then gave him a job to be a minister so he could get paid for the work he was doing by spreading Islam and going around to colleges.
Boxing Insider: And he made money from the speaking engagements?
Khalilah Ali: Exactly. It wasn’t that much, nothing he was used to. It was something (which was) better than nothing. He had to raise a family.
Boxing Insider: I also read that, during that time, he was very distraught over what happened.
Khalilah Ali: Of course. It was a big blow. You become an Olympic champion and then you become a professional boxing champion and they take everything and they strip everything that you have won and owned and earned and they are just going to take it away. Taking away your license to fight is one thing, but taking away your passport where you can’t travel to any countries to be supported by any other country.
Boxing Insider: They took his passport away too?
Khalilah Ali: Of course. It was devastating. He was devastated. He couldn’t leave the country. I don’t understand what that has anything to do with not going into the army.
Boxing Insider: So essentially, he was not under house arrest. He was under country arrest.
Khalilah Ali: Country arrest. Yeah.
Boxing Insider: He could not leave the country.
Khalilah Ali: He was imprisoned in his own country.
Boxing Insider: He did not have total confidence that he was going to get his license back to box.
Khalilah Ali: What would you think? It’s like you’re in your prime and they stripped everything that you know how to do. You don’t have a college degree. You have no education to go and have a law career or a doctor’s career or a medical career or a mechanical career. He would have to go back to school. The man is in his prime to work as a fighter.
Boxing Insider: Even if he learned a trade, the money wouldn’t be nearly as much as boxing.
Khalilah Ali: Nowhere near it. You’re talking three long struggling years. It can take a toll on a person. My objective was to keep him in a positive state of mind, his mind directed and focused on a family, focused on people, to be The People’s Champion. This was like a political campaign for me because my objective was to keep him in a positive zone. He’s always been a person that people liked. Everywhere he would go, he has recognition, but it doesn’t pay the bills. It took time. It didn’t stop him from traveling to New York or California. We would set up speaking engagements to build up his morale, to build up his People’s Champion title.
Boxing Insider: When he did these speeches, what was he mainly talking about?
Khalilah Ali: He was talking about why he didn’t go into the army, why it was necessary to stand up for your own beliefs since he was in the Muslim world and he was learning a part of the Muslim world running around with Muslim ministers, things like that, trying to learn the religion as he grew. That entitled (him to be on) a lot of TV shows, talk shows, interviews as a ploy to keep the person alive, to keep him active, to keep him marketable because the main objective is to get that title back.
Boxing Insider: And there was a lot of support for him and he finally came back.
Khalilah Ali: It was tough because a lot of people didn’t like the fact that he did not go to the armed forces. He was like a thorn in everybody’s side. Why did this guy do this? He is American. Why didn’t he go into the army? You had conversations from Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis. It was all negative toward him. Masses of black people thought it was disrespectful not to be an Uncle Tom. To us, that’s what it was. Uncle Tom. Your uncle fighting in a world and in a life where the masses of civil rights are in action. The revolution is on the forefront and there are a lot of things going on in our country (at the time). The Black Power. Black people are standing up for their struggle to be free. You had a lot of people on the scene during that period. You had Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Sonia Sanchez. These were freedom fighters and Ali was in the middle of this swarm of freedom fighters. By being in the middle of the freedom fighters, he activated a lot of love toward the brothers. With all this going on, they gravitated toward Ali’s strength, Ali’s dedication, and Ali’s stand. This is where I met all these wonderful people. I was excited just meeting these activists, these people of truth and peace fighting for our rights. We were right in the middle of it.
Boxing Insider: And now you do speaking engagements around the country and you in a similar way are talking about things like that.
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, the journey that I’m on basically hits on our humanity. I have a coloring book called Color To Learn that teaches manners and etiquette. We have a new process right now. We’re not dealing with civil rights anymore. We’re dealing with humanity right now. We’re dealing with people having competition with the police. Black lives matter. It’s a different kind of revolution. It has to stop. The same thing that is going on now was going on then. It isn’t stopping. It’s just in a different generation. I have been working on the humanity and I mean humanity for all people. It’s all about humanity now because we are as one. We can work together. We don’t have to go into separate bathrooms or (drink from) separate fountains. That’s all over. We’re all working together, but we still have some of that embedded racism still there.
Boxing Insider: The Jim Crow laws are gone, but we still have racism in South Florida.
Khalilah Ali: Of course. There is racism everywhere. It is only visible when you look at it to visualize it. If you ignore it, it doesn’t (appear to) exist.
Boxing Insider: You had an art exhibit recently with some of Ferdie Pacheco’s work. It was titled Return to Grace and you talked about the word “gracism,” a word that you coined. Would you describe what that word means?
Khalilah Ali: I will. Returning to Grace means that people are coming to realize that there is humility and we must bring forth harmony and peace with grace. It is very hard to see on certain people. People tend to react in different ways as if they don’t care about human feeling. They’ve lost compassion. They’ve lost respect. They just roll over people. You got people on cell phones walking down the street. This is all they do 24/7. If the satellite would go out, what would these people be doing? What is so important that you walk down the street and walk into a pole if you cannot see your surroundings? They do it in the car. They cannot communicate on a one-on-one basis anymore. It’s all texting. You know what we used to do in the old days? We would write letters (and) take time to write letters. They don’t do that anymore and that takes away the compassion. It takes away the spirit of the soul. It becomes plastic. Non-loving, non-fearing, nothing. There’s nothing there. Children go to school and they don’t teach cursive anymore. They can’t even read cursive. They say, “What does that say?” That’s a sad thing to see a young child (or) an adult teenager (that) can’t read cursive. What does that tell you? They would rather type rude words on the Internet and a kid can lose his own life.
Boxing Insider: I know that the parents sometimes teach it (to their children) if the school doesn’t.
Khalilah Ali: How many parents are going to sit down and teach their kids cursive when they have a 9-5 job?
Boxing Insider: Not many, but I know with the phone, if they were conversing (and) talking to people, it’s different. They’re mostly texting it seems. They’re not really interacting that much.
Khalilah Ali: No. They’re just throwing out words and they can throw them out very cruelly too. I’ve seen teenagers kill themselves (because of) the cyberbullying (which) is the worst of all. Once you upload something on cyber, it is there forever, so it stays embedded. That’s sad with the young individual that doesn’t have a foundation and base of knowledge of the Supreme Being, so they give up. That’s a sad thing.
Boxing Insider: Also, the schools have the separation of church and state.
Khalilah Ali: That’s sad too. They have no prayer in school anymore. This is why we have so much catastrophe and famine and shooting and killing. It’s no longer safe.
Boxing Insider: Regarding the police, there are unjustified killings, (but) I think a lot of what the police does that is wrong and that doesn’t get a lot of publicity is their abuse of authority that don’t involve killings. It’s just that they are abusing their authority not only against African-Americans, but against other people as well.
Khalilah Ali: It happens to a lot of people. It depends on where you are and who you’re with and what frame of mind that the individual is in too. The police officers, they are supposed to be there to serve and protect. The majority of them, 75% of them are on their jobs doing just that, but coming out of their homes to go do their jobs is one thing. Their lives are always on the line. People don’t care about popping a cop anymore. People are killing each other, let alone the cops. They don’t care. You do have the 1% that will antagonize, bully, harass, but they’ve always done that, but it’s only 1%. You have to understand the other guy on the other side with the gun. You’ve got people who harass the cops. They call them names, profanity. That’s a living threat to a cop, period, so we have to develop discipline within ourselves and with our men and our women. We have to not be aggressive when it comes to authorities.
Boxing Insider: Are you saying that sometimes the police do make justified killings and sometimes they don’t?
Khalilah Ali: No. They don’t have to be justified to kill anyone. They’re spooked and they have to retrain the officers. There are a lot of ways of stopping, of deterring trouble without killing a person. You don’t have to kill. You can kill when you go out there hunting, but not when you are confronted with a human being. If a person has a gun and he’s out to shoot you, self-defense. That’s justification. You have to negotiate with people, talk people down. These people, they’re not out to stop you. They’re out to kill you. These people are out to kill. They don’t care.
Boxing Insider: With the young people, there are problems with the educational system. 1 in 5 kids don’t graduate high school. That’s 20%. That’s across the nation. That’s in Florida. That’s a problem.
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, that’s a problem. A lot of this, I think, is because of the mentality of the students themselves and we don’t have enough positive role models in the world to go around and help and give a good word to an individual. Sometimes, the kids are just lost around mothers and fathers arguing and fussing and cussing and using physical abuse on one another. They’re trapped and we have to train our young people before they even start having children. They’re having baby mama dramas. They have no men with their sons teaching them and the women are (also) not there teaching the children.
Boxing Insider: Father absence is a big problem.
Khalilah Ali: Father absence is a big problem. Their homes should be sound. They should get married (and) be serious in their responsibilities. You’ve got a man and a girl living in the same house (and) not married. There is no responsibility there. There’s a big gap. One does what it wants to do and once we stop doing that and taking our lives seriously, getting married and doing the right thing, there is nothing wrong with being married. There are responsibilities in marriage. If you cannot take responsibility, you are going to be a lost soul and your kid is going to end up worse. I believe in the marriage. I just believe in it. I believe that God blesses those who do the right thing. Shacking up. Living up. What kind of lifestyle are you teaching your kid right then and there? Mothers ain’t married. What do you mean you’re not married? They don’t care because it’s not a priority. If you have a home that’s unstable, the community is unstable and that community makes that state unstable and then the country becomes unstable. It’s all about family. Animals take care of their families. They do what they have to do and they don’t argue. They don’t boast. They don’t protest. They do everything that’s natural and in order in line with what God has made them and created them to be. God has aligned us and He created us in the same way, but we don’t hear it no more. We don’t listen to God’s word anymore. We don’t care. We’re individuals now. We don’t have to have God’s word anymore.
Boxing Insider: That seems to be the trend.
Khalilah Ali: But you know what? I’m going to tell you something. Out of the whole world, I say 75% is in order with God. It’s the last 25% that’s not. That’s all. We don’t want that number to keep growing. This existence right here, we would be in turmoil and chaos if it was more percentages out there than it is. We have to do that by getting that home front intact and being serious about our lives.
Boxing Insider: Getting back to the boxing. When he came back, Ali was not physically in his prime as much as before. Did the stress of waiting to get back, did that take a physical toll on him do you think or was it just age or inactivity?
Khalilah Ali: It didn’t really affect him that much. He came back just like he was in his prime because he wanted to be the best and focus on the way he focused. He’s a very tactical athlete. He has great strategies. The guy is the greatest when it comes to strategies. He kind of defeats his opponent before he even gets in the ring. Half his battle is already done because he is going to intimidate you. That’s half the battle.
Boxing Insider: I read though that before he fought George Foreman, you were not happy with his training.
Khalilah Ali: I wasn’t. He was making a big mistake because he was doing the same thing when he was getting ready for Joe Frazier the first time. He was lazy. He was focusing on a lot of garbage outside. He was getting relaxed. I just simply backed off to see what he was going to do. It was time for him to lose so he could see the value of being who he should be, training the way he should train, so I had to back off and allow him to lose.
Boxing Insider: He lost to Frazier in the first fight. With the Foreman fight…
Khalilah Ali: I wasn’t going to let him lose the Foreman fight. On my watch, I said I was going to stand there and support him and just put the clamps on him because this fight is the one we had been waiting for for a long time, going to Africa. This is a big thing. We even got a lot of the Afro-Americans here to experience going to Africa for the first time. It was an epic trip. We had singers that had never been to Africa. We had trainers that had never seen Africa. We wanted to see what our former homeland is and to show them that it’s not a jungle. Everybody thinks of Africa, you think of jungles. You think of Tarzan. It’s not real to them. This was going to be a fight that we’ve been waiting for for a very long time and it’s on my watch and I said I was going to support him and stand by him and do everything I can so he wouldn’t lose this fight and I tried every tactic that I can.
Boxing Insider: You wore a shirt that said “George Foreman.” Is that right?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, I did. It said “I love him because he’s “The Greatest” (on the front). (On the back, it said) “George Foreman.” He didn’t like it at all. He took everything seriously. Boom, but we won that fight.
Boxing Insider: So you’re the reason why he won in a way, indirectly.
Khalilah Ali: I would think so because I took it very seriously. I made sure he took it seriously. He saw me being serious. He thought “I am going to get serious too.”
Boxing Insider: He won against Foreman, but he was getting older and Dr. Pacheco was concerned, particularly after the third Frazier fight. What were your feelings about whether he should continue or not after the third Joe Frazier fight.
Khalilah Ali: Ferdie Pacheco is a really nice individual. To be honest with you, I made it my business to help him with this (Foreman) fight and I felt that this was going to be my last fight with him.
Boxing Insider: You mean as a wife?
Khalilah Ali: Uh huh. After the Foreman fight was over, I was happy about that. I just didn’t see a future for me (with Ali). It’s almost like giving your boss a two weeks notice.
Boxing Insider: So you were planning on divorcing?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah.
Boxing Insider: Was it related to what was happening outside the ring?
Khalilah Ali: Outside the ring basically.
Boxing Insider: But you stayed with him a little longer until 1977.
Khalilah Ali: Sometimes, it is good to give a person a test to see if it would be good to keep working in this arena with him. I had to give him a few tests and he failed all three tests. It took a little time. I didn’t want to just jump up and run. I had to think things out real clearly about what I wanted to do. That took a little time. I didn’t want to rush into something. I wanted to make sure if I came back on this platform that things were going to be different, but they weren’t.
Boxing Insider: So he was fighting and he was winning, but he was winning 15 round decisions and taking a lot of punishment. Pacheco was concerned. He was saying you’ve got to stop or else there are going to be
consequences. People (on his team) didn’t want to stop because of the money.
Khalilah Ali: Yeah. I told him to stop fighting after George Foreman. I think it was time to hang up the gloves. I thought that would be the best time for him to come out a winner. I flash back to the time I talked to Rocky Marciano (who said) he’s not going to stop. If he won it (the title) in the ring, he’s going to lose it in the ring. He’s not going to ever stop. I believed him. I said (to him) you’re probably right. (Writer’s
Note: Marciano probably talked to Khalilah in the late 1960s while Ali was on a forced hiatus from boxing. Marciano died in a plane crash in 1969.) I didn’t want to force the issue. If you can’t get your life straightened out bad enough, I can’t do it for him. He has to do that for himself.
Boxing Insider: Well actually, he didn’t really lose it (the title) in the ring. (Writer’s Note: After winning the heavyweight title for a third time in 1978 against Leon Spinks, Ali announced his retirement. Ali returned to the ring against Larry Holmes in 1980, but Holmes was the world champion.)
Khalilah Ali: It was on the outside of the ring that we had the problems.
Boxing Insider: He lost to Leon Spinks. He lost his titles and then he won the rematch against Spinks. That was in 1978.
Khalilah Ali: That was luck.
Boxing Insider: Then he retired and he didn’t have the title.
Khalilah Ali: I wasn’t in his life.
Boxing Insider: You weren’t in his life and then he fought Larry Holmes.
Khalilah Ali: I would have never told him to fight Larry Holmes. I would have told him to never fight your sparring partners ever, but he didn’t listen.
Boxing Insider: Because they know your weaknesses, right?
Khalilah Ali: It’s not only that. It’s that they want it badder than he does. When you get to a certain point, somebody is going to want it badder than you. Whoever wants it bad enough, that’s who is going to win.
Boxing Insider: He (Holmes) was also in his prime. He was a future Hall of Famer. That was a difficult fight.
Khalilah Ali: (When Ali fought) George Foreman, 1974, that was his best prime. That was it because most of his prime was sitting out.
Boxing Insider: Some people think that his prime was lost when he was out for three years. When he looked his best was in his fight just prior to him being suspended for three years. In a way, we lost his prime like we lost Mike Tyson’s prime for about three years.
Khalilah Ali: He did his best when he beat Foreman. That was like his ultimate best because he had support. I was supporting him. He had somebody in his corner that is going to motivate him to win. When that is taken away, he’s going to lose it.
Boxing Insider: Everyone (athletes) needs a good coach and a companion to help them.
Khalilah Ali: Spiritual support is more powerful than anything in the world.
Boxing Insider: Do you think he lost some of that?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, when I left. He lost it because I was the key person that kept him on top of things. That’s just my opinion. People might say “No. He’s the champ. He can do what he wants.”
Boxing Insider: You left him in 1977. Was that after the Earnie Shavers fight or before? Do you recall that?
Khalilah Ali: I didn’t go to any Earnie Shavers fight.
Boxing Insider: That was where he took a lot of hits. (Writer’s Note: Shavers is considered to be one of the hardest punchers in boxing history. Ali won a unanimous decision after 15 rounds. In his next fight, Ali lost his heavyweight titles to Leon Spinks.)
Khalilah Ali: I wasn’t with him (at the time). He’s not going to get hurt on my watch. I allowed the (first) Joe Frazier (fight) because I knew he wasn’t going to win that one because he did not train (well). You have to understand one thing. When Muhammad Ali trains his best, he cannot be stopped.
Boxing Insider: So why was his motivation fluctuating sometimes? Was it distractions?
Khalilah Ali: A lot of distractions. When the person that you know should be there for you is not there for you, that’s the biggest distraction of them all. You have to realize one thing. He is good at what he does. Nobody can tell him anything about that ring. I would never get in the ring with this guy. I’m just saying he’s one of the best and if he’s in rare form running backwards, this guy runs ten miles backwards. I mean, who does that?
Boxing Insider: You were a high degree black belt.
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, I was. I didn’t really want him to know I was doing karate, but he found out anyway. I don’t compare anything to him. I’m just saying that he was as good at what he does. Like I said, Muhammad Ali distracted his opponent and he beat him psychologically first and foremost. If I come in to you and I tell you “Let me tell you something. You look like a rabbit” and I dangle carrots in front of you, you’re going to go “Is this guy nuts?” Half the fight is over because you know this guy is nuts. He says “I can’t beat this nut.” Your whole inner self-confidence is gone out the window. You’re intimidated.
Boxing Insider: So it wasn’t just his physical (abilities), it was his psychological (abilities).
Khalilah Ali: That was 90% of the fight. The other 10% is hitting and not get hit. Ali was fast. He was known not to get hit. When you thought he was getting hit, he wasn’t getting hit. When you thought he was getting hit, he was weaving. He bobs and weaves. He’s fast and then when he gets real mad at you, he starts running backwards in the ring on you and then you’ve got to come toward him, so he’s got you. He’s got control of the whole fight.
Boxing Insider: But towards the end though, he wasn’t as fast. His ability to evade shots (was in decline). Pacheco was very adamant that he should quit. Were you as adamant to Muhammad that he should quit?
Khalilah Ali: I told him to quit after the Foreman fight, way before Pacheco (told him).
Boxing Insider: Were you constantly on him that he had to quit?
Khalilah Ali: No, because you can’t make nobody do anything. When I said you should quit, this would be the best time for you to quit. When he said no, I let him go. You can’t make anybody do anything. That’s not me in the ring. That’s him in the ring.
Boxing Insider: Up until the time that you got the divorce, did you notice signs of any…
Khalilah Ali: No, he didn’t have all that. He didn’t get that until afterward. He was a little crazy. Maybe he had brain damage then. I can see him going a little crazy or nuts. He wasn’t thinking rationally anymore like he used to. I can see that.
Boxing Insider: His abilities were declining, but he wasn’t recognizing that or he wasn’t admitting to it?
Khalilah Ali: No, the only time that I saw anything different was his hands. He used to soak his hands in ice water and solution. He used to have pains in his hands. I saw that during the Foreman fight.
Boxing Insider: They said that he had injections to numb (the pain).
Khalilah Ali: Yeah. He had injections in his hands. Something was messing with his hands. He wasn’t shaking at the time, but there was something definitely wrong with that. He had to soak his hands.
Boxing Insider: Did he have fractures in his hands?
Khalilah Ali: I don’t know what was wrong with them. It was just his hands. It was nothing else.
Boxing Insider: He never had X-rays on his hands?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, he had X-rays and everything. That’s when he started putting injections, but then they would heal after a while. Then, he would have no problem. He would hit you in the right spots where he didn’t have to use too much force, but it was only his hands. I didn’t see any sickness or anything other than him not thinking rationally.
Boxing Insider: Your book is coming out next year, right?
Khalilah Ali: God willing.
Boxing Insider: Do you have any title for it or can you say the title?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah. I don’t want to say the title right now, but I do have a working title.
Boxing Insider: I read that you were maybe going to call it I Molded The Clay.
Khalilah Ali: No, that’s not it.
Boxing Insider: So you changed your mind on that one.
Khalilah Ali: No. Somebody else thought that up because when I write the book, it’s my life story. It’s not a (Muhammad) Ali life story. It’s my life story. He’s just a part of my life, so I’m not really telling a Muhammad Ali story like everybody else. I’m speaking to him as my husband as a man and I just had these moments with this particular person. It’s my personal perspective, my personal moments that I want to share. There are certain moments that I’m sharing. It’s about Ali the man, the father, the husband. I had my moments about him, how great he is and stuff like that, but it is not a Muhammad Ali story. It’s my story.
Boxing Insider: And we have plenty of those anyway. We need one about you.
Khalilah Ali: I’m telling about my experiences and what I saw that no one else saw.
Boxing Insider: Do you feel that, of the people that are still alive today, that probably you and Ferdie Pacheco are the ones that know Ali best? Would that be correct?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah. I talked with Ferdie Pacheco last month and they were saying that he wasn’t doing well. But when I talked to him, it seems I brought his energy back and the feeling of being with Ali and the things that we talked about that we can relate to. It brought his life back. (Writer’s Note: Before this interview, I was told by Khalilah Ali’s manager that Pacheco was very ill in the hospital, so I did a distance energy healing on him. Apparently, he recovered from his illness enough to leave the hospital, but I do not know how much or how little that I contributed to his recovery.)
Boxing Insider: We’re in Deerfield Beach right now. I know Don King’s headquarters is in this city. I would imagine that you talked to him back in the 1970s when Ali was fighting.
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, it wasn’t any long conversation.
Boxing Insider: So you don’t talk to him today?
Khalilah Ali: Oh, I talk to him. I have no problem with Don King. Don King didn’t manage me. He managed Ali. I only saw him at certain points when we went to the Africa fight. He wasn’t always in our life all the time 24/7. I don’t have any problem with talking to anybody back in those days. He never did anything bad to me. He’s doing different things for the community in Deerfield (such as) giving out turkeys (for Thanksgiving) and I support him. He does a lot of community things. He will not do anything on your agenda, but if you’re with him doing it on his agenda, he’s open arms to everybody. I don’t have anything against Don King. I admire him in one aspect that he changed his life around. He had a real rugged, wild life.
Boxing Insider: Was Muhammad Ali okay with Don King?
Khalilah Ali: No. They had issues. I’ve never got into their issues.
Boxing Insider: With regarding money mostly?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, but I never got into it.
Boxing Insider: Did Ali feel that he was not compensated fairly?
Khalilah Ali: As I said, I didn’t get into it. Whatever they had against him, they were talking to the lawyers and stuff like that. I wasn’t a part of that.
Boxing Insider: I see. Do you know how many pages your book is going to be approximately?
Khalilah Ali: 200, 300 maybe.
Boxing Insider: And you wrote it with another writer or did you write it yourself?
Khalilah Ali: I wrote it myself and notes that I have been writing all along when I was living with Ali.
Boxing Insider: You had a diary in a way?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, I had a diary. Yes, I did. It has been over 30 years of writing things that come to you here and there.
Boxing Insider: I know you’re probably going to have everything in your book, but is there one thing that you could reveal about Muhammad Ali right now that you never told anyone before publicly?
Khalilah Ali: There are a lot of things I haven’t told publicly. That’s the whole point of writing a book, right?
Boxing Insider: Yeah. Just one thing if you can reveal something.
Khalilah Ali: He can’t cook.
Boxing Insider: Did you cook for him?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, I cooked for him. I’m a good cook. He can’t cook. He can eat. I made a chocolate cake one time, 8 or 9 inch cake. I put the icing on it and set it in front of him and I went away to get a saucer to sit next to him and the cake was gone. It was gone that quick.
Boxing Insider: He ate the whole cake.
Khalilah Ali: I said “What happened to the cake?” He said “I was hungry. It was good.” That was amazing to me. I’ve never seen anyone devour a chocolate cake like that in my life. If they had one of those fast eating cake contests, Ali would have won. He’s the champ. I just turned my back to get the saucer and I turned around and I go “Whoa!” It was literally an empty plate. Now, that’s something I never told anybody.
Boxing Insider: Okay. Well, you heard it here first.
Khalilah Ali: (laughs)
Boxing Insider: An exclusive. (laughs)
Khalilah Ali: He was a jolly fellow. (laughs) Hilarious.
Boxing Insider: After you divorced him and after the (Larry) Holmes fight and the (Trevor) Berbick fight, he retired in 1981. When you were seeing him, how did you feel about his physical condition?
Khalilah Ali: Scary. I went to my daughter’s wedding and he was shaking. I was like what’s going on? And it looked really weird to me because I never kept up with what was going on and everything. I saw him shaking. He was mumbling. I said “You can’t talk? Can’t you talk? Come on, open your mouth.” Ali is full of tricks a lot of the times. I said “Oh man, you better open your mouth and talk. I’m not going to talk to you acting like that.”
Boxing Insider: You thought he was joking?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, I did. Then all of a sudden he said “I’m okay.” I said “So why are you doing that?” He said “I’m just trying to get the sympathy of the people.” I said “Man, you don’t have to go through all that. That’s not good.” That’s when I first started seeing the signs. That was pretty scary, but in the latter part, I couldn’t even look at him for five seconds. It was just too heartbreaking to see him (as) a person who I don’t even know. He was a different person altogether. It was just sad to see that. It was very sad. I mean, you’re talking (about) a person who was vibrant and energetic and funny.
Boxing Insider: It was a big change.
Khalilah Ali: It was a change. It was like a metamorphosis. It was like he was Frankenstein. He was like a whole different person. That was scary. I didn’t like seeing that.
Boxing Insider: He couldn’t talk well. Were you talking to him at all in the 1990s or in recent years?
Khalilah Ali: Yeah, I would whisper jokes and he would laugh and I would bring him back up to speed and he would kind of get out of it for a minute, but it was still sad to see. I would only whisper things and we would laugh and I would make him laugh, but it was still sad to see.
Boxing Insider: I read that you attended his funeral.
Khalilah Ali: Of course. He’s the man of my life, my first love, the father of my children. Of course, I am going to be with him until the end. Thank you so much Ron. Where is this going to be at?
Boxing Insider: Edited, but on Boxing Insider.com. There are a lot of good articles on there, not just mine. A lot of good writers.
Khalilah Ali: Do you know we have a South Beach Boxing gym?
Boxing Insider: Yes.
Khalilah Ali: South Beach Boxing is run by Jolie Glassman.
Boxing Insider: It used to be South Florida Boxing. (Writer’s Note: South Florida Boxing used to have a few locations in South Florida. One was in the city of Pembroke Pines. Another was in Miami Beach which is the location where South Beach Boxing is.)
Khalilah Ali: It has a fantastic array of trainers. They train you like a boxer, not (necessarily) to be a boxer, but like a boxer. I want everybody to come down to South Beach Boxing gym.
Boxing Insider: And you train there.
Khalilah Ali: I train there as much as I can.
Boxing Insider: Thanks Khalilah. Great interview.