Dougie’s Monday mailbag
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE
Hope all is well with you and your family. I’ve written you before, but never made it on, but it always helps me clarify my thoughts. But hope springs eternal . . . Still in shock over the passing of Muhammad Ali.
As one of your older readers, I remember his Olympic gold, and watching Clay/Ali on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, really the boxer that turned me on to a life-long love of the sport. What a boxer, what a man. All his fights, too numerous to mention here.
History might credit Walter Cronkite with turning America against the Vietnam War, but it was Ali saying that “No Vietcong ever called me n—–” that made me start to think about what was going on back then. He sacrificed for his beliefs – would anyone of us do that? He became a true citizen of the world, a true champion, a man who tried to unite the world, could you even pretend to compare him to a Floyd Mayweather Jr., or any other boxer before or since he entered the ring? I know you are a lot younger, but did you ever cross paths with The Greatest, ever have a chance to interview him? If there was one celebrity I could have sat down to dinner with, it would have been Muhammad Ali. Such a sad day.
Mythical match-up: Thinking of Ali standing over Liston yelling “what’s my name?” – Sonny Liston vs. Mike Tyson. – Ken Kozberg, Oakham, MA
The “What’s my name?” line came during the Ernie Terrell fight. Terrell, who held the WBA title (that was stripped from the rightful champ for signing to fight the Liston rematch), referred to Ali as Cassius Clay during the build-up to their 1967 “unification” fight (which Ali won by painfully one-sided 15-round decision). When he was standing over Liston (after flooring the former champ in the first round of their rematch) he was yelling “Get up and fight, sucker! Nobody’s gonna believe this!” (or something like that).
Anyway, prime Liston outjabs Tyson to a late TKO in the ultimate heavyweight “Battle of the Bullies.”
Still in shock over the passing of Muhammad Ali. I wasn’t in shock over the sad news. Steve Kim read the announcement of Ali’s death to me and couple others at a lounge table inside Belasco Theater after glancing at his Twitter timeline (shortly after we went off the air for Friday’s “LA Fight Club” show) and I was hit with a strange combination of relief and numbness. I’d sort of mentally prepared for Ali’s passing due to his failing health and frequent hospital stays during the last few years. I’m glad he’s no longer suffering but there is an undeniable emptiness left by his departure from this plane because he was my lifelong hero. However, given the global impact he made during his legendary boxing career and amazing life, there’s also a sense of pride and contentment because of the legacy he left us and future generations to marvel at.
As one of your older readers, I remember his Olympic gold, and watching Clay/Ali on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, really the boxer that turned me on to a life-long love of the sport. What a boxer, what a man. All his fights, too numerous to mention here. I’ll mention six – and all of them were THE RING’s Fight of the Year – his close 10-round decision over Doug Jones in 1963 (Ali’s first gut check), his seventh-round stoppage of Liston in ’64 (his improbable upset of a feared and seemingly invincible veteran to earn what was still the biggest prize in sports at the time), his epic 15-round decision loss to Joe Frazier in ’71 (in battle of undefeated claimants to the heavyweight championship that was truly “the Fight of the Century”), his gutsy “rope-a-dope” eighth-round KO of the heavily favored George Foreman in ’74 (in which he regained his heavyweight crown in Africa), his grueling 14th-round TKO of Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila” in ’75 (the ultimate heavyweight battle of attrition), and his 15-round decision over Leon Spinks in ’78 (to regain the title for a then-unprecedented third time).
He became a true citizen of the world, a true champion, a man who tried to unite the world, could you even pretend to compare him to a Floyd Mayweather Jr., or any other boxer before or since he entered the ring? No, I wouldn’t dream of it (and if I did I’d wake up and apologize to Ali).
I know you are a lot younger, but did you ever cross paths with The Greatest, ever have a chance to interview him? I crossed paths with Ali once. It was 20 years ago, the day after the premiere of the “When We Were Kings” documentary at Magic Johnson’s Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza movie theater in the heart of south-central L.A. Ali made an unannounced appearance, so he wasn’t surrounded by a huge entourage. I’ve never been the type to give a damn about famous sports figures or celebrities but I don’t mind telling you that I lost my s__t for a few delightful minutes when I saw him. I ran over and jumped around him a like a kid, occasionally reaching out to touch his arm and shoulder (and probably freaking out poor Lonnie, his wife, who was by his side). Ali didn’t seem to mind. He was there to be around people, and he was still able-bodied enough to do an old-man version of his shuffle with a little shadow boxing mixed in. The muscle-memory moves caused even the younger folks who weren’t around to witness his heavyweight reigns cheer and chant “Ali! Ali! Ali!”
VARGAS-SALIDO AFTER THOUGHTS
Francisco Vargas-Orlando Salido was one of those fights so damn good that they actually are difficult TO WATCH. The pace was so exhilarating you could hardly grab your glass to drink or your fork to eat. I am not exaggerating.
I saw it at a restaurant. All of the waiters, bar tenders and costumers were glued to the non-stop action from Round 1 to 12. The minute between rounds was precious time to recover for the casual fan. What. A. Fight. You could not believe how these guys were able to inflict and to absorb so much pain.
I was relieved to hear the judges’ decision. No one deserves to lose. Actually, I felt kind of good when the bout ended. It did not feel right to me to see how these guys probably shortened their lives so we could be amused for 36 minutes.
Total and mad respect for these guys. Really. They made us Mexicans feel even prouder for our already rich boxing heritage. Not much more to say. What a good night for boxing it was. I’m glad it was the event where The Greatest got his 10-count. Saludos, Doug. – Carlos, from Hermosillo, M├®xico
Vargas-Salido was one of those rare fights where I felt honored to witness it live. That’s a very short list (and StubHub Center was the site for one of the others, the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez rubbermatch).
You’re absolutely right in saying that Vargas and Salido lived up to Mexico’s rich boxing tradition. Their fight deserves to be mentioned among the other modern classic all-Mexican ring wars I’ve covered over the past 16 years (including Barrera-Morales I and II, and Vazquez-Marquez I, II and III).
The pace was so exhilarating you could hardly grab your glass to drink or your fork to eat. I am not exaggerating. I know you’re not exaggerating. Vargas and Salido combined to throw 1593 power punches, according to CompuBox; that’s a combined 132.8 power shots thrown per round and the punch-stat company says it shattered the junior lightweight record set by Jesus Chavez and Carlos Hernandez in 2005. I had a hard-time keeping up with the action during the international call I did with Beto Duran.
What. A. Fight. You could not believe how these guys were able to inflict and to absorb so much pain. I could believe it. I expected it. I did not buy into the cynical fan bulls__t of Salido being a “spent bullet.” He looked too strong and capable (and punishing) en route to his previous “draw,” against Rocky Martinez last September, for me to count him out against Vargas (who isn’t exactly hard to find in the ring).
I was relieved to hear the judges’ decision. No one deserves to lose. Indeed. They both deserved to have their hands raised after the super-human effort they gave. And I agreed with the draw (114-114) verdict.
Actually, I felt kind of good when the bout ended. It did not feel right to me to see how these guys probably shortened their lives so we could be amused for 36 minutes. Hey hombre, don’t get squeamish on me. That’s what warriors do. They fight. They spill blood and they give everything they’ve got. That’s why we show up when they fight. That’s why we cheer as loudly as we do. That’s why we honor them. (Having said that, I don’t think they should do a rematch this year. Both deserve a long rest and a soft/”gimme” fight before doing it again. They deserve a break and they earned the right to bask in the glory of this fight for the rest of 2016.)
LEGENDS AND LEGENDARY NIGHTS
Hola Doug E. Fresca,
A weekend of highs and lows if ever there was one. That said, I hope you had a blast watching the war of attrition that was Vargas-Salido. What an inspiring 12th for the “old man” (my heart was in my mouth the entire round). Overall I was more impressed with Salido. His guile and savvy are Hopkins-esque; the man raises fighting dirty to an art form (and yes I said “dirty,” did you see how many purposeful nut shots he landed?) But even with the roughhouse tactics, and even though the fight was a draw, it was another glorious night of knock-down, drag-out fisticuffs at StubHub. Still, I’m not sure I want to see that again until it’s clear the war didn’t drain the two fighters’ souls irreparably. What do you think? Should they steer clear of each other for a while? Do you think Lomachenkno, even with his balletic footwork, really wants to be on the business end of Salido’s nut shots again?
As for Ali, that was devastating news. But at least the fight we got this weekend was worthy of his legacy (shades of Manilla?). I’m sure plenty of people will eulogize him in the mailbag better than I can, but I was wondering where you thought he fit in history. I know you don’t follow other sports (neither do I), but I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a sports figure more transformative and transcendent than The Greatest (behind only Floyd Mayweather, of course). Even more interesting is that Muhammad Ali could have only happened in the United StatesÔÇöprecisely because of the unique circumstances and ugly history specific to America. I even came up with the notion that he defies hyperboleÔÇöthere isn’t much you can say about him that isn’t untrue. So, is he the greatest sportsman who ever lived? From where I’m sitting, it’s a hard yes.
Thanks for doing what you do, and keep up the good work. I’ve been a reader since the 2000/2001 MaxBoxing daysÔÇöI’ll ride or die with you, Gabe Montoya and K9 any day.
Also, mythical matchups (both prime and post-comeback Ali): Muhammad Ali-Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali-Spider Man, Muhammad Ali-Donald Trump (debate only)
P.S. Of course I was kidding about Mayweather. But maybe when he finally shuffles off to boxing Valhalla as well, Ali will have a place for him at his sideÔÇöwashing his jockstrap. ÔÇö Chris in Argentina
I know you were kidding, Chris. But just to be clear, Mayweather ain’t getting’ into Valhalla. The Vikings were some blood-thirsty mother f__kers. The Valkyries of Norse mythology won’t be picking up any prize fighter who wasn’t in at least one Fight of the Year.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and for reading my stuff all these years. It’s truly appreciated.
A weekend of highs and lows if ever there was one. Yes. It was an emotionally draining three days.
That said, I hope you had a blast watching the war of attrition that was Vargas-Salido. I did. I can’t believe how many Fight of the Year candidates StubHub Center has hosted and I’m proud to say that I’ve been present (as a deadline writer or a broadcaster) for all of ’em.
What an inspiring 12th for the “old man” (my heart was in my mouth the entire round). I thought Saldio was the stronger man in the championship rounds and clearly won the 12th. I was expecting an inspired performance from Salido, and for Vargas to answer in kind, but the 35-year-old grinder exceeded my expectations because he was able to stay on his feet. I predicted Vargas to win a hard-fought unanimous decision (because I thought he’d score at least one knockdown) but the 20-year veteran obviously was mentally/spiritually prepared and supremely conditioned for this title challenge.
Overall I was more impressed with Salido. He was impressive but I get the feeling that a lot of fans are overlooking Vargas’ performance, which was equally courageous in my view. I think Salido is getting more credit because of his age (rightfully so) but also because a lot of fans and media were counting him out (and that mistake shouldn’t count against Vargas).
His guile and savvy are Hopkins-esque; the man raises fighting dirty to an art form (and yes I said “dirty,” did you see how many purposeful nut shots he landed?) Agreed 100 percent. In fact, Saldio’s longevity is more impressive because of his style – that of a volume-punching pressure fighter. “Siri” remains one of the best combination and body punchers in the game.
Still, I’m not sure I want to see that again until it’s clear the war didn’t drain the two fighters’ souls irreparably. What do you think? I agree.
Should they steer clear of each other for a while? I think so. Salido’s near the end of his career, and he’s already held world titles, but Vargas is in danger of cutting his title reign and boxing career short if he engages in back-to-back-to-back battles of attrition. “Bandito” has earned a break and maybe a soft title defense (or non-title bout) after locking horns with Takashi Miura and Salido in consecutive fights.
Do you think Lomachenkno, even with his balletic footwork, really wants to be on the business end of Salido’s nut shots again? Absolutely. Loma is as proud and competitive as he is skilled and talented. If you recall, he was the stronger man down the stretch of his fight with Salido, and now he knows what to expect from the Mexican mauler, plus he has more pro seasoning.
I know you don’t follow other sports (neither do I), but I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a sports figure more transformative and transcendent than The Greatest. Nobody comes close to Ali. He transcended boxing, sports, race, nationality, politics, religion, culture and generations.
Even more interesting is that Muhammad Ali could have only happened in the United StatesÔÇöprecisely because of the unique circumstances and ugly history specific to America. Agreed.
I even came up with the notion that he defies hyperboleÔÇöthere isn’t much you can say about him that isn’t untrue. Yes. To be honest, there isn’t a lot I want (or need) to say about his life and legacy. (Ali was one of history’s most chronicled human beings; there is much anyone can say about him that hasn’t already been said or written.) As for eulogizing Ali, I think we should leave that to the people who really knew him and covered his boxing career. I’m just one of the millions who idolized him.
So, is he the greatest sportsman who ever lived? From where I’m sitting, it’s a hard yes. I won’t disagree with you.
Your mythical matchups: Muhammad Ali-Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali-Spider Man, Muhammad Ali-Donald Trump (debate only) — Ali by decision, Ali by TKO (come on, he beat Superman, what’s Spidey gonna do?), Ali clowns Trump (and also frees that awful rug from his head)
R.I.P. MUHAMMAD ALI, THE GREATEST
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Not only a great fighter or sportsman, one of the most influential people of the twentieth century, who put his principles and beliefs before all else. The world is a poorer place without him.
Rumble young man rumble. – Jody
MY MUHAMMAD ALI STORY
I was up late Friday night and flipped over to watch Nightline and saw the news that Muhammad Ali had died. I am still trying to process that news. It stunned me. Such a loss not just to boxing but to the world.
I want to tell you my Muhammad Ali story. As a lifelong boxing fan I loved to watch him work. I grew up in a time when many of his fights were on Wide World of Sports or prime time TV. As a karate student I loved to study and analyze what he did in the ring and how he applied his hands. I learned a lot.
I have met a few celebrities in my life but I have never been star struck…until I met Muhammad Ali. In July of 1976 one of my best buddies (and karate classmates) called me and said that Ali would be in Memphis the next day campaigning for his friend John J Hooker who was running for the senate and did I want to go. You can guess the answer to that one…we were in Memphis the next morning and went to Ali’s hotel, a high rise Holiday Inn at the foot of the Mississippi Bridge. Entering the lobby, I brazenly went to the house phone and called Ali’s room (crazy I know…took some balls, but they actually put me thru). A voice answered and I said, “We drove all night…could we just come to the door and shake the champ’s hand?” The voice said, “He will be down for breakfast in 15 minutes.” Shortly the elevator door opened, a big guy in a sharp suit stepped out, looked both ways, and motioned Ali to come out. He stepped from the elevator (dressed in that black collared shirt and black trousers you see in all the old photos) and walked straight to me, hand extended and shook my hand.
I was thinking (“I am shaking the hand that knocked out George Foreman!) I had with me a rare record album he recorded in 1963. (I didn’t think of it at the time but the cover had his name Cassius Clay). It was a comedy album recorded live in a club of him doing his poetry and comedy bits. I said, “Champ, I know people are in your face all the time, but this is once in a lifetime for me, would your sign your record for me?” He gladly signed. This was shortly before the 3rd Ken Norton fight and I added “Norton falls in 9,” to which he responded with a smile, “I’m hip.”
A crowd appeared from nowhere and he was surrounded by admirers. We later attended the press conference he gave for his friend and when he was asked about the American Boxing team who were doing so well in the Olympics in Montreal he said with a smile, “I’m glad they are doing so wellÔÇª but some of them are stealing my style.” (I guess referring to Howard Davis and Ray Leonard).
We followed his limo around town where he would randomly stop and get out and greet people. One time he approached a rather large black guy and put up his hands in a fighting stance. The guy stood up and put HIS hands up. Ali dropped his hands and said, “Man you’re crazy!” The people loved him wherever he went. That day was one of the highlights of my life.
Later, I watched him as he stayed in the game too long and saw what it did to him, but as he said in his autobiography, “If you want to be king of the heavyweights, you have to be willing to pay the price.” He WAS the king and he paid the price…but he lived it the way HE wanted to. God bless you champ, rest in peace…you earned it. The world will never forget you.
Doug I have attached a scan of the album cover he signed for me.
Thought you might like to see it. – David, Nashville
Thanks for sharing that story with us, David. Ali was truly the “People’s Champ.”
I’m very sad writing this, so I’ll keep it short.
What is your favourite memory of Ali, Doug?
I don’t know if you had this mythical matchup before: Ali-1960’s vs Ali-early-to-mid 1970’s.
RIP Champ! – BP from Toronto, Canada
Although the Ali of the ’60s was faster, had quicker reflexes and was more mobile, I’m going to go with the early-to-mid ’70s Ali by decision because the veteran version was more battle tested (mainly from the first Frazier fight) and had the experience of losing and coming back. Plus, he was heavier, still very athletic, and perhaps a harder puncher.
My favorite memory of Ali? I don’t really have a favorite. Much of what I know about him was learned shortly after his retirement and during the early years of my hardcore fandom (late 1980s) when I would buy every magazine, book or VHS tape of Ali that I could get my hands on. I enjoyed his interviews almost as much as I did his fights (and, no, I don’t have a favorite).
However, I am old enough (born in 1970) to recall the tail end of his second title reign. I had heard the name “Muhammad Ali” from adults and teenagers (that included my father, teachers and baby sitters) before I’d ever seen the man. But my earliest memory of actually seeing Ali on TV came during the build-up to his title defense against Earnie Shavers in September 1977. Shavers was based in Ohio, where I lived at the time (my parents were grad students at Ohio State University in Columbus), so there was a local buzz about this particular fight. My dad (who thought Ali was on his way out based on the Ken Norton rubber match that took place the previous year) and his friends talked about the fight and what might happen, while I was transfixed by Ali’s larger-than-life persona on TV. I’d never seen a respected pro athlete crack jokes the way Ali did with Shavers (I vividly remember him explaining his nickname for the fearsome puncher, “the acorn,” by holding up a photo of Shaver’s head, covering the face with a piece of paper, leaving only the bald dome exposed) and I wanted to see more.
My dad figured Ali had slowed down enough for Shavers to clip him, and some of his friends that seemed to know a lot about sports agreed with him, which bothered me even though I had only recently become aware of the heavyweight champ. But I didn’t let the adults know that their doubts made me nervous. I bet my dad that week’s allowance that Ali would win and he took that action (he was impressed with my confidence). We watched the fight together but I fell asleep before the end of the bout. (Hey, I was 7 years old. I was into Ali, not boxing. I didn’t really get into the sport until Sugar Ray Leonard emerged as a top contender a few years later.) Anyway, dad let me know that Ali won the next morning and I doubled my allowance.
The next year, DC Comics came out with a special giant-sized collector’s book featuring Ali versus Superman in brilliant Neal Adams art and that was the clincher – I became as hooked on the heavyweight champ as I was on my favorite superhero, movie star or rock group at the time (KISS, in case you’re wondering, and yes, I also had Marvel’s special edition comic of the face-painted foursome from NYC, which supposedly was printed with their blood in the ink).
I know boxing goes on but damn, that’s hit me harder than I thought. Let’s all stop the fanboyism for a moment and bow our heads. No “demographic”. No nuthuggers, no paqtards, no nothing.
A true All Time Great has passed.
His politics were dodgy and his persona was divisive but, at the end of the day, every boxing fan knows in their guts that he was a true one of a kind. We were lucky to have him.
I hope we can use this to bring us together. – G., UK
If anyone can, it’s Ali.