fight was, I think, the end of one phase of Ali's career and the beginning of
another. There had been some complaints by columnists here and there about his
being a Muslim, but it wasn't a big thing to Ali. But because Patterson made it
a factor and because that aroused Ali, from the Patterson fight on you read as
much about Ali's beliefs as you did about his ability to fight. He didn't
change much. He became more aware of being a Muslim and the effect that had on
other people, because other people made him aware of it. But in his personal
relationship with me he didn't change.
He was just as
relaxed as ever and just as fond of practical jokes. Whenever we went on a trip
he liked to pull jokes on me. Once we had a hotel suite, with my bedroom on one
side of the living room and his on the other. One afternoon when I was out he
went to a lot of trouble to string a piece of rope from his room to the
Venetian blind in my room. Then he waited until I went to sleep and he yanked
on the rope and rattled the Venetian blind. We were on about the 10th floor and
the noise woke me up. I went to the window to see what it was, and of course I
didn't see anything. I got back in bed and dropped off, and he did it again and
I got up again and by now I was pretty spooked. Things like that worry me. I
finally caught on when I heard him laughing in his room.
Another time I
woke up in the middle of the night and smelled smoke. I called the hotel
manager and he told me nothing was wrong. I went back to sleep and woke up with
the room beginning to fill with smoke. I ran out of the bedroom to wake up Ali,
and he was in the living room burning a towel and fanning the smoke under the
door into my bedroom. Lots of times he'd hide in a closet with a sheet over his
head and jump out and holler boo at me because he knows I'm jumpy.
He was a kid
then, but since the Muslim thing and the draft have been so emphasized he has
lost some of his boyishness. He still is one of the softest touches you ever
saw. Money doesn't really mean much to him. He gives it away without thinking
about it. Before the Patterson fight a woman and her two daughters came to
Vegas, with the girls dressed up in foreign clothes. Ali was very nice to them.
The mother asked Ali if he would take care of them, and he paid their hotel
bill. One of the girls even charged a wig and he paid for that, too.
Another time I
saw a guy drive up in front of the gym in a Cadillac and get out and come in in
a wheelchair. He gave Ali a hard-luck story and Ali gave him some money and he
went right back out and got in his Cadillac and drove away. You couldn't talk
Ali out of doing things like that. He used to take the gate money from his
workouts—the buck that people paid to come see him train—and split it up among
his sparring partners and the guys working in the gym. He called it "gay
money," money for having a good time. He figured it didn't really count as
money at all.
Patterson fight the world changed for Ali. The pressures were bigger and the
problems were bigger, and it wasn't as easy for him to be relaxed and
happy-go-lucky. His draft status and his beliefs and his stubborn refusal to
compromise with anyone or anything cost him, although he wasn't alone in any of
The worst of it
started with what he said about the Viet Cong, not long before he was supposed
to fight Ernie Terrell in Chicago. He said, in effect, that the Viet Cong
hadn't done anything to him and he wasn't mad at them. Although he had a right
to his own view of the war in Vietnam, this caused an uproar, and finally it
reached the point where the Illinois Athletic Commission wouldn't approve the
Terrell fight unless Ali went to Chicago and apologized. I'm not sure exactly
why the Illinois Athletic Commission felt that it was the proper body to accept
an apology from Ali, but then reason didn't have much to do with the attitude
toward Ali at that time.
When Ali left
Miami to go to Chicago I was afraid that he would not back down. Whatever
chance there might have been blew up when he was heckled by one of the
commissioners. This little man tried to browbeat Ali and put him down. He kept
on calling him Mr. Clay in a sarcastic voice. I went to Chicago with Ali and to
the commission meeting and when it turned out that he wouldn't apologize, I
went along with him. It was a matter of principle by then, after the little man
on the commission tried to make himself big at Ali's expense.
After that, of
course, the fight bounced around all over the country, and Ali wound up
fighting George Chuvalo in Toronto instead of Ernie Terrell in Chicago. He
didn't have much opportunity to train properly for the Chuvalo fight, because
he was traveling constantly, going to draft-board hearings and so on. Since
that fight Chuvalo has made a big thing about having taken it on short notice
and not having had time to train. He was in as good or better shape than Ali at
There never was
any question about who won the fight. All anyone was curious about was whether
Ali could knock Chuvalo out. He bruised his hands punching Chuvalo in the head,
but you have to give George one thing: he takes a shot as well as anyone ever
did. Ali brought out the best in Chuvalo. No one expected such a great fight.
The fans reacted and gave George a great ovation.