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That fight was moved to Toronto because anti-Ali feeling in the United States was so high that no promoter would touch it here. Although he never said much about it, that feeling disturbed Ali, who isn't disturbed much by anything. He didn't talk about it, but I could tell it worked on him. He wasn't as lighthearted and gay as he had been before.
Luckily for him—and for me, too—as his popularity fell off here it grew in Europe. The quotes that made him the villain whenever he fought in the United States actually made him a hero to the fight fans in foreign countries. We went back to London to fight Cooper again, and every time Ali walked the streets he was mobbed by fans wanting his autograph. He had decided to change his image by then. He wasn't naming the round anymore and he wasn't making up verses so often.
Neither the second Cooper fight nor the fight he had with Brian London was very tough. Actually, aside from Ernie Terrell and Karl Mildenberger, there weren't any tough fighters left for Ali by then. He had fought himself out of competition.
Ali cut down on his food for the second Cooper fight. He wanted to be light to increase his speed, but I think he cut down too much. He came in at 201�, instead of 210, 212, which was his natural fighting weight. It hurt his punching power, and that showed in the Mildenberger fight, too. Cooper made a real good fight. He took the fight to Ali. But Ali made him fall short with a lot of punches and countering, and once Ali's jabs started finding the range, that was the end.
I was cautious about Mildenberger. All you had to do was look at his record to know he was a good fighter, and I knew that Ali always had trouble with left-handers anyway. I told Ali he would have to be aware of the right hand, because Mildenberger was a hell of a right-hand puncher. I worked with him in the gym to get him moving away from the right. It wasn't natural for him to circle that way, because he was used to circling just the opposite. But he seemed to pick it up quick enough.
I brought over a southpaw from England to work with him, a fellow named Jock Bedell, and Ali made the adjustment pretty well. Then, at a press conference before the fight, Mildenberger asked Ali for his autograph, and I figured, "We're home free. This guy is too awed to fight a good fight."
That only shows how wrong you can be. Mildenberger fought a great fight. He was appearing before his home-town fans in Frankfurt and he gave it everything he had until he got knocked out. I don't think Ali ever had a tougher fight. Of course, he forgot all about circling away from Mildenberger's right hand and I had to remind him of it between rounds. That didn't do much good, either. As it turned out, he beat Mildenberger fighting him wrong, which I suppose is a mark of how great Ali is. To whip a southpaw, you have to stick him with the left and hook with the left and rush him, and Ali wasn't doing any of those things. Finally he got tagged in the belly with a beauty of a right hand and it seemed to snap him out of it. When he started getting to the German with the right hand, it was all over.
By the time that fight was finished, we could fight in the States again, because most of the uproar over the draft deal had subsided. The fight with Cleveland Williams in the Astrodome showed that although Ali would still be the villain in any fight over here no one was going to boycott him just to prove a point.
The fight itself wasn't much. One thing Ali showed a lot of doubters was that he can punch. Against Williams he was able to plant himself to throw his punches, and he hit Cleveland a series as hard as any heavyweight can hit today. When it was over, a lot of writers who had been saying that Ali was not really a hitter changed their tune. It seems strange it took them so long, because he has knocked out all but six of the men he has fought.
Up until then Ali always had to share the heavyweight championship with Ernie Terrell, at least in Terrell's mind and in the books of the WBA. I don't think many people took Terrell seriously as the real heavyweight champion, but it was a nagging sort of thing. Ali was anxious to fight him, and when we made the fight for the Astrodome in February of this year he worked hard. He always works hard, but he put in a little extra for this one.