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HE COULD GO TO JAIL AND STILL BE CHAMP
Angelo Dundee
August 28, 1967
The man who beat Karl Mildenberger 'fighting him wrong' is too young and assured, says Dundee, to be ruined as a boxer if draft troubles put him behind bars
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August 28, 1967

He Could Go To Jail And Still Be Champ

The man who beat Karl Mildenberger 'fighting him wrong' is too young and assured, says Dundee, to be ruined as a boxer if draft troubles put him behind bars

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The Patterson 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.

After the 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 these things.

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 the time.

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.

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