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Watching the Man in the Mirror
George Plimpton
November 23, 1970
Though millions saw Muhammad Ali return to the ring after years of exile, none had a closer view than this old friend. An eloquent diary of the day in Atlanta—and how it all added up to more than a mere exchange of punches
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November 23, 1970

Watching The Man In The Mirror

Though millions saw Muhammad Ali return to the ring after years of exile, none had a closer view than this old friend. An eloquent diary of the day in Atlanta—and how it all added up to more than a mere exchange of punches

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During his rest, cars kept arriving and departing, ripping ruts in the wet grass out in back. People wandered in and out of the cottage, hushing each other loudly to let Ali sleep, some of them sitting out on the back porch to gossip and stare at the brown lake, as still as metal that lazy afternoon. From time to time Bundini tiptoed inside to the bedroom and squeaked the door open a crack to see if Ali was sleeping.

"Is he sleeping?"

"No. He was lookin' at me."

"Why don't you let him sleep?"

"He don't have to sleep. He's just restin'. You can get more tired sleepin' than restin'. You see, the champ don' need to rest for conditionin'. He's got that. He's got four winds. Most people got two winds, but the champ's got four. But that don' mean nothin' if your mind's tired. He's in there restin' up his mind."

Bundini's real name is Drew Brown—the other's a Hindi name he picked up in his seafaring days, which he sometimes says means "mystic," sometimes "good-luck man" and often, when the occasion rises, "lover." He has been an associate of Muhammad Ali since the early "bear-baitin' " Liston campaigns. His is the slogan "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," and his particular function, besides his skill in the corner, is to keep Ali's mind keen and, as the time approaches, to pump him up for the bout, "fight-talkin' " him with a strong mixture of emotion and a kind of Baptist rhetoric. He looks enough like Ali to be mistaken for a close relative, and he has a similar exuberance of spirit—to a degree that one of his associates refers to him as "hysteria on the hoof."

Bundini stood in the kitchen and talked about the fight. "He win, and it's medicine for everyone. He's sellin' pride. Medicine. And he sellin' it down here in Klan Ian'. The ol' Slave Master is lettin' him rumble. He do everyone some good if he win."

"What about Governor Maddox? He tried to proclaim a day of mourning."

"It do him good, too. The mornin' after the fight he gets the newspaper. He takes it into the bathroom. His wife is in there. They look at the paper. They whisper. 'He won.' 'He did?' 'He won in the second round.' 'Oh, my.' 'He come out, and after just six weeks trainin' he take the other boy.' 'My, he must be somethin'.' Well, when they whisper, man, you know they're human. The mission will get them."

"Does Muhammad Ali know he's on a mission?"

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