"It will be
10 or 15 years before I'm threatenin' to be whupped."
It was getting
dark outside. The champion began to yawn. "He's beginnin' to get that
feelin'...." Bundini said. "Sort of a stage fright—all these people
comin' to see him fight. It changes him. It's a different sensation. When I was
at sea we used to call it the channel feelin'—the change, you know, and the
feelin' of things goin' to happen when you're on the way out the river and you
just begin to feel the motion of the sea."
At 7:30, a half
hour before the scheduled departure for Atlanta, Ali ran the Johnson film for
the third time. As the reel began to spool down, Ali clicked it off and stood
"Let's go to
war," Bundini said, and they walked out to the entourage of cars and buses
waiting in the darkness on the front lawn. Jesse Jackson rode with Ali in the
first car. The caravan reached the Regency, and Ali stepped out and organized
the loading of the buses. Mrs. Martin Luther King was late. She is well known
for being late. Ali waited for 20 minutes, until he began to fidget and pace
around, and finally he left a message for her. He was very sorry, he asked to
have her told, but he couldn't stay and wait.... He had to go to a fight.
room at the arena was small, not much wider than the length of the rubbing
table set at one end, and only three or four paces long, hardly enough room, as
Bundini said when he saw it, for Ali to exercise up some sweat. Dressing tables
were set against opposite walls, their mirrors outlined with light bulbs. The
first member of the contingent to use the dressing room had been Rahaman, Ali's
brother. He had fought in a preliminary and stopped his opponent in the third
round. He came bouncing into the dressing room, smiling broadly under a black
mustache. "I feel good—sharp," he said. He is swarthy and heavy
compared to his brother, with a ponderous but effective punch. Out of boxing
for two years longer than his brother, though a year younger, he had come out
of retirement this past summer to see how he would fare. His trainer, Sam
Logan, a stoutish, mild though nervous man who teaches French on the side,
rushed in, and the two of them bulled each other around, kicking over a chair
and yelling in delight. When he had calmed down Rahaman said, "Now it's
time for Ali to cook." He seemed faintly put out to find that his brother
had not seen his fight.
Rahaman was gone
when his brother arrived, fresh from getting the two busloads of friends and
hangers-on, packed to the roof, out onto the street and into the arena. He
barely nodded when he heard of Rahaman's victory. He arrived with an hour to go
to the fight. Even before he got out of his street clothes he was moving around
the room, snapping out the jabs and staring at himself in the mirrors.
"This room's too crowded," he said. "I want room to rest."
The room was
cleared except for the group he would take to the ring, plus two interns
assigned to the fight and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Ali stripped quickly. He
pulled on a pair of white boxing trunks and turned slowly in front of the
mirror. "I am the champ," he said softly. "He must fall." He
tried out the Ali shuffle, his white boxing shoes snapping against the
he said, "I'm not wearin' the foul protector tonight."
Angelo looked up.
He and Bundini were having words in the corner. In the days immediately before
the tight there had been considerable argument about the regulation foulproof
belt. Ali wanted to wear a small metal cup rather than the leather device,
which bulked out his boxing trunks and made him look, at least to his eyes,
fat. But Dundee had insisted on the belt. He warned Ali that Quarry was not
only a body-puncher, but had nothing to lose; he had been known to hit
"south of the border," and it was crazy to take chances.
packed the equipment suitcase two days before and checked it out twice to see
if everything was there, especially the foulproof belt, which was red and had
Ali's name on it. To his astonishment, the belt was missing when he opened the
suitcase in the dressing room. He and Dundee, who thought Bundini had simply
forgotten it back at the cottage, had a low but harsh exchange. Ali,
shadowboxing in the rear, gave no indication that he was aware of what was
going on. Perhaps there was no need to, since the belt was found under his bed
the next morning.