As for George
Foreman himself, he had scored 24 consecutive knockouts, and he saw himself as
a sort of lordly bestower of an anesthetic. "I don't like fights," he
said. "I just land the right punch and everything is over. Nobody gets hurt
and nobody gets killed..." and he said this with such conviction that Ali's
ripostes—things like "My African friends will put you in a pot"—seemed
shrill and silly by comparison.
S: I suppose Ali
was talking so hard that he never had time to listen to what they were saying
about his chances.
W: It didn't make
the slightest impression. Ali never doubted himself for a minute. Anyway, he
always seemed to think that the title was really his, that it had been taken
from him unfairly. So it was a question of getting something back that truly
belonged to him. That's one of the things that he yelled at Foreman in the ring
in Za�re. "You got my championship! I'm taking it back!"
S: When was it,
now, he lost the championship?
W: It was lifted
seven years ago in Houston. On grounds of religious convictions, Ali had
refused to take a step forward to join the military. Besides, he said at the
time, "I ain't got nothing against them Viet Congs," a phrase of
beguiling innocence that may well be (along with "I am the greatest"
and "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee") his contribution to
Bartlett's Quotations. Ali was out of boxing for 3� years. Actually, he thinks
back on it as an exhilarating time. He once told me why. "Every man wonders
what he is going to do when he is put on the chopping block, when he's going to
be tested." He didn't know what the Supreme Court would do. He didn't know
if he was going to the jailhouse. He didn't know if he could fight again.
Throughout all this he was sustained to a large degree by his fervent belief
that Allah would see him through. It's a very important part of his makeup. He
once said, "I rely on Allah, I leave it up to Allah. Just give me a pair of
blue jeans and a leather jacket, a stick with a rag on the back with some food
in it and put me on the railroad tracks, and I believe Allah will lead me to a
gold mine. I might even find a million dollar bill right there on the
S: In that case,
once he got back into boxing, how did he explain his defeats?
W: He felt that
he was being chastised. And then after his Norton defeat, he began to realize
that like all gods, Allah helps those who help themselves. He decided to build
a secluded camp where he could train in earnest. This decision was of
incalculable value in his recapturing the championship. He calls his camp
Fighter's Heaven. It is a complex of cabins built on the side of a hill in the
Poconos of Pennsylvania. It's the damndest place. The grounds are set about
with huge boulders that Ali had trucked in, each bearing the name of a famous
prizefighter. The names are all spelled correctly, but most of the signs in and
around the camp display an orthographic quaintness, which turns out to be
Cassius Clay Sr.'s, who is a sign painter by profession. One of his notices
reads: ALI A SLEEP DO NOT DISTERV. Another, in a list of rules posted in the
kitchen, reads like this: IF YOU MUST PINCHE SOMETHING IN THIS KYTCHEN PINCHE
S: Doesn't your
man want to correct them?
W: Well, Ali has
a terrible time with his own spelling and probably doesn't know better. Reading
is difficult for him. He's perfectly forthright about it. He picks up a
newspaper and every word with more than two syllables stops him. He has to work
over it. "What's that say?" "Appendectomy." "Oh, I never
would have got by that one."
S: Go on about