S: I'll bet he's
got his own films in there.
W: Well, sure.
His own fights are the ones that give him the most pleasure. In fact, Ali often
doesn't need either the screen or the projector. He re-creates the fights
himself. I was sitting with him in a hotel room in Kansas City just after his
return from Africa. He was in town for some exhibition bouts. He began to
reenact the Za�re fight. His friends were all silting around. He asked them:
"Wasn't it the best K.O. ever? Ain't it funny? Didn't I stop the
world?" Everybody nodded. Then suddenly, he began imagining himself as
George Foreman. "What round is it? The fourth?" He rolled his eyes.
"What are we doin' in the fourth?" Is that man still standing up? He
supposed to be clown. Why, I ain't fought four rounds in seven years." He
began to puff heavily. "What round is it now? The sixth! What am I doing in
the sixth?" He stared around like a man waking up in a strange room.
"You mean I ain't knocked him out yet? You mean I'm getting myself involved
in a good scuffle?" His breathing became frantic. Around the room everybody
clapped and grinned.
But then an odd
thing happened. Ali changed gears. In his mind he had reached that eighth
round, the round in which Foreman went down, and he leaned back in his chair
and told us, "There wasn't no dancing." He looked sort of petulant,
staring over the edge of his armchair at the carpet. He said, "I wish
Foreman could have got up in the eighth. I could have done some dancing. I wish
we could have done that. That would have showed them."
produced a storm of comforting assurances. Someone yelled out, "But you
showed them how you could thump. They forgot that."
It didn't seem to
help. Ali began talking about the 1951 Sugar Ray Robinson- Jake La Motta fight
in Chicago. That was the fight in which Robinson, bothered by a hip injury
sustained in training a few days before, fought a brilliant victory off the
ropes, much like Ali's style in Africa against Foreman. "The Sugarman was
better," Ali said. He imitated his punches. "Whup-whup-whup,
pop-pop-pop...he's faster. The Sugarman was faster."
consternation swept the room. One of his people cried out, "You crazy?"
Ali's brother, Rachmann Ali, leaning back in his chair, brought its front legs
down with a crash. "You were perfection," he kept insisting. "You
can't beat perfection."
S: Sounds like a
crazy scene in there.
W: Ali wanted
that fight perfect. Was it Val�ry who said that a work of art is never
completed, that it is abandoned? That is appropriate, though maybe Ali doesn't
believe it. He suffers wonderfully from hubris—the Greek idea of excessiveness
that always destroyed their tragic heroes. For example, he has this grandiose
scheme to fight both Joe Frazier and George Foreman on the same evening. In
Kansas City he told us about the money required—$5 million each for Frazier and
Foreman, $15 million for Ali. Everyone whistled. His idea was to make the two
fighters believe that he wouldn't ever fight either of them unless they did it
his way. Perhaps that would get them to defy the commissions.
S: The guy's a
nut...I said it once and I'll say it again.
W: Ali has made
suggestions of this sort before. Some years back he wanted to fight Thad
Spencer, Ernie Terrell and Jerry Quarry in one night, five rounds for each man,
or even (if they insisted) 10 rounds apiece for a possible total of 30 rounds.
In fact, when Angelo Dundee heard about Ali's idea for a Frazier-Foreman twin
bill he said that it was a sure sign of what he called Ali's "advancing
decrepitude" that he'd decided to cut down from three fights to only two.
"My fellow's in trouble," he said.