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George Plimpton
December 23, 1974
Down but determined to fight his way back to the top, Muhammad Ali turned 1974 into a year of great triumph
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December 23, 1974

Return Of The Big Bopper

Down but determined to fight his way back to the top, Muhammad Ali turned 1974 into a year of great triumph

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The Skeptic: Oh, my God, look! They have given it to Muhammad Ali! That Greek vase of theirs to him. Look at him there on the cover, cavorting about in a tuxedo and wearing a red carnation!

The Writer: That's a rented tuxedo. He's only got about three suits.

S: (suspiciously) How do you know a thing like that?

W: Well, I'm sort of a student...

S: You mean you're a boxer?

W: No, I spend a lot of time studying Muhammad Ali. He can become a fixation with someone who writes, perhaps because he may be the most astonishing athlete of our time. Charismatic. Talented. Outspoken. Possibly of tragic stature. Unpredictable—both in the ring and out. You never know whether he's going to come in fat or lean, or what sort of fight he has in mind. The only sure bet is that you're going to be surprised. Even his opponents can never be sure what he's going to do. In the second Liston fight, Ali was going to whip a red bullfight muleta out of his boxing trunks and wave it at Sonny in the first round...

S: Well, the guy's a nut.

W:...but at the last moment Ali forgot the muleta. I mean where does one buy a muleta in Lewiston, Maine? But then Ali's behavior outside the ring is just as controversial; it has made him a historical as well as a sports figure. I would think that anyone with young grandchildren coming along had better be prepared one day to answer, "Tell me about Muhammad Ali." Of course, even then Ali could very well still be heavyweight champion of the world.

S: Fat chance! Did you think he was going to win in Za�re?

W: Truthfully, I was among those frightened for him. George Foreman seemed just too awesome. Archie Moore, who was working in Foreman's corner, told me that just before going out to the ring, Foreman joined hands in his dressing room with his boxing trust—Dick Sadler, Sandy Saddler and Archie—in a sort of prayer ritual that they had practiced since Foreman became champion in Jamaica with his victory over Joe Frazier. They had done it in Caracas, Venezuela before Foreman knocked out Ken Norton in the second round. Now they were holding hands again in Za�re, and Archie Moore, who had his head bowed, found himself thinking that he should pray for Muhammad Ali's safety. Here's what he said: "I was praying, and in great sincerity, that George wouldn't kill Ali. I really felt that was a possibility. George truly doesn't know his own strength."

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