Or, if bored by his universal radiance, Ali will begin speechifying. The monologues are dead certain to clear a room. Especially when the subject is Allah. Through the years he has put together about 10 speeches, most of them written by the kitchen light of his fight camp. He listens to tapes that carry his messages: "He is beyond the reach of range and time...He sees though He has no eyes. He created everything without a model, pattern or sample." Ali turns down the volume. "I get this in my mind," he interjects, "and I have real power over Joe Frazier. I can whup him. Allah knows if I win, I'll keep doin' His preachin' for Him. That's why I win all the time. I'm using my fame to talk about this man. The world's mystified by me. It likes to be mystified. You know, stuff like Batman and Robin, Dracula, the Wolfman, Mary had a child without a man.
"I train myself spiritually. Frazier's fightin' for money. I'm fightin' for free people. How many suits I got? One, two maybe. No watch, no ring, one pair of shoes. I've got Eldorados and Rolls-Royces, but I don't drive 'em anymore. Where's a man's wealth? His wealth is in his knowledge. If you don't think I'm wealthy, go talk to Joe Frazier and try to carry on a conversation. He's illiterate. I spoke at Harvard. They wanted me to be a professor of poetry at Oxford. I'm shockin' the world. But even I, Muhammad Ali, don't amount to nothin' more than a leaf in the wind. Ain't nothin' yours, either. You own nothin'. Not even your kids. You die, and they will be callin' somebody else Daddy when your wife remarries."
It is endless, this religious backwater through which all his listeners must wade. It is as if he believes that being the heavyweight champion is not enough and that the Filipinos want much more from him. The simple truth is that they want nothing more than to gaze upon him. Each day more than 8,000 of them shove their way into the theater to watch him work. Thousands more line the streets when he goes to an official function, and at 5 in the morning—an hour after the end of the curfew but still pitch dark—bands of them accompany him on his roadwork, creating a charming scene of tenacious, small men trying to match the giant stride for stride along the boulevard by the bay. Once he stepped into a hole and he turned and shouted, "Watch out for the hole." He ends his running on the steps of the Hilton, and there he sits in the dark in a gray sweat suit and black boots, tilting a large bottle of orange juice to his mouth. The sweat drops off him as he leans back on his elbows. He looks at the faces around him, listens to the heavy silence. "Look at their expressions," he whispers. "Ain't no man worthy of that kind of love."
At this time, he is likely to talk about boxing. He can feel his body, listen to its music as he tries once more to make it reach for the high note of condition. "You been watchin' my gym work?" he asks. "Don't pay any attention to it. I'm nothin' in a gym. I just use it to experiment, you know that. This fight is goin' to be won out here in the mawnin', and on that heavy bag. I hadn't worked on the heavy bag for a long time, until George Foreman in Africa. I kept hurtin' my hands all the time. They've never been in the best of shape, and the bag I had was brutal on 'em. Ya hit that old bag with a baseball bat and the bat breaks in two. This one is especially made in Mexico, and it's easy on the hands. It got me sharp for Foreman, seemed to give me strength. I never let it out of my sight now. I sleep with it in my room. My men carry it personally on and off planes. I am strong, and I kin feel it all hummin' inside me. That heavy bag has done a miracle. I got my punch back."
He sits there for a long time, and then retires to his room. He is alone now, meaning that the rooms are not filled with the moochers and odd characters he has picked up during his career. He does not like to be alone. He needs his audience to abuse or charm. But now he is alone, except for his man, his mute body servant from Malaysia. Ali looks over at him, and says, as if he were an old sergeant major out of Kipling, "Look at him, he's so obedient. Always says 'yes-sir, yessir.' He'll go fetch anything for you. He'll even take your shoes off for you. He's civilized."
Ali arises and picks up a large book that has been written about him. "I haven't read 10 pages in all the books written about me. I can't read too good; a bad speller, too. I read one page and turn it and get tired. I just look at the pictures. I know that sounds dumb." He reads for a long minute, following each word with his little finger. "Oh, I wish I could read better." The frustration of a child is in his voice, and then it turns to anger as he is asked about the gorilla tag that he has pinned on Frazier. "The way I've been talkin' black power," he says, "nobody can get on me for bein' ignorant or racist. Why does he call me Clay? That's my nigger slave name. He's insultin' my name and my religion. He ain't nobody. I made him. Now he's just an old has-been. He envies me. When he was a kid, I was the champ. He's an old man now, long before his time, and I'm still the champ."
Frazier has avoided any personal collision with Ali. His trainer, Eddie Futch, does not want his man ruffled. Frazier and Futch refuse to be suckered into public exchanges with Ali. They think of nothing but the fight. Futch is particularly concerned about the choice of referee. It is sure to be a bitter issue. "It's the most vital aspect of the bout," says Eddie. "I want a referee who's goin' to let my man fight. I want one who's goin' to break Ali every time he starts leanin' in and holdin'. Give us this, and Joe Frazier will once more be heavyweight champion of the world."
Neither man will offer a prediction. Frazier never has and does not intend to start now: "I don't believe in predictin' I'm gonna knock a man out, because if you tell me you're gonna push me out that window at midnight, I'm gonna sit there and watch you along about 11:59." Ali says, "I'm too old for that stuff now. This is a serious fight. I'm goin' to be classical. None of this Russian-tank stuff, none of the rope-a-dope. I got too much at stake here. I got $16 million in fights waitin' for me."
Too many questions preclude a private choice. Can Ali once more orchestrate his body to his will against a man who has always tested both severely? Is he really in shape? Has he maintained the form he showed against Joe Bugner in Malaysia last July? Some close to him say no, say that women and the problems that come with them have seriously disrupted his concentration.
What about Frazier? Is this gallant man finally at the end of the line? Can he summon up one last measure of his old self, the kind of Frazier who made the heart pump wildly and the hands clammy?