Canadian sportswriter Brunt fills in the background as boxers tell of their experiences in the ring with Muhammad Ali.
“In boxing, as in everything else, only one side of the story tends to be told,” writes Brunt, and when that story involved Ali, one voice was certainly heard above the others. So the journalist takes it as his task to tell Ali's opponents’ stories: how they felt about facing him, and how these fights altered the course of their careers. The writing is hard and ungussied, much like the men. Some of them, like dementia-afflicted Tunney Hunsaker, can't speak much, and other significant opponents have been permanently silenced. (Readers will regret the absence of Sonny Liston, whose death left two unanswered questions that nag at every fight fan: What was on his gloves that blinded Ali? And did he dive in their second fight?) But Sir Henry Cooper makes some bright quips, and Joe Frazier vivifies his antipathy to Ali: “Lord . . . I want you to help me kill that scamboogah,” Frazier would pray. More than one boxer knew he was in way over his head. Brian London says, “I gave me best for two or three rounds. But then I realized that I was going to get one hell of a hiding.” According to Jean-Pierre Coopman, “It was never a question of winning or losing. Just surviving.” Chuck Wepner, later immortalized as Rocky, tells the funniest story. He had bought his wife a negligee the day of the fight, announcing with swagger, “tonight you're going to be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world.” When he shuffled in after the pulping he received, she asked, “Do I go to Ali's room? Or does he come to mine?” George Foreman, always the canny operator, understood well that he and most of the other guys were financially and professionally lucky just to step into the ring with the Champ.
Makes it clear that boxing sure could use an Ali today—or any day. (Photos)