September 23 , 2007

Facing Ali


They won, they lost, they were scorned or cheered, but they got in the ring with the champ. Muhammad Ali through the stories of 15 of his opponents — an incredible cross-section that reveals Ali as never before.
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Every fighter who got into the ring with Ali shone brighter as a result; no life or career could be the same afterwards. Stephen Brunt, Canada’s most respected sports writer, has travelled to meet the men who fought Ali, opening a new perspective on the most famous man on the planet. They include great champions and “tomato cans”, no-hopers and a few men who beat Ali; by turns triumphant and tragic, hilarious, uplifting and angry, each tells a different story.
Brunt speaks to men like Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes, who remember their titanic bouts with Ali with love and rancour. In 1963 Henry Cooper’s perfect left hook floored Ali — but he was saved by the bell and some ringside shenanigans. Cooper’s moment still helped make “ ’Ammerin’ ’Enry” into Sir Henry Cooper, while the little-known Jurgen Blin returned from facing Ali in Zurich straight to his job at a sausage factory.

The men he fought can tell us about Ali the boxer as no-one else can. But they also saw Ali invent himself as a media personality before such a thing existed. They were there when Ali’s personality and courage, his controversial beliefs and his refusal to play the parts assigned to him, indelibly changed the United States and the world. Stephen Brunt has fashioned their stories into an engaging portrait of the man who remains a phenomenon.

“That night I could have beaten Godzilla. I was that sure of myself. And in that kind of shape, I could have fought for fifty rounds, easy. I was just so cocky at that point. I knew before the bell rang, in my head and in my camp, that I was going to win the fight. . . . After the decision was announced, I went right to Howard Cosell and said, ‘What do you say now, Howard?’” – Ken Norton

“When Ali was down, I remember saying to my ringman Al Braverman, ‘Start the car, we’re going to the bank, we’re millionaires.’ And Al said, ‘You’d better turn around. Because he’s getting up, and he looks pissed off.’” – Chuck Wepner

From the Hardcover edition.
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