Facing Ali

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Muhammad Ali was a masterful showman who played mind games on his opponents before his fights in order to provoke confusion, uncertainty, and anger in them. Ali intuitively sensed that he could thus upset their planning and cause them to make errors at key moments. Although his opponents knew that he played the clown in order to provoke interest in his fights, Ali nevertheless angered many fighters and caused them to lose the self-control that is so essential for victory in highly competitive heavyweight fights.

Stephen Brunt, who is a well-known Canadian sportswriter, interviewed in the years between 2000 and 2002 fifteen men whom Muhammad Ali had fought. These interviews took place long after it had become public knowledge that Ali was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Some of his opponents such as George Foreman and the German fighter Karl Mildenberger, expressed sincere concern for Ali’s health and they had very kind words to say about him. George Foreman even stated that it was probably better that Ali had defeated him because it gave him the opportunity to reflect on things totally unrelated to boxing and somehow contributed to his religious conversion. Joe Frazier, however, was still bitter and he even suggested that Ali’s Parkinson’s disease was a divine punishment for Ali’s pride. Joe Frazier comes across as a very unsympathetic person and his irrational hatred provokes real sympathy for Muhammad Ali. Some interviews were very moving because some opponents, including Tunney Hunsacker and Ken Norton, were as profoundly ill as Ali and no longer remembered their careers as professional fighters.

These fifteen interviews with both obscure and famous fighters reveal quite well the psychological complexity of men who had participated in a very violent sport.