By Ken Hissner: As a boxing writer for the past 15 years or so, I have written more articles on former world heavyweight champion and 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist Muhammad Ali than any other boxer.
My favorite is “Laughs with Ali” from the first time I met him at 16th and Chestnut in center city Philadelphia in 1973. He had his jaw broken in his previous fight against Ken Norton in San Diego, losing a split decision for the second defeat of his career. Later I did an article, “Remembering When This Writer Met Muhammad Ali!”
Looking across the street, I saw a crowd and thought, “did someone jump from one of these buildings? I walked over, and it was Ali in the middle of the group. This old man said to him, “next time you fight Norton, be a man, not a boy!” Ali replies quickly “did you call me Roy?” We all laughed but the old man. He then says, “I said, be a man, not a boy!” Ali replied, “play with him like a toy. Did you call me Roy? Even the old man laughed.
Two weeks later, I see a picture in the Philly paper of his previous home at 70th and Overbrook in West Philly and his new home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Though not writing at the time, I ventured over and found his home from him. His second of four wives, Belinda, answered the door, and I asked, “can I speak to the champ?” She said, “just a minute,” and closed the door. Within seconds she opened the door and said, “come on in.”
Knowing if you don’t get the first word in, you won’t get any. As he approached me from another room, I said, “why didn’t you give Doug Jones a rematch?” He replied, “come in and sit down, boy!”
Later in 1977, at Ali’s Deer Lake Camp, sitting in a group and I asked to have our picture taken. As it was taken, I asked Ali, “why are you fighting all these bums?” The look on his face of him is priceless!
A third time was at the camp as he played to the visitors who came in busloads. The final time was in 1980 as he was about to fight Larry Holmes. He had a big belly, and I asked, “why are you taking this fight in the shape you are in?” He padded his belly and said, “I like my ice cream.” Needless to say, it was his only loss from him by stoppage.
I’ve written numerous articles on his birthdays, with one “Ali’s Birthdays & Seven Heavyweight Champions Who are Capricorns!” Having met former great trainer Cus D’Amato, he said he would work with any youngster if he were a Capricorn. Floyd Patterson was one of those who would become a world champion.
Another article was “Two Kings: One of Rock N’ Roll and the Other of Boxing!” How I met Elvis Presley and became great friends. Elvis had a martial arts background. Ali called Elvis the nicest person he had ever met.
I did one on “Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali’s Amateur Record is in Question!” 134-7, 137-7, 105-5, and 99-8 were listed. Another was “Cassius Clay aka vs. Those Southpaws in AM & Pro’s!” He lost to Amos Johnson in 1959 at the Pam Am trials in Louisville, Kentucky. The other was with Germany’s Karl Mildenberger in 1966 though he won.
One few remember was, “Was Muhammad Ali a Draft Dodger or A Hero?” I went into how he refused induction into the military in 1967 (when I was being discharged after serving my two years) and how he was robbed of his livelihood from him. While Joe Namath refused to be drafted due to a “bad knee!” The man was a quarterback for the New York Jets in the NFL! While Ali brought back fifteen American hostages from Iraq.
Another was “Was Muhammad Ali, the Most Colorful Athlete in Sports History?” Another “Was Muhammad Ali the Most Recognizable Person Ever?” Also, “Muhammad Ali Beat Four Olympic Gold Medalists.” Though he lost to Percy Price in the Olympic trials at heavyweight, he was allowed to represent the USA at light heavyweight, winning a Gold Medal. In the pro’s, he beat former Gold Medalists Floyd Patterson, “Smokin” Joe Frazier, “Big” George Foreman, and Leon Spinks.
Several years ago, I did “Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali. “It all started over a Stolen Bicycle!” It was in 1954 when he entered the Columbus Gym in Louisville, and Joe Martin took him under his wing to learn how to box. Others like Muhammad Ali’s Offer of a Million to “Sugar” Ray Robinson Rejected!” Robinson refused to become a Muslim, being brought up as a Baptist. “Why Do Boxers Like Muhammad Ali Continue Boxing Too Long?”
Ali was a great humanitarian. He and Billy Crystal started a Performing Arts group in Israel per someone I met after showing off one of my two Muhammad Ali shirts to him. One was Ali’s many quotes like “Ask for a hand up, not a handout!”