6 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 77

High life

Lost dignity


Now I read that this same David Rem- nick has visited England hawking his opus on Muhammad Ali, and has, of course, been seen in the company of the unread- able Salman Rushdie and others of that particularly unpleasant ilk. Although I have never met Remnick, I do know something about boxing, and what I know is that Remnick doesn't know the first thing about the sweet science. The ridiculous sugar- coating of Ali is presented as some treasure- chest of memories we will always cherish. Remnick, I presume, is a bookish type of chap who probably had his face pushed into the sand as a kid. He obviously hero- worships Ali, a man whose exuberance and showmanship I have always thought of as loutishness and a lack of class.

Mind you, my friend Norman Mailer cer- tainly doesn't agree, and Norman has for- gotten more about boxing than Remnick will ever learn. Mailer adores Cassius Clay — his real name — and rates him among the greatest fighters ever, but I respectfully disagree. Dignity in the ring is now consid- ered a conservative notion, which just goes to show how utterly corrupt the system has become. The rot was started by Clay and has reached its nadir with Tyson biting his opponent's ear off and knocking a man out well after the bell.

I first saw Clay fight during the Rome Olympics in 1960. And I thought my buddy Tony Madigan, fighting for Australia, had cleanly beaten him during the semi-final round. Madigan was a very good-looking young man, trying to make his way as an actor in New York during the late Fifties. He and I would spar daily at the New York Athletic Club, Tony taking it easy on me as he was a light-heavyweight and I a welter- weight.

One day Ingemar Johansson — in New York for a return bout with Floyd Pattcr- son, whom he had knocked out and taken the heavyweight crown from three months previously — came in to hit the light bag and do some shadow-boxing. His trainer, Whitey Bimstein, noticed Tony Madigan's speed, and asked the Aussie to go a few rounds with Ingo. Madigan, who was brave as a lion and then some, jumped all over the Swede trying to knock out the world's heavyweight champion. Ingo finally lost his temper and staggered Tony with his `toon- der of Thor' right. Bimstein had to call a halt. Soon after Madigan went back home, fought his way into the Aussie team, went all the way to the semi-finals in Rome, and in my not so humble opinion won two out of three rounds against a loud-mouthed American who fought only in the last 30 seconds of each round.

Everyone who has ever seen a boxing match knows the rest. Clay became Ali, beat the bad Negro, Sonny Liston, as well as the good Negro, Floyd Patterson, joined the Black Muslims, resisted the Vietnam draft, and empowered black consciousness, whatever that means. He had his title taken away for refusing to fight for his country, but never served a day in jail and won it back big in the Rumble in the Jungle. What I hated about Remnick's book, which I skipped through, I admit, is the deconstruc- tion of the Rumble in the Jungle. No Nor- man Mailer he. Remnick writes 50,000 words and at the end you know nothing. It's all pseudo-literary bull. Remnick should stick to attacking Linda Tripp and leave the boxing to us.

Like most American liberals, Remnick is also intellectually dishonest. He glosses over the fact that Ali once said in an inter- view that all black and white men should be put to death if they indulged in inter-racial sex. His hero-worship of Ali derives more from Ali's hate for the white race and for white America, rather than for Muham- mad's skills in the ring. Plus ca change.

Boxing today is in very bad shape. Don King has dragged the sport down to his own level, a gutter so deep I doubt the sport can ever emerge from it without a Washington-appointed tsar with draconian powers to outlaw the criminal elements which now run boxing. Ali is not responsi- ble for the present state of boxing, but indi- rectly he introduced hate and politics into it, and that is never a good thing for sport.