Join Date: Apr 2005
Total Points: 17,935,278,779.13
Even if u don't like the man you've GOT TO respect this about him...
The following story was sent to me by a good friend...a professional boxing referee...I told him I was writing about Ali in my book and he said he had "a good Ali story"...HE SURE WASN'T LYING...this clearly illustrates what I've known about Muhammad Ali for a long, long time now...I mean, read this story and tell me, even among very youthful and able bodied celebrities of today, WHO ELSE would do this for a total stranger???? This incident, away from people and cameras clearly illustrates for me what type of man Muhammad Ali really is.
I know a great many people, myself included, who have very similar stories to this one.
"I had attended many International Boxing Hall Of Fame induction weekends before but I knew I must attend the one in 1997 in Canastota N.Y. because my second favorite fighter of all time, Sugar Ray Leonard, was being inducted.
I had attended his fight in Madison Square Garden when he fought and lost to Terry Norris. I felt almost as bad as the night Muhammad Ali lost for the first time (in the same building), to Joe Frazier, but that night (in 1971) I actually cried. I was 21 then and saw that fight at the New Haven (Conn.) Coliseum on closed circuit viewing and felt so bad for the man that stirred up so many emotions in me. I was huge Ali fan. I imitated his style of speech, knew many of his famous quotes and could even do a pretty fair Ali shuffle back then. My dad turned me onto boxing as nine year old when he brought me to the old New Haven Arena to see the closed circuit showing of Patterson-Johanssen.
I eventually started to learn boxing at the New Haven Boys Club but after a couple of whuppings I knew I couldn't do that anymore. I didn't have the heart. But perhaps because I didn't (have the heart) I always admired boxers. Knowing what discipline they had and the types of sacrifices they made, it became my sport.
I grew up in a very Italian neighborhood where Rocky Marciano was regarded as the best heavyweight of all time. I believed that when I was younger but Ali changed all that. In the 60's in New Haven, it wasn't a popular thing to be an Ali fan but I couldn't help myself. This man lit me up. I watched and read everything I could about him. I didn't know it then but I had morphed into an Aliologist. I'm embarrassed to say this but it's true, when Ali fought Leon Spinks the second time I was so nervous and wanted him to win so bad that I planned to be alone at my home and pray during the whole fight and cry if I had to. I was 28 yrs old. In the very 1st round my mom called and told me that my dad had a heart attack and had been rushed to the hospital. My dad was a huge boxing fan but hated Ali. "Old school," I guess. He still thought Rocky was the best and blamed Ali for just about everything wrong in the world. I was torn between leaving that fight and going to the hospital or waiting to watch it and then go. I chose the latter. There would've been nothing I could do to help my dad so I figured another 45 minutes wouldn't hurt. I watched that fight and was so happy with the ending that I almost forgot about Dad.
Well, dad survived and lived 20 more years so that's the good news.
Okay, back to the induction weekend. Sugar Rays' style and charisma reminded me of Ali and he did seem to be a torchbearer for the sport in the 80's so naturally I became a big fan. That weekend I attended all the ceremonies at the hall including Ray's fist casting. I bought some memorabilia to add to my already extensive collection. I bought a beautiful photo of Ali fighting Frazier. I knew I would see Frazier that night at the dinner so I wanted him to autograph it. Joe doesn't mind autographing such pictures as long as Ali hadn't already signed it. He graciously did and I even took a picture with him. I had met him before and he knew I was an amateur boxing ref, because I had told him on a previous occasion, so he would always ask how I was doing and when I was going pro. I liked Joe and admired his fighting heart. The perfect opponent to showcase Ali's greatness.
The Boxing Hall Of Fame is in a very remote area of upstate New York and in order to find accommodations I had to stay at the Marriott in Syracuse. That was about 30 miles past the HOF for me but it turned out to be great to stay there. Don King was also being inducted and he was all over that hotel but he wasn't available to talk with or get an autograph or photo from. He always had bodyguards and they wouldn't let you near him. Many other celebrity boxers were there, though, so I had a great time. Too many to list but I have photos with so many that my billiard room looks like the Hall Of Fame.
On the last day I was having breakfast at the hotel lobby restaurant. My bags were packed in my room and when I would check out I would make my way back to the town where the parade and actual induction ceremonies would take place. I had continuously heard a rumor that Ali would be the Grand Marshall of the parade but nobody knew that for sure.
As I left the restaurant a miracle occurred. I saw Muhammad Ali!!! I couldn't believe my eyes! The lobby was practically empty, it was basically his small group and I. As I approached him a couple of the bodyguards closed ranks to shield him from me.
I said, "Champ, I'm a huge fan. I'm a boxing referee and I just want to say I've idolized you since I was a kid"
He nodded and motioned slightly to his bodyguards with his hands for them to let me through. The guards parted like the red sea and I approached and shook his hand. Nobody had cell phone cameras in those days so that was not an option but I suddenly remembered my beautiful black and white photo that Smokin' Joe signed the night before. I quickly told him about it and asked if he could give me just five minutes to get it from my room so he could autograph it for me. He nodded "yes" and I bolted!
Now, mind you, his limo was right outside already waiting to take him to the grounds. I was very excited and made haste. I tore apart the suitcase, got the photo out of its tube and went crazy for a minute to find the same gold foil pen that Joe had used. I rushed back down to the lobby, not knowing what to expect (I assumed he had been persuaded to leave to be honest) but the man had waited for me!!!
He was now seated, patiently waiting for me to return. I excitedly handed him the pen which he took with a very trembling hand and gave me the most beautiful signature.
That piece is still my prized possession. I thanked him continuously and literally cried right there in the lobby as I thought of what had just happened. I felt like I was in the presence of a higher being. I was not a kid, mind you, I was 47 years old when this happened but I just couldn't believe it. It was as if I was a kid again and I had unexpectedly gotten the chance to meet my hero.
Im telling you now, though, I would've rather had that happen then to have flown on Superman's back.