REMNICK'S KNOCKOUT BIOGRAPHY (New York Observer, November 9, 1998) By Thom Jones The psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers, hoping to answer the $64,000 question on network television and launch her career as an author, memorized boxing trivia. At the time, all the books written on the subject of modern pugilism would barely have filled a large bookshelf. While Dr. Brothers studied the literature of the fight game, Cassius Marcellus Clay of Louisville, Ky., was busy collecting six Kentucky Golden loves championships before he won a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics and turned pro. At age 22, Cassius Clay became the world heavyweight champion, changed his name to Muhammad Ali and thenceforth, in addition to proving himself to be, pound for pound, the greatest fighter of modern times, transcended the sport of boxing and became one of the most widely recognized persons on the planet. Had it not been for the sweet science, this middle-class black man from the South might have made a career bagging groceries at the local Kroger's in Louisville. Instead, he "shocked the world." Plenty of good books have been written about Muhammad Ali; the latest, "King of the World," by David Remnick, might very well the best of all. This remarkable work does not include the whole of Mr. Ali's career. It stops short, midcareer, at the point when, for religious reasons, Mr. Ali refused induction into the armed forces. Limiting the scope is the first of Mr. Remnick's brilliant strokes. His second inspiration was to bypass the "I've- heard-this-crap-10,000-times-before" lore. Instead he feeds us a new, improved version with fresh details and rich insight. His prose is clean and assertive, virtually spellbinding. He catches up with Cassius Clay at the Rome Olympics. The reader discovers a coltish light heavyweight ho has borrowed heavily in the style department from Sugar Ray Robinson, the great welterweight and middleweight champion. Robinson was a boxer-puncher who commanded the greatest arsenal of punches any fighter ever carried into the ring. Outside the ring, Ray Robinson was a free spender who drove pink Cadillacs, trading them in for lavender ones on a whim. Like most boxing afiocionados, Cassius Clay worshipped Robinson -- until Sugar Man stiffed him at their first meeting. The younger man's response was typical -- Robinson would be shown, as would all the world. The young fighter wanted pink Cadillacs of his own. He wanted to inject his style not only with a heavy dose of Robinson (it was unthinkable that a heavyweight could adapt such a style, no matter how fast and fleet his hands and feet) but also with the sass and speed of Jack Johnson, America's first black heavyweight champion. Jack (Li'l Artha) Johnson was a man who liked fast cars and white women. As champion he was reviled by white America and ultimately driven into an extended European exile. He left such a horrible taste in the mouth that years later, when Joe Louis became the next black champion, there were rules: Louis was never to enter a nightclub alone, never allowed to be photographed with a white woman and never permitted to gloat when he knocked an opponent out -- and knock them out he did. Louis held his title for nearly 13 years. He served honorably in the armed forces.But he did not win the heart of white America until he finally knocked out Hitler's champion, Max Schmeling. Louis gave Schmeling such a beating that he broke the German's back and put him in the hospital for six weeks. After Louis, black titleholders came and went with little to-do. Cassius Clay was to change all that. >From the beginning, America regarded his highly provocative shenanigans with great suspicion. It was true enough that Cassius Clay was fast, but he couldn't hit as hard as Joe Louis (one of a handful of heavyweights who had a Ring Magazine-certified No. 10 punch), or as hard as the ex-convict Sonny Liston, who devastated the heavyweight division upon his release from prison and destroyed Floyd Patterson to win the title. The thug-champion chose to defend his title for the first time against skittish Cassius Clay, who was given virtually no chance to beat a man who had never been off his feet even once in his entire career. Sonny Liston seemed invincible. The muscularity and incisiveness of Mr. Remnick's prose is paramount when he describes the first Clay-Liston bout, staged in Miami on Feb. 25, 1964. Here's a sample: "Liston came out for the second with desperation, throwing big punches, one at a time. He missed badly. He tried bullying Clay against the ropes, where he could cut off all the dizzying motion, take aim, and fire. For a moment, it seemed that the strategy might work, but then Clay, after absorbing a few blows, deflecting a few others off his gloves, danced off the ropes and kept up his circling, that clockwise canter that was beginning to disorient Liston. He was like a man with a six-pack in him trying to survive a trip on the Screamer, the Gut-Tumbler, the Cyclone, the biggest nausea- inducing ride the fun park has to offer. At one point, Liston missed so badly with a left hook that he ended up punching a rope instead. The rope bounced around, a jangling mockery, and Liston was embarrassed. What could he do? What were the odds that Clay, so young and fit, would slow down? What odds were there that Liston would get better as the rounds wore on?" Liston was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round, and Cassius Clay was the new champion. Had he lost the fight, the unpopular Black Muslim might very well have ended up back in Louisville, bagging groceries. He was still despised by most Americans, who paid to see his fights only in the hope that someone would shut his big mouth and humiliate him. In compelling detail, Mr. Remnick explores the political and religious significance of Cassius Clay's transformation into Muhammad Ali. We catch glimpses of uncustomary cruelty when, at the bequest of Elijah Mohammed, Mr. Ali abruptly abandoned his first wife, Sonji, as well as his friend and spiritual mentor, Malcolm X. Later, we will see an even crueler Ali torment Floyd Patterson, first for refusing to accede to the Muslim name Ali, and secondly for Mr. Patteron's futile attempts to have the white world accept him as an equal. "I had to prove you could be a new kind of black man," Mr. Ali told Mr. Remnick. "I had to show that to the world." Liston's contract called for a rematch. As far as the public at large was concerned -- indeed, to many boxing experts -- Mr. Ali's original manhandling of Liston seemed like a mistake Liston would soon put right. Liston went into the fight a 9-to-5 favorite and suffered a controversial first-round knockout. Mr. Ali claims the result was foretold to him in a dream. In one of the most memorable photographs in boxing history, Mr. Ali is seen standing over Liston, barking for him to get up and fight. He went on to get bigger, better, stronger and faster as he polished off every contender in sight. Then he refused induction into the armed forces, a move that seemed ludicrous at the time but reflected the champion's amazing prescience. He seemed to select the correct view of events years before the wisdom of his actions hit the streets. Ultimately, Mr. Ali would endure a court-enforced layoff and would return to boxing in a new incarnation; he would reign during a time hailed as the Golden Age of modern boxing. In all, his competition was as good as anyone could ask for: Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Jerry Quarry, George Chuvalo, Ken Norton and others. By the time we reach Mr. Remnick's epilogue, it's difficult to conclude that much glory remains in a sport that has left a legacy of beaten and damaged men. These include Jerry Quarry, Wilfred Benitez, Mr. Patterson and Muhammad Ali himself, a victim of boxing-induced Parkinson's disease. I recall hearing the first Ali-Liston match in a radio shack at Camp Pendleton. I was recovering from the most brutal beating I had ever received in the amateur ring. It was a fight that left me with the legacy of temporal lobe epilepsy. Yet as undistinguished as my amateur career may have been, I have never regretted my ring adventures; I can't recall ever talking to a boxer who has. During the premiere of Leon Gast's Oscar-winning documentary, "When We Were King,s" I had the good fortune to hang out with Mr. Ali for a few days. I came away from that experience deeply impressed by his remarkable humor, generosity and human goodness. There is not the least hint of self-pity about him; he seemed to me to be a man remarkably at peace with himself and the world. I remember getting a big rise out of him when I described what my epilepsy- inducing beating had felt like. He clapped me on the back like a brother. Like he knew all too well what I was talking about. "King of the World" is very good stuff; I could not find a single flat line. Mr. Remnick has breathed life afresh into the history of this most remarkable man, in many ways one of the most significant and memorable men of this century. ------------------------------------------------ "King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero," by David Remnick. Random House, 326 pages, $25. FRIENDS PACK 'CELEBRATION' FOR ARCHIE (San Diego Union-Tribune, Friday, Dec. 18, 1998) By Tom Cushman If the crowd at Archie Moore's funeral included any local boxing promoters, they probably were among the few who wept. Seeing so many people under one roof is something they won't have experienced in their business ventures. Archie always was a good draw, and never better than yesterday -- when people gathered to commemorate a remarkable life. Nothing is more typical of the Moore approach than having his final services called a celebration, which is how these were described. It was standing room only at the Cypress View Mausoleum, and -- again in the Moore tradition -- Archie attracted a broad cross section. There were politicians, business leaders, current and former athletes, and those who came simply because they felt a need to do so. A word heard frequently was "friend" -- as in, "I met Archie 45 years ago, and we'd been friends ever since." The spacious hall was so jammed it was difficult to see who was and wasn't there -- with one exception. Bill Walton, you don't miss. Archie always had a marvelous sense of theatrics. Yesterday's affair took place exactly 46 years from the day (Dec. 17, 1952) he defeated Joey Maxim to become light heavyweight champion of the world. I recall reading a little-known fact about that night. Moore's parents had separated when he was young -- Archie actually was raised in St. Louis by Aunt Willie Pearl and Uncle Cleveland Moore. It was in St. Louis that he fought Maxim, and seated at ringside that evening were the parents, Lorena and Tommy Wright. Archie had paid for their transportation to Missouri. "I knew reconciliation was highly unlikely," Moore later would say. "But I wanted my father and mother to see me win the title, together. I wanted to look down and see them next to each other -- and for the first time in my life, I did." Included among those who offered remarks at Cypress View was Yvon Durelle, against whom Moore had perhaps his most memorable title defense, Dec. 10, 1958. Durelle had Moore on the canvas twice in the first round. We know this, because they showed a film clip of that round on TV monitors during yesterday's services. Also shown was round 11, when Durelle went down -- for a 10 count. Other clips included ones from movies in which Archie appeared -- "The Fortune Cookie," "Huckleberry Finn," "The Carpetbaggers," and "Batman." There were no mournful dirges at Archie's funeral. Archie apparently was a Duke Ellington fan, because the live music included "Mood Indigo," "Satin Doll" and "Take the A Train." By the time I began writing about sports in a major market, Archie had retired. I thus was denied the opportunity of personally having seen him box, or to interview him while he was active. I regret that, because those who did described him as one of the most fascinating studies on the sports landscape. Just glancing through Archie's record is a trip to another time. Names of those who fell include the Pocahontas Kid, Dynamite Payne, Piano Mover Jones, Shamus O'Brien, Bandit Romero, the Alabama Kid, Sammy Slaughter and Professor Roy Shire. Small wonder that Damon Runyon enjoyed boxing. Archie also worked at a time when closets were filled with Don Kings. Archie has explained how it was, and how his determination to avoid contamination had been inspired. "Guys would propose to you in those days," Moore said. "Mostly hints, trying to draw you out. But my auntie -- God rest her soul, she died at age 97 -- had made me promise, 'Archie, take your rest, mind your trainer, and bring no disgrace to your family, like throwing fights.' " I finally met Archie in 1982, the year I moved to San Diego. I was at a small fight card -- out in Santee, I think -- and, suddenly, slipping into the chair next to me, was the great man himself. By then my exposure to the fight game, its champions, its seamy corridors, its outrageous personalities, had spread across two decades, so Archie and I had common ground on which to meet. We may have watched some of the action that evening, but mostly we talked -- about Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Foreman-Ali in Zaire (where Archie worked Foreman's corner with the zany Dick Saddler). Archie genuinely liked Foreman -- long before most people knew there was a Foreman to like. He admired Ali but was convinced that -- had the two of them been of comparable age and size -- Ali would have been at health risk in a showdown with Archie. We occasionally spoke by phone after that, and Archie wrote a couple of letters -- brimming with output from his special intellect. Overall, though, the hours consumed by my business and Archie's other agendas made for limited personal contact, a fact I sincerely regret now that it's no longer possible. To share in yesterday's occasion was to fully understand how many his life had touched. These were not hero-worshipers, they were Archie-admirers. The informality would have pleased Archie, and it reminded me of a formula he insisted had helped make his existence so pleasant. He called it "relaxism." Its secret had been passed along by an elderly woman who told him, "When I sit, I sit all over." Yesterday, hundreds sat in fond remembrance of Archie Moore. It was, in one sense, an admission that there's no danger of forgetting him. A SUNDAY FOR CELEBRATING HEROES (New York Daily News, Sunday, December 20, 1998) By Bill Gallo Today, at the Waterfront Crabhouse in Long Island City, they'll be serving punch. It's the Annual Holiday Awards Dinner given by Ring 8 of the Veteran Boxers Association. This is a club of unsung ring heroes who should be remembered. Guys like Joe Miceli who thrilled many a Friday night fight crowd years ago . . . . Doug Jones, the man who should've been given the nod over a young Cassius Clay when they met in MSG in 1963 . . . . Juan LaPorte, the little champ with the big heart . . . . Gerry Cooney who could have been a champion if only he fought his fight against Larry Holmes . . . . Johnny Colon, a one-time middleweight who gave Jake LaMotta a hell of a fight. The list goes on, too many to mention this time around. But let me tell you -- all who will be present at this special get-together are the really good people in sports and once in a while they deserve applause. These are the kind of fighters Hollywood script writers once based movies on. The old John Garfield, Jimmy Cagney and Kirk Douglas movies cross my mind. Invariably, in every picture, you'd see pseudo-newspaper headlines flash across the screen to chronicle a young boxer's rise to fame and fortune -- and the inevitable clash for the title. And all of it with the sound of a whistle- blowing steam locomotive clackety-clacking and chugging coast to coast. One of those being honored today is Artie Levine, who receives Ring 8's Uncrowned Champion Award. Levine was a very good middleweight who started his career in the early '40s before a stint in the Marine Corps. He is one of those you could easily write a script about. You see the flashing headlines: "Levine stops Agosta," "Levine scores TKO over Sonny Horne," "Levine 2-1 choice over Kronowitz," "Levine KO's Jimmy Doyle in 7th," "Popular Brooklyn middleweight Artie Levine signs to fight Sugar Ray Robinson." The latter was the big one for Levine, the one fight he wanted. His managers felt if he beat Robinson it could lead to a title bout. The fight with Robby was in Cleveland in 1946 and Artie almost put the Sugarman to sleep that night. Here's the way Levine recalls it: "We boxed the first few rounds and I was doing pretty good, maybe the fight was even after the fourth. In the fifth round I hit him with a left hook which dropped him. He was on his back. As they led me back to the corner I could see he was out cold. "After the ref left me off at my corner, he went back to Ray to count over him but to everybody's amazement he started at one. The count went to nine before the bell saved him. Had the ref begun the count when he should have, I'd have a five-round KO over Robinson on my record. "I had him down again in the seventh but this time he got up unhurt. As the fight went on I realized something about him I didn't know before -- he was one hell of a puncher. In the 10th and final round, he was desperate, throwing punches at random. He became treacherous and hit me a good shot that landed on my Adam's apple. I started to gasp for breath and now he was hitting me with a series of punches. The last one I remember was one to the ear. They counted me out with only 16 seconds left." Artie was clearly knocked out but when it was over there wasn't a mark on him. Robby's face, however, was badly cut and swollen. Levine fought for nine years earning a little over $100,000 in 72 bouts. "The game was very good to me and I did very well for myself," he says. Levine, 74, lives in North Carolina without any regrets. He won 53 fights, 42 by knockout and lost 19. The former middleweight takes pride in telling you his trainers were Charley Goldman and Ray Arcel, the two very best in the game. "Goldman and Arcel taught me how to become a good fighter and I'll never forget either of them," he says. So, here's to Artie Levine, one real good, tough fighter who was never even mentioned for getting a shot at the middleweight crown. He will be at the Waterfront Crabhouse today among his cronies of the squared circle who cheered and proclaimed him the "Uncrowned Champion." He deserves a standing ovation -- and got it. Along with this newly crowned champ will be others receiving awards: Ben Nadorf was expected to take home Ring's Sportsmanship Award; Lou Duva and Gil Clancy were to share the Ray Arcel Humanitarian Award; Murad Muhammad was to get the Prestigious Promoters Award. And other honorees will be John Pavlovich, Carmine Fatta and Roger Donohue. Congratulations to you all -- I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.