Saturday, September 5, 2015

TBG Book Review: Facing Ali: 15 Fighters, 15 Stories

The Boxing Glove Sunday Night Book Review by Peter Silkov
Facing Ali by Stephen Brunt

There can be little argument that Muhammad Ali, in addition to being the greatest heavyweight champion of all time, is also the most famous sportsman of all time. 34 years since his last fight, Muhammad Ali is still the most easily recognized sportsman around the world, even by people who were born long after he had finally retired.

Despite all of his personality and talent, Ali was also blessed to appear at just around the right time to become a star in boxing and the sporting world in general. When he first emerged during the early 1960s boxing, especially the heavyweight division was crying out for a new star; a dash of lightning to light up both the heavyweight division, and the sport itself.  Ali became that star, as he amused, amazed, fascinated, and outraged both the fans and the media in equal measure. Then, after he had been banned from fighting for almost 4 years, due to his refusal to go to Vietnam, Ali came back to the ring in the early 70s to discover a heavyweight division that was enjoying an explosion of talent that was unprecedented in the history of the division.  With the return of Ali, the heavyweight division enjoyed what is fondly referred to as a ‘golden age’ for the rest of the 1970s.

From the start of his professional career, Muhammad Ali’s fights became real life drama’s, that became larger, and more important as his career progressed.  But, while Ali was always the hero of his fights, his opponents would also find themselves thrust into the limelight when facing ‘The Greatest.’  For Most of Ali’s opponents, fighting the most famous man in boxing would become the high-point of their boxing careers. Usually it would be the most financially profitable too, with the aura of Ali guaranteeing most of those he faced during his career the best paydays of their own careers.

There have been innumerable books written about Ali, many of them outstanding. Muhammad Ali has always been an inspirational figure and has inspired some fascinating books dedicated to him.  After all of these years, it might be thought that the material on Ali might have started to run dry. Considering that the present day Ali has been debilitated by his lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease, and is a much quieter, and less visible figure than he was in his fighting prime.

And yet, the Ali of the past, in his prime, is in many ways as loud and as visible as ever.  Ali and his career is still talked about, analyzed, and reminisced over every day amongst the boxing community.  At a time when most boxing fans cannot name most many of today’s so called ‘world champions’ Muhammad Ali is still a name that sparks recognition and wonder.

In “Facing Ali: 15 fighters, 15 stories” Stephen Brunt takes a new angle in analyzing the career of Muhammad Ali.  Instead of the traditional analysis of Ali, instead, Brunt looks at Ali through the eyes of 15 of Ali’s opponents.  Interviewing each man about his experience both as an Ali opponent, but also as a fighter in general.  The opponents chosen in this book vary from those who achieved a greatness of there own during their careers, to those whose main claim to fame was their fights with Ali.

The opponents of Ali included in this book are Tunney Hunsaker, Henry Cooper, George Chuvalo, Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, Joe Frazier, Jugen Blin, Joe Bugner, Ken Norton, George Foreman, Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle, Jean-Pierre Coopman, Earnie Shavers, and Larry Homes.

Brunt examines each fighter’s own career, both before, and after their confrontation with Ali, and how their fights with one of the most famous sportsmen in the world affected their own lives and careers.  It is interesting to see the often fascinating stories of these men’s own lives, and how Muhammad Ali has made an indelible mark upon each of them, both as fighters and as men.  A few of these men have fought Ali more than once in the ring, such as Cooper (2 times) Chuvalo (2 times) Joe Frazier (3 times) Joe Bugner (2 times) and Ken Norton (3 times.)

Each man in here has a story to tell, and they are all interesting stories in their own right, some, like Chuvalo’s, are tragic.  Brunt gives his subjects plenty of space to show the true depth of their personalities, and experiences, rather than simply making them into one dimensional cutouts of people, whose only point of interest is the night (or nights) that they crossed swords with Muhammad Ali.

Every fighter here has his own set of memories and views upon Ali. It is a curious aspect of Muhammad Ali’s character that, while he was renowned throughout his career for his often merciless taunting and clowning of his opponents, he did keep in contact, and in many cases, become friends with these men.  Save for the case of Joe Frazier, where a genuine case of animosity seemed to have developed from their meetings as opponents in the ring.

This book is recommended for those who are interested in seeing the boxing career of ‘The Greatest’ from a different and often thought provoking angle.
The most admirable aspect of this book is that Brunt allows these men to express their life stories in various ways that are not simply beholden to their fights with Ali.

First published in 2002, “Facing Ali” is another illustration of the inexhaustible material that exists about the life and fighting career of Muhammad Ali.  This is a new and fascinating angle, which shows us Ali from the perspective of his opposition, and gives us some enlightening anecdotes upon ‘The Greatest.’

Since the publication of this book, Lyle, Cooper, Norton, and Frazier have all passed away, making their contributions all the more poignant.  Once again Ali has upstaged his opponents, by surviving them.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and
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1 comment:

  1. OT: I like watching Manny Pacquiao in action. I also love to follow him when he does his ab workout. Watch Manny Pacquiao complete ab workout on the official MP Youtube Channel now!