Muhammad Ali, publicist extraordinaire

Catching up on my Times (of London) Literary Supplement, had to SHARE IT with you blog readers . . .

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By Jim Bowman


No better publicist among non-chiefs of state, says ALEX BURGHART, reviewing Richard Hoffer's BOUTS OF MANIA: Ali, Frazier, Foreman and an America on the ropes.

As Richard Hoffer argues in this rich and loquacious account of the Ali/Frazier/George Foreman fights of the early 1970s, it was Ali's ability to make his bouts "part of a national argument" which enabled him to evoke such feelings. Frazier was no meat patty – he was an athlete of exceptional fitness, agility and durability – but while Ali the spokesman for black power and the Nation of Islam, Ali the conscientious objector to Vietnam, gave voice to the anger that many of his countrymen felt, Frazier was simply an apolitical funk singer for his band the Knockouts..

Ali also had a mean streak, viciously portraying his opponents as stumblebums:

Ali is perhaps the greatest self-publicist in history not to have held high office ("he would make a damned good politician", Imelda Marcos said) and he succeeded in associating Frazier with the establishment in the public mind. Repeatedly claiming that white America would be cheering for his opponent in the hope that he would whip the draft-dodger, Ali called Frazier an ignorant "Uncle Tom".

This cruelty, directed as it was at the son of impoverished South Carolina farm labourers, far overstepped the ordinary borders of pre-fight banter. (Ali would later perform a similar trick in Zaire, telling the arrival party that Foreman was "a Belgium" (sic), invoking – without basis – the name of the country's former colonial masters). Hoffer does well to remind us of these indecencies which, like some of Ali's more extreme views (notably his outright opposition to interracial marriage), have often been quietly sidelined in case they tarnish his legend's sheen.

Didn't know you could say such things about one of our favorite legends, who in many respects comes across as a onetime race hustler and mere darling of the left.

Email: Twitter: @BlitheSp

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