Sport: Bull v. Butterfly: A Clash of Champions

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(9 of 10)

Ali, back on the scene in force, is living his usual abnormal life. At his training camp in Miami Beach, he heads an entourage that looks like a touring vaudeville act. There is Bundini, the cornerman and personal mystic who calls him "the Blessing of the Planet"; a handler whose sole job is to comb Ali's hair; assorted grim-faced Muslim operatives; imperturbable Angelo Dundee, his trainer since 1960; Norman Mailer; Actor Burt Lancaster; Cash Clay Sr. in red velvet bellbottoms, red satin shirt and a plantation straw hat; the Major, a high roller from Philly who tools around in a Duesenberg; and Brother Rahaman Ali (formerly known as Rudolph Valentino Clay), his yeah-man.

Heavy, Brother, Heavy

Although Ali has been temporarily suspended from the Muslims for being dependent on the white man's money instead of Allah, he remains a true believer. For his autobiography and his lectures, Ali has taken to inventing homilies on what he calls "the inner life." "Pleasure," he will say, "is the shadow of happiness." "Yeah, man," his brother will answer. "People are unhappy because they are victims of propaganda," Ali says. "Heavy, brother, heavy," says Rudy. And now that he's a writer, Ali is interested in building his vocabulary. Reading a newspaper piece about himself recently, he looked up and said, "Hey, what do 'garrulous' mean?"

Garrulous is what boxers get when fight time nears, spilling out a kind of blow-by-blow preview of coming mayhem. Frazier's spiel: "Clay can keep that pretty head, I don't want it. What I'm going to do is try to pull them kidneys out. I'm going to be at where he lives—in the body. Then I'll be in business, when I get smoking around the body. Watch him—he'll be snatching his pretty head back and I'll let him keep it. Until about the third or fourth round, and then there'll be a difference. He won't be able to take it to the body no more. Now he'll start snatching his sore body away, and then the head will be leaning in. That's when I'll take his head, but then it won't be pretty, or maybe he just won't care."

Ali's version, usually performed in front of a mirror: "Bap! Bap! Bap! I jab him once, twice, three times. Dance away. I move in again. Bam. Bam. Bam. I hit him five times. He hits me one time. I back away. I'm moving around him. Bim. Bim. Bim. I get him again. He's movin' in, ain't reaching me because he's too small to reach me. He's reachin' and strainin' with those hooks, and they're getting longer and longer. And now he's lunging and jumping, and that's when I started popping and smoking. I'm looking for the opening, lookin' and pickin' and then I see it. Now I'm sprinting, but I'm sprinting in the ring. Now I got him in trouble and I'm chopping him with the right hand, and he don't know how to run, where to go. Then . . ."

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