Ali, Frazier, Chuvalo and Evelyn
By ice rivers
You'd throw your slides into a Kodak Carousel and voila...a slide show up against the wall.
Needless to say I threw quite a few slides against quite a few walls over the years as I told my Ali stories.
I liked one of the slides in particular.
I made a nice 11 by 14 print from that negative.
Ali and Joe exchanging punches during their second fight at Madison Square Garden.
We all got older as the years passed. It seemed like Ali and Joe got older faster than everybody else. What else could we have expected?
During this time of great decline, George Chuvalo added to the pugilistic tragedy.
The Croatian Crusader.
The Heavyweight Champion of Canada.
The human punching bag and common opponent for the vastly more talented Ali and Frazier.
The man who could not be knocked down.
The man whose face had launched a thousand fists.
George Chuvalo had a face that had been sculpted by other fists into the face of a fist.
And then after George retired, life stepped in and continued the battering.
He lost his wife and sons to suicide. Heroin was very involved.
Still George refused to hit the canvas.
Word got through to his old opponents, Ali and Joe, that George was hurt and staggering but that he refused to go down.
A boxing organization in Rochester decided to throw a benefit dinner for George. Yeah it was a band aid on a shotgun wound but every little bit helps.
Joe Frazier decided to attend and waive any fee.
So did another wounded warrior name of Muhammad Ali.
Ali was shaking from Parkinsons and Joe could barely see.
Joe and Ali didn't usually appear together.
Bad blood existed.
People wondered why after all these years bad blood still existed between Ali and Frazier.
The answer is simple. These guys tried to kill each other three times in front of the whole world and they damned near succeeded.
He jest at scars who's never felt a wound.
There was a lot of laughter that night but nobody was laughing at the scars.
I was there too.
The Chuvalo benefit cost a hundred bucks to attend. My ringside seat at Ali-Frazier fight also cost $100.
So much had changed.
One thing hadn't changed.
The 11 by 14 photograph that I took at Ali Frazier 2 looked exactly the same. The two of them stalking each other in the middle of the ring, youg and heallthy and with all the lights shining on them.
I brought the picture to the benefit.
I had met Muhammad, Joe and George individually but I never thought that I'd see all three of them in the same room at the same time.
Yet, here we were for the common good of Chuvalo
In the lobby, I got a chance to visit with boxing expert Burt Sugar and HBO analyst Larry Merchant. They both reacted to me as if I had pissed myself while wearing a white suit.. Arrogant and a million miles away from Ali in terms of engagement and humility, these two vampires brushed off my questions about the sweet science with an insolence worth mentioning here.
I left those "famous guys".
I was relieved to leave.
I entered the main room. I found my table. My name was still not Sinatra nor for that matter Sugar or Merchant so my $100 dollar table resembled my "ringside" seat in terms of physical distance from the distance.
And I wasn't even at the same table as the Son of Sanford.
I shared a "way in the back" table with another human who also had connection/complexion problems; a stunning middle aged African American woman named Evelyn. We had the only two seat table in the place. Evelyn and I chatted for awhile about the value of our $100 as compared to the $100 spent by the more connected, very Caucasian, very male attendees flaunting upfront and uptight.
We figured we were outsiders. We bonded.
I showed her my 11 by 14 photo. She liked it and said "be careful with that. It's valuable".
Evelyn had a mission of her own.
Evelyn told me that she knew Joe Frazier and the last time Joe was in town, she really got to know him and he got to know her. She planned on having a little chat with Joe later in the evening about his previous method of leaving town. She assured me that Joe would be paying attention.
All the stars were already seated miles away at the main table. All the stars that is except for Ali.
It's only fitting that the champ enters last.
All of the other guys had entered from the front of the venue.
When Ali and his entourage entered the room, they came in from the back. As soon as he entered the room, the whole environment changed for the better. He walked very, very slowly. Since he came in from the back, the first table he passed was the distant table for two. He stopped at our table. He looked right at me and although it seemed impossible, I got the distinct feeling that he remembered me from our morning at Deer Lake decades before.
Evelyn noticed the look and asked me after Ali had passed us, "does he know you".
I told Evelyn that I had spent some time with him a long time ago.
Whether he recognized me or not, he once again gave me that wonderful feeling that I was cool with him and that our table was the best table in the house.
and that, once again, made me feel cool with myself
He couldn't possibly have remembered.
I guess that's what charisma is all about.
Like I said, I had met Sugar and Merchant, ten minutes before they took their upfront seats. I'm sure they had already forgotten about me and their vibe would have amplified that disregard.
Not with Ali.
I started feeling great.
The whole room turned back to see the old champ. I got the feeling that everybody in the room started feeling great for different reasons.
Eliciting smiles and cheers with every step, the Champ caned his way to the front.
Everybody in the place was experiencing rampant, contact joy.
I don't think that Frazier was feeling that joy although he probably remembered feeling a lot of contact.
It was obvious that Joe was feeling pretty dang great before he even entered the place, if ya know what I mean.
Obviously, a lot of feelings fly around a room when Ali enters that room and walks toward a partying Joe Frazier.
The dinner began.
Neither Ali nor Frazier addressed the audience; for different reasons.
Chuvalo expressed his gratitude towards both men for showing up and making his benefit such a success. Weirdly enough if a three man boxing match broke out, Chuvalo would probaly win even though both Joe and Ali had batterred him in the past.
I assume Merchant and Sugar blabbed some and sucked a bit of energy from the room although their wisdom has slipped beneath the radar screen of both my memory and contempt.
When the program concluded, the master of ceremonies, a born bullshitter named Jerry Flynn announced that for a half an hour the head table participants would be willing to sign autographs.
Immediately the rush to the front began led by the people sitting in the front.
From the way back table, we watched the crowd in front gain full advantage.
We only had a half hour and it looked as if there were two hours of people in front of us.
We did a little spontaneous human calculus.
Evelyn headed towards Joe.
She had more than an autograph in mind.
She had a piece of her mind in mind and she was about to give that to Joe.
I headed for Ali, by far the longer of the two lines.
Somehow, my 11 by 14 print caught the eye of somone in Ali's entourage. He asked me to identify the picture.
"Ringside, Madison Square Garden, Ali-Frazier II"
"Diju take dat picture?"
"Yes I did"
"Champ prolly like to see it. C'mon"
He escorted me towards the front of the line, not the very front but a definite improvement on my table rank. Ali and I were in the same force field. I knew he'd have time for me even as the minutes ticked away. With about 10 minutes left in the opportunity, our chance came. I put my picture in front of the Champ. He considered it carefully. He was in no rush whatsoever. Then the familiar whisper that he either said or sent. I'll never know which but the message was clear..."choo take this?"
"Yeah Champ I did'
Another whisper/send "it's good"
Then the eye contact. Ali and me eyeball to eyeball again. Same eyeballs that had been eyeball to eyeball with Martin King, John Lennon, Sonny Liston, Elvis Presley, Nelson Mandella, Joe Louis, James Brown, Stallone, Duvall, Carson, Borgnine, Malcolm X, Ross, Chamberlain and infinite others were inviting me to come on in and stay a minute.
Make yourself comfortable
Join the crowd.
Maybe u been here before
He gave me his beautiful Parkinson's signature. Very slow, very painful, looking up every few seconds directly in my eyes as if this were the first signature of his career given to his best friend. Ali had signed another piece for me at Deer Lake decades before. Like the man himself, Ali's signature had changed dramatically over the years. His Parkinson's signature took a good twenty seconds to make with five separate lookups and included only the fragments of four letters..... M...a...l....i. Ironically he made his mark over Joe Frazier's image in the ring in my picture.
He hit me with the feint again although this feint was very faint yet still overwhelming.
I thanked the champ. Again the eyes. Again the illusion of recognition. Again the electricity.
So long champ.
Still five minutes of the half hour remained.
I got a shot at Joe.
There she be.
Evelyn chillin' with Joe
"Hey Evelyn" from fity feet away with four minutes left.
"Hey Ice, c'mon up here and meet Joe."
Once again the Red Sea miraculoulsy parted.
The Red Sea thought Evelyn was Joe's wife and I was a friend of Joe's family.
I got to the table with time to spare.
Evelyn said "Joe, this is my friend. Sign his picture"
I put my picture in front of Joe.
Joe looked at my picture.
"dijoo take this picture"
"Yeah I did, Champ"
Ironically, Joe signed over the image of Ali in the ring in the light at Madison Square Garden, young and beautiful.
Getting ready to sting forever.
Evelyn gave Joe a peck on the cheek.
Joe took a sip from his beer.
I gave Evelyn a peck on her cheek.
It was the last time that I ever saw any of them.
Time was up. Ring the bell.