They had met before, these invincible Sons of the South but never in this most famous of gardens and never wearing their gloves. One of them, both descendants of slaves, hailed from South Carolina and the other from Kentucky. Before this meeting, both had travelled the world and the world had lured them them into this square space.
In another time, they might have carried pistols or swords as this was the beginning of a fight to the death. This time all they carried was their strength, skill, indomitability and courage.
They knew each other as well as two men can no each other while still remaining strangers. In another time or another place they might have been friends but not on this night.
They both needed each other and both were aware of the need as was the world and the world was watching albeit from a distance.
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Gene Kelley, Ethel Kennedy, Ben Cartwright, Marcello Mastroianni, Hugh Hefner, Michael Caine had gathered and were close enough to catch clarat spray. Norman Mailer and William Saroyan came with their pens. Frank Sinatra brought his camera. Richard Nixon along with the largest television audience in history, thirty million strong, tuned in on closed circuit television.
Five minutes before the South Carolinian headed to the forum, he prayed in his dressing room. “God let me survive this night. God protect my family. God grant me strength and God allow me to kick the shit out of this mother fucker.”
When they reached their destination, the Kentuckian bobbed up and down on his toes. He brushed up against the South Carolinian and said “Chump”. The South Carolinian scowled in response.
Finally, at last they were called to the center of the Garden. They glared at each other with locked eyes…one yapping the other grinning. Neither of them the least bit familar with defeat.
In another time or another place, one might have said to the other “ We meet at last." Only the man from Kentucky spoke. Muhammad Ali said to Joe Frazier, “Look out nigger, I’m gonna kill ya.”
Thus began the long process of each of them killing the other slowly.
They would meet again over and over but never again like this, never again so undamaged.