Posts Tagged ‘boxing’

The Day I Met Muhammad Ali…I Was Nine

    Silliest thing on the planet.  My buddy Amelia gave me a  box of Wheaties because Muhammad Ali was on the front. She knows I have had a ridiculous love affair  with Ali for more than forty years. I read the Wheaties caption for Ali…” the Ambassador of Sportsmanship”! I dropped my cereal spoon in shock.

Ali was a vain, pompous, braggadocio. “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round,” he said famously.

He was famous for insulting his  opponents relentlessly. He said to Sonny Liston, “Hey, come on you big ugly bear, I’ll turn you into a rug! ”

He called Joe Frazier  an “Uncle Tom” a “gorilla” and  said he was “so ugly he should donate his face to the US Bureau of Wild Life.” — Ali was a terrible loser and an even worse winner. His genius in and out of the ring was blazing hot and unmatched in the world of sports, but when he was fighting, Muhammad Ali was no sportsman. He was a brilliant athlete and boxer, salesman, Muslim, comedian and human being but he was not the Ambassador of Sportsmanship.

Still, despite his showboating and poor manners, I do love Ali. I have loved hims since I was eight or nine years old.

Last night, while staring at the box of Wheaties and Ali’s pretty face I realized I’ve never written about the  extraordinary day I met Muhammad Ali. My poor kids have heard the story, over and over, because that’s what McDaniels do…tell stores. But I need to write it down so it’s in the books.

When I was a skinny eight or nine year old, my brother, Granger, my mom and I flew to Boston to watch my other brother, Jack, graduate from prep school.

Granger was a gorgeous, golden haired, 19 year old and he had a full leg cast because he constantly totalled my parents cars. He was on crutches and grumpy all the time.

My mom left Granger and me at the airport terminal with the luggage while she returned the rental car. It was Spring time. Back then, in the late 60’s, little girls  got very dressed up to fly in an airplane. That day, I wore a a baby blue dress, white tights and white dress shoes. I was miserable and to make things worse I had to drag the luggage as I tried to keep up with Granger on crutches.

Suddenly Granger stopped and said, “Do you know who that is? Look down there.”

I didn’t know or care. But Granger was really excited.  “Good God, Pooh Bear, that’s Cassius Clay,” then he corrected himself. “Muhammad Ali!.” He looked at me. “The heavy weight champion of the world. Come on!” He he took off like a Thoroughbred on his crutches, galloping  across  the enormous Logan Airport and I started dragging the suitcases, trying to keep up. I stopped once and tried to figure out who he was chasing but all I could see was a great big group of dressed up black people. I readjusted my grip and trudged on.

By the time I reached the group, Granger had already introduced himself.  I stood behind him in awe of the group.  I had never, in my life seen so many gigantic black people, all dressed up. Ali was surrounded by several body guards in dark suits and they all towered in front of me like Red Woods.  And their was a lady in the group. I was transfixed because I had never seen a gorgeous and fancy black lady. She seemed to shimmer in front of me, like a goddess and I was speechless until the largest of all the men stepped in front of me and said, “And who are you?”

I dropped the bags. “Diana Ross McDaniel, we’re from Hot Springs, Arkansas.” I extended my hand as I’d been trained to do. That’s when it happened.  His hand was the size of a catchers mitt and it swallowed my hand then part of my arm. I didn’t know if my hand would ever return.

“Nice to meet you Diana Ross McDaniel, I’m Muhammad Ali.” First he made his eyes get big and round then he winked at me. I had no idea who he was but I was entranced.  “Why is such a little girl  carrying all those bags?”

I started to say something about Granger and his crutches but Ali stopped me. He nodded at one of the other men then told him to take the luggage for me. At that moment I didn’t know who Ali was but I loved him cause he made those men take the damn bags off my hands. My fingers still ached.

Quickly, he scribbled his name on Granger’s cast then said, “Kids, I’ve got to go before the press finds me but you take care of your little sister, Granger.”

Then he was gone, they were all gone and we were left in his vacuum.

Before that day I had no idea what a “heavy weight champion of the world” was but I figured it out pretty quickly. That massive man made my day so much easier so he was the champion of the world.

For years after that day, I was the little white girl who defended Ali against all critics. From Vietnam to Rope-A-Dope, Ali, the “heavy wight champion of the world,” could do no wrong in my eyes. When Daddy and I listened to Howard Cosell and watched his epic battles live on Friday nights, I would tell anyone who would listen about my friend, “Muhammad Ali”.

And I still defend him today, though his  philanthropy and humanitariandedication have made him unmatched in the world of sports.  He doesn’t  need my defense. But I will always think of Muhammad Ali as my friend…was he an Ambassador of Sportsmanship? Well….I’ll reconsider that in a few years.

*****Please tell me what you think.  I’m spilling my soul here. Comment or write to hampoalnd@gmail.com

I Love A Good Fight…or At Least A Good Show

This weekend, Lexie and I went to a big ugly Cagemaster’s Cage Fighting event. There were more than a dozen amateur fights on the card and I couldn’t have been happier. I know that’s odd, actually weird. I’m over the age of 40, I have my masters degree, I write thank you notes, was a debutante and have four children. But I love fights, boxing, martial arts, kickboxing and now cage fighting.

The crowd is full of twentyfive year- olds with tattoos. I don’t match them but I know more and appreciate the fighters. I can’t find a single friend my age who wants to go to a cage fight with me .What’s wrong with me?

I can trace my love of boxing back to my childhood. First I met Ali when I was seven or eight. And while I was growing up my dad and I watched the heavy weight bouts on ABC on Friday nights. Howard Cosell was the announcer and the championship fights were something everybody watched and talked about. That was quality time I spent with my dad, so I took boxing very seriously as a little girl.

Thirteen years ago I took up Taekwondo and that involves a lot of sparring or fighting, especially in our school.  I learned things. Then, along came cage fighting and it has become a part of even the most traditional Martial Arts programs. Though most cage fighters have minimal training compared to martial artists.

I love movies about fighters, I generally hate movies with guns. It’s the art, heart and passion of a fight  I love so. Gun fights are soul-less.

A few of the great moments at the cage fights were note worthy.

Pastor Greg, a cool young minister said the prayer before the fights started.  He said, “And remember Jesus never tapped out.”

Second great moment.  There were a half dozen super skinny  hippsters sitting behind us, complete with fat black geek glasses, funny wool hats, button down plaid shirts and I Phones. They looked like perfect high teck dweebs but they were yelling ,”Kill him, smash his face in.”  They should have been hanging out in an expensive coffee shop, not the cage fights.

A friend of ours who is one of the highest ranked female boxers in the country, Kim Conner Hamby was a judge.  Sometimes Kim comes to our TKD schools and works with us in boxing. I swear, this125 pound woman hits like Joe Frazier in 1972, but faster.  Holding the pads for her wrecks my shoulders for a week. Every time I  see Kim she’s sweaty in baggy shorts and a sports bra,  but at the fights she looked beautiful. Lex and I heard guys talking about how hot she was.  Kim “Hot Girl” Hamby.

And finally, a very young fighter walked in as his theme song blasted, “Eye Of  The Tiger” from Rocky III. It was so cliche. The boy was young and soft looking, with a single tattoo of Snoopy on his shoulder. Seriously, Snoopy? The match up was almost sad and we immediately assumed he didn’t have a chance. Then his opponent came out to Eminem’s I’m Not Afraid.  He had a black hoodie covering his face. When he peeled it off we saw he was covered with scary looking tatts. It wasn’t looking good for Snoopy.  But half way through the first round Snoopy hit Eminem with an uppercut, then a big muay thai kick. The punk went down on his knees and Snoopy managed a rear naked choke.  Eye of the Tiger, Baby, Eye of the Tiger.

I love the combat, the passion and the spectacle. It’s good stuff. Just remember, always keep your hands up and sometimes Snoopy wins.

We Watched A Man Get Beat To Death

Saturday night Lex and I went to the fights(boxing) with her boyfriend Ethan. It was an outstanding fight card, every match was full out. Lots of the technique was beautiful, there was very little clinching and most of the fighters were in great shape.

And then there was the Quincy Palmer/ Anthony Jones fight.  They were two great big guys. Anthony Jones obviously won the first round but both the big men were  breathing hard when the bell rang.

The tables turned in Round 2. Palmer was all over Anthony Jones until he was knocked out.  Then we all cheered and screamed and clapped.  Jones tried to get up, he crawled to one knee then went back down. Palmer jumped on the ropes and flexed up, he pounded on his chest as the the fight doctor worked on Anthony Jones.  And I took pictures of both the fighters, Jones surrounded by medics and Palmer screaming and pointing at the crowed. 

For at least ten minutes Jones stayed down, then they put a neck collar on him and tried to move him to a back board.  His legs flailed and jerked when they moved him and I was unnerved becasue it was exactly the same way Apollo Creed jerked and spazed after Ivan Drago knocked him out in Rocky III.

Anthony Jones died a few hours latter in the hospital and I’m still not sure what to think. Lex and I cheered and clapped as a man was beaten to death. It was an awesome fight. And I’ve got lots of pictures of the dead man being beaten to death. I’ve got close pictures of the doctor staring into his eyes, I’ve got pictures of Quincy Palmer on the ropes while Anthony Jones is dying in the ring.

And we cheered and clapped because we went to the “Benton Beatdown” to watch some good fights. 

The thing that confuses me so…why do I love watching fights, MMA or Boxing?  Why do I find that so enjoyable and interesting? But man has always loved watching violent conflicts, gladiators, sword fights, gun fights boxing…it’s all the same. We all loved it. But we are the only animals that organize violent events just so we can watch. It’s not our opposable thumb, music or memory that sets us apart from other creature, it’s our love of violence.

We cheered and clapped as we watched Anthony Jones being beaten to death. It was a great fight.

Why Do I Like Mike Tyson So Much?

Mike Tyson. I like him. That’s right, I like Mike Tyson. Did you know he  has a tatoo of tennis great Aurther Ashe on his arm?

Yes, I know Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear and spit it across the ring, yes, I know he was convicted of raping a beauty queen in 1991 and he actually has a tribal tattoo on his face.  I know about Robin Givens, the cocaine and that at one point he was stupid enough to trust Don King. I know all that, but last night Alex and I watched some of his “greatest hits”. These were  Tyson’s early fights, a teenager under the tutalage of Cus D’Amato. And he was phenomenal. Over and over he knocked enormous guys out with a lead punch, a jab! Who the hell knocks guys out with a short jab?

In some ways Mike Tyson, with his extaraordinary talent and bizarre personality, reminds me of Michael Jackson. They were both brilliant monsters.

I like Mike Tyson, he’s not my hero, but I like the guy and here’s why.

 I can’t forgive Tyson attracious behaviour but I think there are some facts folks should remember. As a little boy he was picked on and bullied for being pudgy and having a lisp. And he was picked on by the worst street thugs in America. I’m not talking run of the mill playground bullies. When he was 11 or twelve the bullies found out he loved carrier pigeons and kept a coup on top of an apartment building. One afternoon they made him watch as they broke his favorite pigeons neck.

That’s the kind of stuff that can mess up a boy’s brain.

At some point he stopped being pudgy and turned mean because that’s what it took to survive.  His mother was nearly non-existent in his life and he never knew his father. Then some boxing dudes found him in juvenile detention. 

He ended up with Cus D’Amato, a famous old trainer who could teach him to fight but couldn’t teach him to be a man.  At seveenteen he was a punk  but everyone in his world, all his trainers and coaches, knew he could be the next heavy weight of the world so most of them didn’t try to fix him.

Once Mike turned pro he was everything they expected.  In 1985 he fought fifteen times in one year and won  every fight by knockout.. And most of these guys went down because of that sick jab which caught taller men right on the jaw line in front of the ear.

In watching his early fights you could still see a sweetness in Tyson. As soon as he knocked most of them down, he tried to help them up or hugged them afterwards. There was still a softness in his eyes

Then Cus died, just a few months before he became the youngest heavy weight champion in history.  The only anchor he’d ever known was gone. In a documentary Tyson made a comment about moving into the home of Cus D’Amato and his wife. He couldnt’ believe they let him sit at the dinner table with them even though they knew  he’d robbed and beaten up so many other old white people.

Cus was dead and Tyson was only 19 or 20 year old boy. He was a stupid kid with millions and millions of dollars. The more violent he became the more the world loved him. And there were more drugs and women available…all the time. He was constantly rewarded for his bad behavior. Until the day he crossed a line he didn’t really know existed and ended up in prison. We all loved him right up until the moment that we hated him.

Mike Tyson was doomed. He had no moral compass, no family, no mother and no idea how he was supposed to act.  As parents we teach our kids how to behave, how to act like men rather than cruel punks. Mike Tyson never had that. He might as well have grown up on an island fighting wild animals for survival.

Today Tyson is still Tyson, but I believe he’s grown a soul and a heart. He’s not the same horrific but talented monster he was twenty five years ago. He’s grown up. He’s a dad and he’s a decent guy trying to find his place in the world again. And he still loves pigeons.

So give Mike Tyson a break and next time your mom tells you what to do, give her a hug and say, “yes ma’am”.