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Facing Ali [Paperback]

Stephen Brunt
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 7 2003
They won, they lost, they were scorned or cheered, but they got in the ring with the champ. Muhammad Ali through the stories of 15 of his opponents — an incredible cross-section that reveals Ali as never before.

Every fighter who got into the ring with Ali shone brighter as a result; no life or career could be the same afterwards. Stephen Brunt, Canada’s most respected sports writer, has travelled to meet the men who fought Ali, opening a new perspective on the most famous man on the planet. They include great champions and “tomato cans”, no-hopers and a few men who beat Ali; by turns triumphant and tragic, hilarious, uplifting and angry, each tells a different story.
Brunt speaks to men like Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes, who remember their titanic bouts with Ali with love and rancour. In 1963 Henry Cooper’s perfect left hook floored Ali — but he was saved by the bell and some ringside shenanigans. Cooper’s moment still helped make “ ’Ammerin’ ’Enry” into Sir Henry Cooper, while the little-known Jurgen Blin returned from facing Ali in Zurich straight to his job at a sausage factory.

The men he fought can tell us about Ali the boxer as no-one else can. But they also saw Ali invent himself as a media personality before such a thing existed. They were there when Ali’s personality and courage, his controversial beliefs and his refusal to play the parts assigned to him, indelibly changed the United States and the world. Stephen Brunt has fashioned their stories into an engaging portrait of the man who remains a phenomenon.

“That night I could have beaten Godzilla. I was that sure of myself. And in that kind of shape, I could have fought for fifty rounds, easy. I was just so cocky at that point. I knew before the bell rang, in my head and in my camp, that I was going to win the fight. . . . After the decision was announced, I went right to Howard Cosell and said, ‘What do you say now, Howard?’” -- Ken Norton

“When Ali was down, I remember saying to my ringman Al Braverman, ‘Start the car, we’re going to the bank, we’re millionaires.’ And Al said, ‘You’d better turn around. Because he’s getting up, and he looks pissed off.’” -- Chuck Wepner


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

Muhammad Ali has had more media attention (books, documentaries, a hit feature film) than any other athlete in history--a fresh take on him seems impossible. But acclaimed sports journalist and author Stephen Brunt has found one: he profiles the oft-ignored supporting cast in Ali's illustrious yet controversial life and career. The result is Facing Ali, a must-read for all fans of boxing and Ali. Brunt zeroes in on Ali's opponents, those that came face to face with the lightning-fast jab and the yapping mouth of the Louisville Lip. He explores the lives of these fighters pre- and post-Ali, has them reflect on how those bouts changed their lives, and collects their impressions of Ali, the man and the boxer.

Brunt's vivid portraits of each man add flesh, heart, and soul to those often reduced to a footnote in boxing history. Anyone who has followed the heavyweight saga over the past four decades knows plenty about Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Canadian hero George Chuvalo. Even those major players, however, are given new life in Brunt's perceptive pugilistic profiles. Of special interest are looks at such virtual unknowns as Brian London, Karl Mildenberger, Chuck Wepner, and Tunney Hunsaker, Ali's first pro opponent. By seeking out these boxers on their own turf, whether it be a Hamburg bar (Jurgen Blin) or a Fayetteville, West Virginia, home (Hunsaker), Brunt elicits extraordinarily candid responses. Blin confesses to knowing in advance he had no chance against Ali, while Belgian Jean-Pierre Coopman notes that "two seconds after the opening bell, Ali knew that I was nothing more than a fly." Frazier reveals himself to be tragically bitter and angry about Ali, even claiming that the champ's Parkinson's is God's punishment for Ali's disrespect toward Frazier and his country. Other fighters display real affection for Ali. "If there is a God, what must have been going through His mind to give a disease like Parkinson's to a great man like Ali?" Coopman asks the author. Entertaining anecdotes fly fast and furious. Chuck Wepner (the inspiration for Rocky) recalls buying his wife a sexy negligee before his Ali fight and telling her, "tonight you're going to be sleeping with the heavyweight champion." Upon his loss, his wife teased him, "Do I go to Ali's room or does he come to mine?"

Brunt is Canada's best boxing writer, as evidenced by his earlier book Mean Business: The Rise and Fall of Shawn O'Sullivan, not to mention his Globe and Mail columns. He clearly loves the sport, yet he has never backed off from revealing its ugly side. His reputation is now firmly cemented by Facing Ali, a beautifully written work, worthy of international recognition, that does those it features real justice. It's a knock-out read. --Kerry Doole --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Brunt provides penetrating and honest profiles of 15 fighters from around the world who faced Muhammad Ali, and he produces a book that should become one of the essential works for understanding the legendary fighter. Brunt's subjects range in chronological order from Tunney Hunsaker, the first man to fight Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) as a professional, to Larry Holmes, whose crushing victory in Ali's fourth comeback showed that the champion's career was truly finished. In between, Brunt (columnist for Toronto's Globe and Mail) offers bracing new looks at Ali's well-known opponents, including Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman. Some of Brunt's best portraits, however, bring to life those "extremely unlikely tales, longshots, no-hopers, fighters lifted out of obscurity for their date with the most famous man on earth," such as Germany's Jurgen Blin, who fought Ali and the next day "was back at work at the sausage factory." Although each story varies, Brunt is amazingly sensitive to and respectful of each fighter's own words, no matter how factually wrong or self-serving they might be. He deftly illustrates how all the fighters to some degree believe that, as Jean Pierre Coopman says, "The Ali fight was the defining moment of my career," although this feeling is ironic for some, such as George Chuvalo, who despite his winning record became better known in his native Canada for going the distance with Ali and losing. Others are bitter, such as Joe Frazier, who views Ali's current Parkinson's disease unsympathetically; as Brunt cannily observes, "on the cosmic scale, [Frazier's] getting even..
- getting even."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of sports writing April 17 2007
By R. Sohi
Format:Paperback
Stephen Brunt's excellent book poignantly tells the stories of fifteen men who fought Muhammad Ali. Brunt tells us in his introduction that we generally only hear one side of the story - usually the side of the star of the show. Since there have been few stars who have shone as brightly as Ali in the boxing world (or in the world in general for that matter), the stories of his opponents, even the ones who were champions in their own right, have tended to be forgotten, if not completely ignored.

The stories provide a fresh perspective on Ali through the course of the book, since many of these men developed a relationship with him that transcended their battle(s) with him in the ring, but the spotlight here is directly on the lives of these fifteen men. Each of their stories is unique. Some are funny, some are tragic, some offer us lessons if we care to look. All the stories show us how these men's lives were altered by their moment in the spotlight. With the exception of Joe Frazier, who gets the longest section of the book devoted to him, every man conveys a fondness and respect for Ali even if they had differences with him.

Brunt is a great writer who is able to convey something essential about each of the men he dedicates a chapter to. There isn't a trace of sentimentality and every portrait comes across as being fair to it's subject. "Facing Ali" is a masterpiece of sports writing and belongs on the shelf of every boxing fan.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A truly different book about Ali March 12 2007
Format:Hardcover
Many books have been written about Ali, but none like this. Actually, I've never seen a book written like this. The author, Stephen Brunt, interviewed 15 fighters that fought Ali and how their lives changed after the fight(s). There is non of the typical "boxing book stuff" such as breaking down the fights, etc. What the author does do is provide the readers what the boxers think and feel about Ali before, during, and after their fight against him and what it did for their lives.

I good book that is a nice change from the typical boxing book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for any Ali fan. April 23 2003
By Casper Melick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For a casual boxing fan who's too young to remember Ali, this book might be a little obscure. But for boxing fans of my generation, who grew up on Ali, your boxing library won't be complete without it. Each of the 15 opponents featured here has an interesting story to tell, and the book provides a ton of material for serious boxing historians.
What is particularly interesting is how most of these men's lives were profoundly affected by their encounter(s) with Ali. Henry Cooper, for instance, a national hero in the U.K., will still always be best known for a single punch he threw in a fight he lost: the left hook that knocked Cassius Clay (as he then was) on his butt. A few of them regard Ali with love or reverence, a few with indifference, and one, in particular, with undying resentment. Overall, one gets a remarkable education on the human condition by comparing the stories of these 15 very different men. Highly recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars untold stories of those who fought "the greatest" June 24 2004
By Robert Wormley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A great book, adding a perspective on Ali from the least reported angle - namely 15 of his opponents. Most lost, a few knocked Ali down, a few defeated him. All have won or lost the corresponding internal battle they had to fight.
the fighters range from well-known and immensely talented boxers (foreman, frazier) to some of the least capable and likely contenders for the title in the history of the sport. All are fascinating, not merely for their perspecitves on Ali, but also for the value of their own stories as minor players in the most turbulent and glorious period in boxing history.
Now if these 15 fights were only available on a dvd.....
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Book on the Greatest Fighter of All-Time Jan. 30 2007
By kone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Muhummad Ali is the most-photographed, most-written about, most-quoted, and most-popular athlete of all-time. So how does an author come up with a "new" angle on the Ali story that has not already been covered? Well, Author Stephan Brunt comes up with a new tact - 15 fighters who faced Ali in the squared circle tell about their experieces in their own words. This is a unique concept that has not been attempted before in the annals of boxing literature. My hat is tipped to Mr. Brunt for coming up with such a unique angle. I also applaud him for not severely editing the commentary of the opponents stories. The words are there warts and all, especially in the bitterness expressed by Joe Frazier.

The book presents 15 fights, and the individual stories of the opponents are written in vivid detail. Brunt gives a brief history of the opponent, how he became a fighter, how he came to fight Ali, and what happened to him afterwards. The 15 fighters represent several of Ali's best fights, including Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Ernie Shavers. Too bad we could not have read about Ali's greatest upset fight, i.e. Sony Liston's experience in words - now that would heve been eye-popping! (Liston died of an apparent drug overdose in late 1970.)

Brunt does a thorough job with each fighter. He does not so much concentrate on the blow to blow action in the fight, but rather, what the opponent was thinking and feeling before, during, and after the fight. It makes for very interesting reading for boxing fans in general, and of course Ali fans.

I could not give it a 5-star ranking as it was not spell-binding, but for being unique and holding my interest throughout, it deserves a solid 4-stars.

Jim "Konedog" Koenig
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what I thought, But one of the best books I ever read !! July 25 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I thought this book would be focused on what it was like to go againat ALI in the ring.

I was wrong, but delightfully wrong.

The book is about the PEOPLE, the boxers. Each chapter gives is interviewed and discussed where they are at currently, then goes back into a summary of their lives, which is wrirtten so well and so fascinating.

It is funny, touching, sad, and inspiring.

While Ali doesn't "Appear" in the book, Ali's prescence seems to hover over the entire book. It is incredible how all of these boxer's in the ring and out of the ring meetings with Ali has influenced their lives forever.

The character of experiences of these men are so interesting. It had to be difficult to on what to choose to write about, for so many of the boxer's have had such interesting and unusual lives.

For all lthose who simply want a great read as well as all sport's and of course boxing fans.

A boxing masterpiece.

Jon
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Champ Is Here Dec 19 2006
By Best Of All - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A fan of Muhammad Ali may have seen some of the 15 fighters chronicled in the ring due to replays of numerous matches on the various ESPN channels. But what you have seen is only a fraction of the story, as author Stephen Brunt brings to life the real stories of those who battled Ali in classic bouts or had fleeting fame by stepping into the ring & fighting the long odds of going the distance.

There is Chuck Wepner, who initially learned about getting the match through a newspaper article, and whose "underdog" match gave a screenplay idea to struggling actor Sylvester Stallone; Jurgen Blin, who had to go back to his job the day after the match and Ron Lyle, a tough fighter who came very close to pulling off an upset for the ages.

It is expected that those interviewed would include Joe Frazier and George Foreman, but it's the stories from contenders like George Chuvalo, Joe Bugner and Henry Cooper & longshots like Tunney Hunsaker and Jean Pierre Coopman that makes the book so interesting.

Ali is the thread in all these lives and inside the ropes of a sport that judges courage on the punishment one is willing to take. Most may not have been crowned champions in their pro ring careers, but each boxer took something away from their experiences in facing Ali.
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