Facing Ali Paperback – Oct 7 2003
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
I good book that is a nice change from the typical boxing book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.....
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
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.
This is not to say, though, that there aren't some bright spots. Foreman, Frazier and Norton are all solid components of the legend, and their storied careers pretty much ensure more interesting chapters than the career of, say, Jean-Pierre Coopman. Even chapters on a few of the second and third-tier challengers (Chuvalo, Wepner) make for some good reading. But what we never learn, really, is what it was like for a Chuck Wepner to be picked from obscurity to fight for the title. We find out that Chuck got to train full time (for the first time in his life) at a resort in the Catskills. But did his shot at the title make his life better...worse? Did sudden fame lead to the end of his marriage and involvement, for a time, with drugs? Did he understand that he was a bit player in a very big show? He certainly seems to be a good guy, but was Wepner actually closer to being a 'goodfella' in those days?
This certainly isn't a bad book, and real fight fans will find it interesting, at least in places. But it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Tales of shady powerbrokers who control the fight game are hinted at here and there, but never mined as they might have been...we're often not given a clear picture of how most of these men are living these days, save for most of the British and European fighters who seem to have fared well. There are also a few factual errors which are a bit offputting. (in regard to Wepner, for instance, the author wonders whether the fighter will be remembered as the man who scored a questionable knockdown against the champ....or the man who was stopped by Ali in the 11th round. In truth, Wepner quite famously came within seconds of going the full 15 rounds.) Again, not a bad book, but one that feels like it could have been better.