Muhammad Ali’s Bombastic Wresting Personal and Charity

Since Ali in person was nothing like this question states, he would have had little trouble, if any, other than the shock any person has who finds themselves incarcerated.


The question states Ali had a big mouth and ego.

That is what the media carried for many years, that image.

It also was not true.

As Mark Twain said:

“ ‘If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.’.

A quote by Mark Twain

Ali in person was a humble, kind, person; most of the Greatest stuff was to hype the gate in his fights.

Ali was asked once why he was so different outside the ring, and he said:

At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”

According to Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, Ali was asked once before he went on the air on “The Tonight Show” by Johnny Carson why he was so different in person, and in private, than he would be on the air. Ali answered:

Because i don’t have to fill up the Garden tonight.”

Ali was far, far, different in private than what you saw on TV. When Ali stood with Malcolm X by his side announcing after first winning the heavyweight title in 1964 that he was now a member of the Nation of Islam and would be changing his name, he said something few athletes have ever told a media throng, before or since:

“I don’t have to be who you want me to be. I’m free to be who I want,.”

Ali in his private life was a basically shy and retiring man, the same Muhammad Ali who had grown up a quiet and shy child.

Ali described himself in his autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story as:

“a shy kid, because I couldn’t read I didn’t say a word in school, in or out of class.”

This was confirmed by Rahaman Ali, his brother, who flatly said in both his books, My Brother, Muhammad Ali: The Definitive Biography of the Greatest of All Time and That’s Muhammad Ali’s Brother, that Ali was a quiet and shy kid, who no one would have believed would have grown up to be the “Louisville Lip.”

Ali’s family and friends described him to Thomas Hauser as an adult version of that shy and retiring kid.

Ali used wrestling tricks to hype his fights – that was not who he really was

Ali at the onset of his career simply was another Olympian trying to gain notice. And then, he attended a wrestling show, and boxing was changed forever.

Gorgeous George, born George Raymond Wagner, was in Los Vegas for a pro wrestling match against Freddie Blassie. Both Ali and the wrestlers made the media rounds to pump up their shoes, and hopefully get people out to buy tickets, and Ali’s life changed when he met Gorgeous George while doing so.

Ali desperately yearned to be “somebody,” to, as he put it in his autobiography:

“have everyone know my name, sell out big stadiums, make money, I wanted it all!.”

And Ali found the key that unlocked celebrity, money, fame, and fortune in the schtick that Gorgeous George used in pro wrestling.

Ali told the Associated Press’ Hubert Mizel in a 1969 interview:

“[I got it] from seeing Gorgeous George wrestle in Las Vegas, I saw his aides spraying deodorant in the opponents’ corner to contain the smell. I also saw 13,000 full seats. I talked with Gorgeous for five minutes after the match and started being a big-mouth and a bragger. He [Gorgeous George] told me people would come to see me get beat. Others would come to see me win. I’d get ’em coming and going.”

From that night in Las Vegas on, for the rest of his boxing career, Ali became Ali. First the poems, then called rounds for knockouts, then increasingly loud talk, bombast, and names for all his opponents.

How Muhammad Ali’s fascination with pro wrestling fueled his career, inspired MMA

Muhammad Ali laid the foundation for Floyd Mayweather to earn almost a billion dollars 60 years later by creating a persona that people loved, and people loved to hate. Either way, they bought tickets, and it was showtime!

He wasn’t perfect. His domestic life was chaos. He regretted his statements about Joe Frazier for 40 years. He regretted not supporting Malcolm X for over 50 years.

And yet, for social impact, and for social service, trying to do good, no athlete is greater than Ali…

In compiling a list of the greatest heavyweights, Tyrone Bruce said in ranking Ali first among greats:

“In terms of social and historical impact no one even comes close. “

Beth Dailey perhaps said it best about Ali and his greatness outside the ring:

“Ali … brought completely new dimensions to the sport and gave it a sort of aestheticism and a broader relevance that was without precedent.”

What made Muhammad Ali ‘The Greatest’ in the ring?

The real Muhammad Ali really did and does deserve the veneration he got for his acts of charity and kindness outside the ring…

Robert Lipsyte, who spent a large part of his life chronicling Ali’s talked at length about his showing up a building to save a suicidal man, and Lipsyte says any claim that Ali was doing it for acclaim was, even if true, only possible one part of why he would try to talk a man off a ledge.:

“The other part was he was capable of acts of kindness; almost casual acts of kindness,”

Lisyte believed Ali went to juvenile facilities like Mike Tyson, or showed up to an office building that day to save a man on a ledge, or saved a Jewish Old Age home, not only because he thought he could help but because he wanted to:

“In some sort of ways, he talked a lot of people off the ledge, I think about a guy who made people brave. That’s what he did.”

Ali’s personal character is best shown in 6 separate acts of random kindness, out of the literally hundreds or thousands that he did

These acts define who Ali really is, not the person you see on TV, but the real man behind the cameras and the headlines.

The act of kindness least known was Ali saving a Jewish Old Age Home from closure..and every resident, whose home he saved, was white

Jerry Izanberg, a sports writer who covered Ali his entire career, relates a story that really speaks to Ali as a human being:

“Three nights before he fought Earnie Shavers in the Garden, he was watching the TV news in his hotel room with his close friend and camp business manager, Gene Kilroy. They heard a story about a Jewish old age home in the Bronx. The elderly residents were about to be evicted into the snow and cold of December.”

Ali lept up from the television, and off he and Gene went, to save elderly Jews.

Jerry Izanberg goes on to relate that when Ali arrived at the old age home, and was referred to the Manager, he asked how much the home needed to stay open. Told it was nearly half a million dollars, Ali whipped out his checkbook.

Izanberg relates that Ali first sternly warned Kilroy:

“and don’t tell nobody.”

Ali then handed the director two checks. The first was for $300,000. The second was for $150,000.”

Kilroy wryly told the Director as he looked at the checks:

Hold the second one for a week so we can transfer the money.”

Ali literally took his purse from the Shavers fight and paid to keep an old age home open, and then insisted that no one talk about it, or release the information to the press.

A year later, looking back at how Ali was remembered

For those who continue to try to paint Ali as a racist, every resident of the old age home was white.

The second act of quiet kindness happened in 1966, as Ali returned from Germany

Angelo Dundee once recalled an incident that took place after Ali’s last fight before his almost 4 year exile in 1967.

On September 10, 1966, a young Ali defended his title in Frankfurt Germany against Karl Mildenberger as part of his “European tour.” He was tired and stressed by a return to the USA to continue his fight against the military draft, but he won the fight nonetheless. In the 12th round, with Mildenberger on the ropes, referee Teddy Waltham stopped the fight.

At the airport the next day, Waltham’s fee of 1,000 pounds was stolen. Waltham, who was counting on the money to pay his mortgage and bills, was distraught. When Ali heard, he gave Waltham money from his own pocket to replace what had been stolen.

When asked about the incident, Ali shrugged it off, saying:

“man, don’t make this a story, he needed the money more than I did.”

If it wasn’t for Angelo Dundee relating this story to Thomas Hauser, we would never have known it happened.

The third act of kindness was making sure former champion Jimmy Ellis could pay his bills after his best days were over

Jimmy Ellis had come up with Ali, and Angelo Dundee took him on to train and manage him at Ali’s request.

Jerry Ellis, Jimmy’s brother, whose family maintained a lifelong friendship with Ali’s said of him:

“It’s really hard to explain how I feel about him because I know how important he was to my brother. People don’t know how big a man (Ali) was away from boxing. I know they talk about it, but if they had gotten to know the private Ali, they would feel the way I do now…Everything he ever told you he would do, everything he ever believed in, he did. What more can you say about a man? He walked the walk, talked the talk and practiced exactly what he preached. That deserves the ultimate respect.”

Jimmy Ellis eventually lost the WBA title to Joe Frazier, and the real money dried up. But Ali, soon to return to boxing, made sure Jimmy Ellis accompanied him on all his travels around the world and was able to maintain a good living in the sport, according to his brother.

Jerry Ellis said:

“Jimmy would get a call saying ‘We’re going here, we’re going there, so Jimmy was able basically to pay for his home, feed his family, do all the things a provider should do because of Ali’s support and love for Jimmy.”

Ali never forgot Jimmy, even after he retired, making sure his bills were paid.

Then there was the kid in the hospital in 1975

Ali visited hospitals, nursing homes, and other places all the time, but one visit stands out in the mists of time.

In the 1970’s, Ali, much to Joe Frazier’s annoyance, lived in Philadelphia for three years. Ali was very much a part of his new home, trying to help calm racial strife at South Philly’s Tasker Homes, visiting nursing homes and hospitals, and hiring old fighters to work his camps.

Maury Z. Levy in a 1975 Philadelphia magazine article relates a story about Ali:

“One day he got into training camp at Deer Lake late because he heard a thing on the news about this little kid who had gotten his legs cut off by a train, He went to the hospital, unannounced, and held the kid in his arms and started dancing around. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is the Ali shuffle. And one day you’re gonna be doing it yourself.”

Then there was going out on a ledge, literally, to save someone else, and then asking the press not to make a story about him, but to credit first responders

The story of Muhammad Ali going out on a ledge, literally, to stop a man from jumping to his death is preserved forever by Los Angeles Times photographer Boris Yaro. On Monday, Jan. 19, 1981, Yaro was monitoring a police scanner in LA and heard a report of a suicidal jumper. His editor at the LA Times was not interested, but Yaro drove over to Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile, where the man had been reported on a ledge despite that,

There, Yaro found a young black man in jeans and a hoodie, on an office-building fire escape nine floors above the ground.

The young man, “Joe,” as he was named in reports, had evidently been up there for hours. The police at the scene said, “he seemed to think he was in Vietnam with the Viet Cong coming at him.” A crowd had grown, of course, on the street below, and was happily screaming to “Joe” to jump to his death.

Police officers, a police psychologist and a chaplain was stationed at a window close by, begging him to come inside. But Joe shouted, as he moved to the edge and hung out when it appeared someone was going to intervene:

“I’m no good, I’m going to jump!”

In a twist of fate, Muhammad Ali’s best friend, Howard Bingham, was there that day, and called Ali, who at that time was living in LA not far from the Miracle Mile. Bingham would later remember:

“About four minutes later, Ali comes roaring up the wrong side of the street in his Rolls with his emergency lights blinking.”

Boris Yaro watched in amazement as Ali talked briefly with the police, then saw the former champ run into the building. Yaro’s pictures, below, record the rest of the incident for history.

Ali, in a dark suit and tie, is seen leaning out of a nearby window, trying to see the young man threatening to jump. Just a few feet away, Joe is perched dangerously on the ledge, holding a pillar as he leans out over empty space.

By The Los Angeles Times’s account, Ali leaned out and shouted to Joe saying:

“You’re my brother! I love you, and I couldn’t lie to you”

Dodging back inside, Ali found his way to the fire escape, came out, put an arm around Joe and lead him back inside. The two walked out of the building together, got in Ali’s car and drove, after a stop at a police station, to a nearby V.A. hospital.

Ali, deflected credit for saving the young man’s life, saying the first responders were the heroes.

A year later, looking back at how Ali was remembered

Then there was Ali’s trip to Bagdad in 1990.

Nothing sums up Ali’s life, and who he was, than what he did in 1990. That year, Ali went to Bagdad as the first Gulf War was looming, to try and free 15 American hostages being held by Saddam Hussein.

Ali, already badly ill with Parkinson’s, ran out of his medications while in Bagdad, and endured very real suffering, yet refused to leave, and persevered until Saddam allowed him to take all 15 American hostages home to their families.

But Saddam did not want to give up the hostages, who he was using for human shields, literally being chained to the doors of factories and military bases, so the Dictator declined to meet with the ill Ali, thinking he would have to go home without his medications.

But Ali would not leave, and his health grew worse.

Other Arab countries, worried that something might happen to the world’s most famous Muslim, increasingly pressured Saddam to give him something, and get him to go home before something bad happened.

Saddam, to appease other Muslim countries, finally publicly met with Ali to give him a few of the hostages, to satisfy the other Islamic countries and get Ali to go home before something happened. But before Saddam could announce it, Ali thanked him for agreeing, like a good Muslim, to release all those in the custody to him.

Saddam, with the media taking down every word, with all the ambassadors of the Arab League and other Islamic states such as Pakistan and Indonesia beaming in approval at him, reluctantly ordered the release of them all.

On Dec. 2, 1990, Ali and the hostages flew out of Baghdad, headed for JFK.

The 15 men remain overwhelmed to this day.

Former hostage Bobby Anderson remembers:

“You know, I thanked him, and he said, ‘Go home,’ be with my family . . . what a great guy”

Ali again asked the media not to make the story about him, but about the hostages and their reunited families.

The New York Times, after Ali rescued the 19 hostages in Iraq in 1990, said:

however great he was in the Ring, Ali is greater as a human being. Despite being ill, the Champ has given millions of his own money, raised tens of millions more for charity, to feed people, for medical treatment, and perhaps most importantly for a man who is ill, he donates his time to help others. His recent trip to Iraq to rescue hostages held there, during which he ran out of medications he must take, and which caused him considerable suffering, is an example of one man reaching out to help others with no regard for his own health or safety”

And for the haters, who again keep trying to paint Ali as a racist, all but one of the hostages were white

Ali’s opposition to the War in Vietnam is well known, but more important is the forgotten fact that he stayed in the States, and risked 5 years in prison

Instead of fleeing the country – which he easily could have done. Canada, or any Muslim or African country would have granted him asylum, and probably most European countries as well, Ali refused to run away, and stayed to fight what he regarded was an unjust act in American Courts..

Ali, unlike the tens of thousands who fled abroad, stayed and fought it in the courts, and said he would accept the outcome, even if was prison.

His real relevance is summed up by a comment he made when asked why he stayed, instead of leaving the country, when it could results in prison for him.

Jerry Izanberg asked Ali:

“are you planning to join the swelling ranks of war objectors in Canada?

Jerry said he knew the answer even before an outraged Ali jumped down off the table he had been standing on, and roared:

“I thought you knew me better than that. America is my home. Do you think I would let somebody chase me out of my home? Nobody is going to chase me out of my birthplace. If they say I have to go to jail, then I will. But I’m not gonna run away, and you should know it.”

I know for me, in the Army in 1969, for myself personally and the soldiers I was honored to serve with, the fact Ali stayed, risked prison, took a stand, made all the difference in the world. All those men ran to Canada, and a guy who could have gone anywhere and lived like a king – he didn’t run.

Ali stayed, and fought and was vindicated by the courts in a decision that revealed the venal depths the Government went to in order to silence dissent…

Ron Lyle said of his old opponent, Muhammad Ali:

“Ali is a good dude, man, and a hell of a fighter. See, people gotta understand, Ali was special. He laid it on the line brother and he stood up for what he believed in. you don’t see too many athletes doing that because it’s a certain risk you take when you do what Ali did and I don’t think people truly understood that. It was a blessing because all of the guys that fought in the Ali era were great athletes. I was a great athlete in several sports. Ali, Foreman, we were all great athletes that could have flourished in another sport, but through the grace of God, man, he brought us together in boxing and we made some of the greatest fights in the history of the sport. Ali just transcended the sport and I don’t ever think we could repay him for that. He risked it all my man and that’s nothing but love and respect there, you feel me? And Joe Frazier was right behind him,”


And that man, with his private quietness, strength, and decency, would have had no problem pulling his time if he had to.


Boxrec for rankings, records, statistics, fighter records

Ali: a Life by Jonathan Eig

A year later, looking back at how Ali was remembered

Ali had rich bond with fellow champ Ellis

Cox’s Corner by Monte Corner

Joe Louis by Joe Louis

Muhammad Ali: 50 Inspiring Thoughts From the Greatest of All Time

Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser

Muhammad Ali: A View from the Corner by Ferdie Pacheco

The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali

The Real Ali by Rahman Ali

When Muhammad Ali Met a Man on a Ledge (Published 2016)

When Muhammad Ali brought 15 hostages back from Iraq – as told by John Legend