GTR Archives 2000-2022

 

Jiu-Jitsu Books 

by 

Roberto Pedreira

 

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Gene LeBell 

Confronts 

Muhammad Ali 

 

"And I says, Ali, I know you boxers, you lie a bit...."

 

Roberto Pedreira

Posted August 1, 2022 (JST)

In a 2012 podcast interview with Daniel Theodore, Gene LeBell insisted that Muhammad Ali and Angelo Dundee were wrong when they said that Ali (then known by his slave name of Cassius Clay), was influenced by a pro wrestler named George Wagner, more commonly known as Gorgeous George. Actually it wasn't Gorgeous George, Gene says. It was Freddie Blassie.

Gene's version goes like this:

"Ali first fought for my mother at the Olympic after he was an amateur and she made him wear a button that says "I'm the greatest." He says "Mrs. Eaton I'm sorry, I couldn't wear that. What would people say?" She says, "I don't care what they say, if you sell tickets. And so he wore this and he ran to, from (sic) the Olympic at 18th and Grand to Third Street, [which] was the  gym where everybody worked out called Main Street Gym. And he got a lotta copy. And then he said he wanted to go to the wrestling matches and see the interviews for Freddie Blassie, thought it was Gorgeous George. But Freddie Blassie was not Gorgeous George. So Freddie says, "I'll annihilate, mutilate, assassinate that lounge lizard, lounge lizard, you hear." Ali said, "I wanna be just like him." So he gets on television and says, "My opponent's a bore, I'm gonna knock him out in four." And I says, "Ali, I know you boxers, you lie a bit." Cuz he said he could knock him out in one. You gotta go four rounds and then knock him out. And of course I, you know how I tease and everything. he went four rounds. The guy never touched him. The fourth round, bam, he was out. And after that, he started predicting every fight and putting on these little shticks, and selling tickets."

Ali and Angelo had a different version. According to Angelo, "... while we were in La Vegas for the [Duke] Sabedong fight, Cassius met Gorgeous George." Ali says that he met Gorgeous George "a couple of days before" the Duke Sabedong fight (which was June 26, 1961.) They were appearing on a radio program together. Ali was so impressed by Gorgeous George's routine that he decided to borrow it.

Who got it right, Cassius/Ali and Angelo, or Gene?

According to Clay/Ali, the incident happened in Las Vegas, the wrestler was Gorgeous George, and the date was a few days before June 26, 1961 (which is when the Sabedong fight took place, in Las Vegas.).

According to Gene, the incident happened in Los Angeles at the Olympic Auditorium, and the wrestler was Freddie Blassie, and the date can only by inferred from what Gene said.  If it happened in Los Angeles, then it must have been either (a few days before) April 23, 1962; July 20, 1962; or November 15, 1962. Those are the only times Cassius Clay fought in Los Angeles during the period in question.

The first was April 23, 1962, versus George Logan at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles.  Before the fight, Clay had made "disparaging remarks" about other heavyweights, but didn't predict a round for Logan to fall in. News reports didn't mention where Cassius was doing his training. Cassius scored a four round technical knockout and his record improved to 13-0 with 10 KOs

The second was July 20, 1962 against Alejandro Lavorante. It was held not at the Olympic but at the Sports Arena. However, Cassius did train at the Main Street Gym, as Gene suggested. Prior to Lavorante, Cassius predicted a victory by knockout but didn't specify any particular round. He got his KO, in the fifth round.

The third was November 15, 1962 against Archie Moore, also at the Sports Arena and it is reasonable to assume that he again trained at the Main Street Gym. 

For Archie Moore, Cassius predicted a fourth round knockout.

"I'm going right out in the first round and take charge of that fight and as soon as I see my chance I'll put him away," the brash 1960 Olympic gold medalist promised.

Moore did fall in four, as Cassius predicted. (Moore diagnosed his loss, saying Clay was too fast, and his [Moore's] "mongoose" guard left the top of his head exposed, and Clay targeted that, eventually downing him for the count.)

Between Duke Sabedong and Archie Moore, Cassius had eight more fights. He won all eight, with seven knockouts, and three successive fourth round knockouts. The opponents were Alonzo Johnson, Alex Mitoff, Willie Besmanoff, Sonny Banks, Don Warner, George Logan, and Alejandro Lavorante (All famous now for having lost to Cassius Clay). The first of the four fourth round knockouts was against Sonny Banks in New York on February 10, 1962. The second was against Don Warner in Miami on February 28, 1962. Obviously, neither was in Los Angeles. The third, as described above, was against George Logan in Los Angeles on April 23, 1962. Cassius proclaimed that Banks would "go about four rounds. Banks must fall." Whether that was a formal prediction or merely a confident comment is unclear.

Cassius predicted that Warner would fall in five. He fell in four. Cassius knocked him out one round quicker, he explained, because Warner refused to shake his hand. Cassius was calling himself "The Greatest" prior to the George Logan fight.

Cassius did not suddenly become what he became. Before the Archie Moore fight he was already being described as "cocky," "bombastic," "egotistical," "a showboat," "uninhibited," "Talkative", "in-a-hurry", "confident," "flashy," and "gabby."  He was already making predictions as early as the Sonny Banks fight

After Archie Moore, Cassius disposed of Charlie Powell in three rounds on January 24, 1963 in Pittsburgh. Next in line was Doug Jones on March 13, 1963 in New York. Cassius rapped that:

"This boy likes to mix,

so he must fall in six," Clay prophesied.

But he revised it down: 

"I'm changing the pick I made before, 

instead of six, Doug goes in four." 

That was his third fourth round knockout prediction.

But Jones was a clever boxer and went the distance in a close fight.

So Cassius scored four fourth round stoppages during this period. He predicted three of them. One of those two happened in Los Angeles (not at the Olympic, but he did train at the Main Street Gym at least one time). The two opponents were George Logan and Archie Moore. If Gene's memory is accurate, one of those two must have been Cassius' opponent, therefore the date must have been either April 23, 1962, or November 15, 1962.

Which fight was Gene recalling? Obviously, it was the Archie Moore fight. Compare Gene's quote and Cassius Clay's own statement. Archie Moore is the one fight where Cassius predicted a fourth round knockout, after hinting that he could do it in one, and it happened in Los Angeles. Moreover, Cassius did not, as far as available records indicate, make a prediction about George Logan.

So Gene remembered meeting Cassius in November 1962 in Los Angeles, recalled him predicting a fourth round knockout, recalled him being instructed by Gene's mum to call himself "The Greatest." Additionally Gene also somehow knew that Cassius met and was influenced not by Gorgeous George, but by Freddie Blassie.

Is that what happened? Cassius Clay/Ali and Angelo Dundee say no. Cassius met Gorgeous George (not Freddie Blassie) in Las Vegas (not Los Angeles) in June 1961 (not November 1962). And he was already "The Greatest" at least nine months before confronting Archie Moore.

Breaking it down, the questions are who (Gorgeous George or Freddie Blassie), when (June 1961, or November 1962), and where (Las Vegas, or Los Angeles).

Obviously, if Cassius met the Gorgeous One in Vegas in June 1961 then Gorgeous George must have been in Las Vegas at that time. And if he met Freddie Blassie in Los Angeles in November 1962 then Freddie must have been in Los Angeles at that time.

According to one usually accurate wrestling archive, Freddie Blassie was in Las Vegas for a fight at the Convention Center, scheduled for June 23, 1961. Gorgeous George was also there, because he was Freddie Blassie's opponent. Therefore young Cassius could have met either one of them, or both, and the encounter must have taken place a day or a few days before June 23. This is precisely when Cassius/Ali said the fateful encounter took place a few days before the Duke Sabedong fight, June 26. The fight coincidentally was also at the Convention Center. 

In November 1962 however, Freddie Blassie was in Georgia, not Los Angeles, therefore he didn't meet Cassius a few days prior to the Archie Moore fight.

Blassie didn't met Clay before the George Logan fight either. He was in Hawaii on April 11, and in Japan From April 20 to May 31. Gorgeous George was in Los Angeles, but he was too busy being sued by his wife, Cherie George, for divorce to be able to take part in wrestling matches. He didn't wrestle that year until December 1962. That was the last time he worked as a wrestler.

Although Gene LeBell would not be above inventing a story to amuse a podcast host, a more plausible explanation is that, as people routinely do, he mixed up and recombined elements from several separate incidents, compounded by post-event contamination (thinking that he experienced something that he heard or read about later) which also is not uncommon. 

The part that is undeniably true is that at some point Cassius Clay met and saw professional wrestlers and wrestling and adopted pro wrestling marketing tactics (the backwash from which we can see in MMA today). (As is well known Clay/Ali loved professional wrestling and took part in several wrestling matches, in addition to the Antonio Inoki fight in 1976, refereed by Gene LeBell.)

The take-away from this little exercise is that interviews with elderly wrestlers and former champions do not constitute historical evidence, but can provide some hints about what to look for and where to look. Also, to quote one of Gene's wrestling mentors, "never trust anything a wrestler says."

Finally, it seems that the Clay/Ali version is more accurate than Gene's. The incident could not have happened in Los Angeles in November 1962, as Gene alleges. The wrestler involved may have been Freddie Blassie rather than Gorgeous George, but more likely, was either both (in the flesh) or a composite (of both in Cassius/Ali's memory). But it happened when and where Cassius/Ali and Angelo Dundee said it did.

Notes

Note 1. Cassius Clay refers to the boxer who called himself Cassius Clay, while Muhammad Ali refers to the boxer who called himself Muhammad Ali. Cassius Clay changed his name to Cassius X immediately after the first Sonny Liston fight (February 25, 1964) and shortly thereafter changed it again to Muhammad Ali. 

Note 2. According to Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, he was The Greatest (he had to be, after all, he beat the unbeatable Sonny Liston). George Foreman agreed that Ali was The Greatest, although not The Best (Ali agreed with that; he also denied being The Smartest). But was he The Greatest Heavyweight Champion? Read here (GOAT) for a mathematically objective analysis. The conclusion may shock and amaze.

Selected Sources:

Santa Cruz Sentinel, Feb. 9, 11, 12, Nov. 13, 15, 1962. 

Desert Sun (Palm Springs), Feb. 5, Mar. 1, 23, 1962

Valley News (Van Nuys, CA), June 20, 1961. 

Valley Times Today (North Hollywood), June 21, 1961.

San Bernardino Sun, Feb. 5, 10, 11, Mar. 24, 25, Apr. 6, 11, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, Jul. 11, 20, 1962.

Fresno Bee, Apr. 11, 1962.

La Habra Sun, Feb. 5, 28, 1962.

Evening Star (DC), Feb. 10, Mar. 1, 9, Apr. 24, 1962.

Detroit Tribune, Mar. 10, 1962.

and other relevant periodicals concerning Cassius Clay's fights in 1961-1963 and the whereabouts of Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie in 1961 and 1962.

As well as:

Hauser, Thomas. (1991/2004). Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. London: Robson.  pp. 38-39 (Robson edition).

Quintana, Andres F. (2007). Muhammad Ali: The Greatest in Court. Marquette Sports Law Review, 18(1), pp. 170-204.

The Gene LeBell interview from September 26, 2012 can be seen here.

A classic documentary about Gorgeous George here

Muhammad Ali and Freddie Blassie here.

Cassius/Ali did not claim to be the Smartest. But there's more to it than that. Ali explains here.

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The wit and wisdom of Gene LeBell: Here and Here.

(c) 2022, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

 

GTR Archives 2000-2022