"And I says,
Ali, I know you boxers, you lie a bit...."
Posted August 1,
In a 2012 podcast interview with Daniel Theodore, Gene LeBell
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?
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.).
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
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 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,
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
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.
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
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
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
But he revised it down:
"I'm changing the pick I made before,
instead of six, Doug goes in
That was his
third fourth round knockout prediction.
But Jones was a clever boxer and went the
distance in a
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.
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).
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 than 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
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.
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
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
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.)
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
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
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.
Sentinel, Feb. 9, 11, 12, Nov. 13, 15, 1962.
(Palm Springs), Feb. 5, Mar. 1, 23, 1962
Valley News (Van
Nuys, CA), June 20, 1961.
Today (North Hollywood), June 21, 1961.
Sun, Feb. 5, 10, 11, Mar. 24, 25, Apr. 6, 11, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, Jul. 11, 20, 1962.
Fresno Bee, Apr.
La Habra Sun,
Feb. 5, 28, 1962.
(DC), Feb. 10, Mar. 1, 9, Apr. 24, 1962.
Tribune, Mar. 10, 1962.
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).
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.
documentary about Gorgeous George here.
Muhammad Ali and
Freddie Blassie here.
not claim to be the Smartest. But there's more to it than that. Ali
The wit and
wisdom of Gene LeBell: Here
(c) 2022, Roberto Pedreira. All rights