By Scoop Malinowski
Boxing Hall of Famer LeRoy Neiman, the world renowned artist, has been around boxing since childhood days in Minnesota with the famous Gibbons Brothers, to a lifelong friendship and insider access with Muhammad Ali. In his new book “All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies and Provocateurs” there are many interesting anecdotes, observations and insights on boxing.
Here are a few Neiman shared.
“I love the visceral beauty of the fights, and the whole scene that goes along with it – promoters, matchmakers, managers, corner men, cut men, trainers, reporters, sportswriters, insiders, hangers-on – all the honorary members of the busted beak fraternity. I’ve hobnobbed with them all, but I’ve always liked hanging out with the fighters best. You hear how they’re coping with their backgrounds, dreams, and feelings while facing the brutal realities of the ring. It’s like being with a Roman gladiator about to go into the Coliseum. And boxing is a short-lived trade. A fighter will give all he’s got for ten or fifteen years – twenty if he’s lucky. Some of them who linger for twenty years or more are still out there competing because they feel they haven’t been given the respect or proper financial return for the effort they’ve put out. They’re not only fighting in the ring, they’re also re-fighting everything that’s happened to them in their lives. Just the memories they provide for us fight freaks should qualify them for a comfortable retirement. “
LeRoy was a dear friend of Muhammad Ali for half a century, starting in the 60s all the way to the 2000s. “I remember when I first heard the name Cassius Clay. You knew this was someone you’d want to meet just from the way people talked about him: “LeRoy, you gotta see this guy to believe it, he’s incredible!”
“Right off I started drawing him. Ali would examine everything. Seeing me drawing, he said, “What you doin’ there? How do you do that? I can do that, gimme that thing man. What is that thing anyway?”
“Clay always liked having me around, and he enjoyed being sketched anytime. Liston was far more wary, even hostile, and artlessly uncontrived. I’d watched him scowling, circling backward as he shadowboxed around the ring. One afternoon Liston noticed me standing there sketching next to the ropes, and gave me the baleful, intimidating, double-whammy Liston glare. A really ill-tempered Svengali. “Get rid of the cigar!” he growled. “It’s not lit,” I shot back at him. He stopped, turned around and shuttled forward. “I said Get rid of the cigar. I don’t care if it’s cold!” I was considering the request to surrender my precious prop when Liston stopped abruptly in front of me and gestured to his timekeeper, Teddy King. “Throw the artist off the stage!” he said. Okay, so I backed off, nixed the cigar – and continued to draw. “
“One night Liston was skipping rope to “Night Train. ” After his workout, he approached me matter-of-factly, “Artist, I don’t like you doin’ me only boxin’. Come over to my house this evening and I’ll show you how I want to be painted. https://phonetrackingapps.com/how-to-get-someones-text-messages-sent-to-your-phone/. Around five o’clock I showed up at his front door. Sonny answered the bell, all spruced up in a freshly laundered, open-collared white shirt, impeccable with dark slacks and shined loafers, as spotless and immaculate as the expansive living quarters. We entered the main room. Joe Louis, the grand old heavyweight champ, was sprawled on an overstuffed sofa, staring at a TV. He gave me a lazy nod. Liston then led me on a tour, showing me elaborately framed photos of himself hung all over the place. He always dressed well – iridescent suits and silk cravats. “That’s the
way I want you to paint me, not as a fighter, but as a gentleman. “
“Clay would have three-minute sparring rounds where Angelo would yell out, “Time!” but Clay would ignore him and just keep on going. He’d spar for five minutes if he felt like it, at top speed. “
“The rematch (Ali vs. Liston) was initially scheduled for the Boston Garden, November 16, 1964. But three days before the fight Ali had a hernia attack, requiring emergency surgery. “
“After the run (in Central Park) we went to a midtown coffee shop, where everyone in the place seemed glued to their morning paper. We slipped into a booth, and Angelo swiped a New York Times late edition left behind on an unoccupied table. It shouted the news in bold print: LISTON FOUND DEAD. As Angie read aloud the sketchy details of Sonny’s death, Ali sat there in stony silence, his eyes staring straight ahead. For the rest of the meal, he didn’t say a word. “
“Beau Jack the great ex-welterweight champion started out as a shoeshine boy in Georgia. He got some backers, became a lightweight champion, and fought all over the world – in Paris, in Hong Kong. Now he was back to shining shoes in the basement men’s room of the Hotel Fontainbleau. I had to stop by and pay my respects. I found Beau Jack sitting on a stool, just like a fighter between rounds. After I introduced myself, he went on to tell me how he’d started out as a shoeshine in Georgia before he became a fighter and then a world champion. “I went through millions,” he boasted nostalgically, “and saw the world. But you know, it ain’t that bad to wind up full circle, right back where you started. Now I’m shining the shoes of the Voice himself, Mr. Frank Sinatra. I got my memories and I got my fans like you, who stop by and say hello. “
“Joe Louis was something else. If you had a woman with you, he’d make a pass, like all those old movie stars did. The Brown Bomber – that’s what they called him. “
“I remember walking into an arena with Ingemar Johansson and a nineteen-year-old Cassius Clay. Angelo Dundee’s brother Chris had arranged for an afternoon workout between him and Johansson. Once they were in the ring, Ali played with him. This big Swede was a handsome, really impressive-looking guy, a real fighter, a knockout puncher. He called his right fist “toonder and lightning” and the “Hammer of Thor. ” Ali just kept bad-mouthing him. Johansson was the heavyweight champion of the world. But none of that fazed Ali. He kept shooting his mouth off. “I’m going to knock you out in the fourth round. ” Ali so confounded and confused him, Johansson refused to fight him. He was very vain and didn’t want to be humiliated. ” Ali just psyched him out. “You won’t be able to land a glove on me. I’ll show you!” The workout was over before it started. “
“All Told” by LeRoy Neiman, published by Lyons Press, is available at Amazon. com.