Author: Norman Mailer
Our Black Kissinger
N'golo was a Congolese word for force, for vital force. Equally could it be applied to ego, status, strength or libido. Indubitably did Ali feel deprived of his rightful share. For ten years, the press had been cheating Ali of n'golo. No matter if he had as much as anyone in America, he wanted more. It is not the n'golo you have, but the n'golo you are denied that excites the harshest hysterias of the soul. So he could not want to lose this fight. If he did, they would write up the epitaphs for his career, and the dead have no n'golo. The dead are dying of thirst - so goes an old African saying. The dead cannot dwell in the n'golo that arrives with the first swallow of palm wine, whisky, or beer.
Ali's relations with the press were now nonstop. Never did a fighter seem to have so much respect for the magical power of the written word. His villa with the High Schlock furniture was open to many a reporter, and in the afternoons at Nsele after training was over for both men, Foreman would ride back to the Inter-Continental and Ali would lie about in his living room, legs extended from a low armchair, his valuable arms folded on his chest, and answer more questions from the reporters sitting with him, his iron endurance for conversation never in question. He ran a marathon every day with his tongue, strong, sure and never stumbling over anyone else's thought. If a question were asked for which he had no reply, he would not hear it. Majestic was the snobbery of his ear.
He was, of course, friendly to Black correspondents - indeed, interviewing Muhammad was often their apprenticeship. With no other famous Black man were they likely to receive as much courtesy: Ali answered questions in full. He answered them to microphones for future radio programs and to microphones for reporters with tape recorders, he slowed up his speech for journalists taking notes, and was relaxed if one did not take a note. He was weaving a mighty bag of burlap large enough to cover the earth. When it was finished he would put the world in that bag and tote it on his shoulder.
So in the easy hours of the afternoon that followed his knockout in training by Roy Williams he returned to his favorite scenario and described in detail how he would vanquish Foreman. 'Just another gym workout,' he said. 'The fight will be easy. This man does not want to take a head whipping like Frazier just to beat you. He's not as tough as Frazier. He's soft and spoiled.'
A young Black named Sam Clark working for BAN (Black Audio Network), which offered Black news to Black-oriented stations, now asked a good question. 'If you were to advise Foreman how to fight you, what would you tell him?'
'If I,' said Ali, 'give the enemy some of my knowledge, then maybe he'll have sense to lay back and wait. Of course I will even convert that to my advantage. I'm versatile. All the same, the Mummy's best bet is to stand in the center of the ring and wait for me to come in.' With hardly a pause, he added, 'Did you hear that death music he plays? He is a mummy. And,' said Ali chuckling, 'I'm going to be the Mummy's Curse!'
Topics went by. He spoke of Africans learning the technology of the world. 'Usually you feel safer if you see a white face flying a plane,' he said. 'It just seems like a white man should fix the jet engine. Yet here they are all Black. That impressed me very much,' he said. Of course when he was most sincere, so could he mean it least. In a similar conversation with friends, he had winked and added, 'I never believe the bullshit that the pilots is all Black. I keep looking for the secret closet where they hide the white man until the trouble starts.' He winked, as if this remark need have no more validity than the previous one.
'Are you going to try to hit Foreman's cut?' asked another Black reporter.
'I'm going to hit around the cut,' answered Ali. 'I'm going to beat him good,' he said out of the bottomless funds of his indignation, 'and I want the credit for winning. I don't want to give it to the cut.' He made a point of saying,
'After I win, they talk about me fighting for ten million dollars.'
'If they do, will you still retire?'
'I don't know. I'm going home with no more than one million, three hundred thousand. Half of the five million goes to the Government, then half a million for expenses and one-third to my manager. I'm left with one million three. That ain't no money. You give me a hundred million today, I'll be broke tomorrow. We got a hospital we're working on, a Black hospital being built in Chicago, costs fifty million dollars. My money goes into causes. If I win this fight, I'll be traveling everywhere.' Now the separate conversations had come together into one and he talked with the same muscular love of rhetoric that a politician has when he is giving his campaign speech and knows it is a good one. So Ali was at last in full oration. 'If I win,' said Ali, 'I'm going to be the Black Kissinger. It's full of glory, but it's tiresome. Every time I visit a place, I got to go by the schools, by the old folks' home. I'm not just a fighter, I'm a world figure to these people' - it was as if he had to keep saying it the way Foreman had to hit a heavy bag, as if the sinews of his will would steel by the force of this oral conditioning. The question was forever growing. Was he still a kid from Louisville talking, talking, through the afternoon, and for all anyone knew through the night, talking through the ungovernable anxiety of a youth seized by history to enter the dynamos of history? Or was he in full process of becoming that most unique phenomenon, a twentieth century prophet, and so the anger and the fear of his voice was that he could not teach, could not convince, could not convince? Had any of the reporters made a face when he spoke of himself as the Black Kissinger? Now, as if to forestall derision, he clowned. 'When you visit all these folks in all these strange lands, you got to eat. That's not so easy. In America they offer you a drink. A fighter can turn down a drink. Here, you got to eat. They're hurt if you don't eat. It's an honor to be loved by so many people, but it's hell, man.'
He could not, however, stay away from his mission. 'Nobody is ready to know what I'm up to,' he said. 'People in America just find it hard to take a fighter seriously. They don't know that I'm using boxing for the sake of getting over certain points you couldn't get over without it. Being a fighter enables me to attain certain ends. I'm not doing this,' he muttered at last, 'for the glory of fighting, but to change a lot of things.'
It was clear what he was saying. One had only to open to the possibility that Ali had a large mind rather than a repetitive mind and was ready for oncoming chaos, ready for the volcanic disruptions that would boil through the world in these approaching years of pollution, malfunction and economic disaster. Who knew what camps the world would yet see? Here was this tall pale Negro from Louisville, born to be some modern species of flunky to some bourbon-minted redolent white voice, and instead was living with a vision of himself as a world leader, president not of America, or even of a United Africa, but leader of half the Western world, leader doubtless of future Black and Arab republics. Had Muhammad Mobutu Napoleon Ali come for an instant face to face with the differences between Islam and Bantu?
On the shock of this recognition, that Ali's seriousness might as well be rooted in the molten iron of the earth, and his craziness not necessarily so crazy, Norman came near for a word. 'I know what you're saying,' he said to Muhammad.
'I'm serious,' said Ali.
'Yes, I know you are.' He thought of Foreman's Herculean training and Ali's contempt. 'You better win this fight,' he heard himself stating, 'because if you don't, you are going to be a professor who gives lectures, that's all.'
'I'm going to win.'
'You might have to work like you never did before. Foreman has become a sophisticated fighter.'
'Yes,' said Ali, in a quiet voice, one line for one interviewer at last, 'yes,' said Ali, 'I know that.' He added with a wry small touch, 'George is much improved.'
Talk went on. Endless people came and went. Ali ate while photographers photographed his open mouth. Not since Louis XV sat on his chaise-percee and delivered the royal stool to the royal pot to be instantly carried away by the royal chamberlain had a man been so observed. No other politician or leader of the world would leave himself so open to scrutiny. What a limitless curiosity could Ali generate.
On the strength of his own curiosity about the qualities of Ali's condition, Norman asked if he could run with him tonight. Inquiring, he learned that Ali would be going to bed at nine and setting the alarm for three. Norman would have to be back at the villa then.
'You can't keep up with me,' said Ali.
'I don't intend to try. I just want to run a little.'
'Showup,' said Ali with a shrug.