Cartoons put Ali in the mood
In the hours before the late great Muhammad Ali fought his “toughest ever opponent”, Hall of Fame boxing commentator Bob “Colonel” Sheridan spent an afternoon “watching cartoons” with the most recognisable person on the planet.
The year was 1972 and Ali was still battling his way back to the top of world boxing, after inspiring millions with his unwavering anti-Vietnam War stance.
Ali was arrested for draft evasion in 1967 and did not fight again for almost four years until his conviction was overturned, and he had become a hero to an anti-war generation.
He was still rediscovering his devastating form when he faced George Chuvalo in Vancouver in 1972.
Six years earlier the two had fought a truly epic fight, the Canadian lasting the full 15 rounds before losing by unanimous decision.
After that fight, and for the rest of his career, Ali would say Chuvalo was “the toughest guy I ever fought”.
Sheridan, who was in Brisbane in April covering the Jeff Horn v Randall Bailey welterweight fight, had grown “very close” with the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time” after calling many of his major fights, by the time of the Ali v Chuvalo rematch.
So how did the G.O.A.T prepare for his rematch against the toughest boxer he ever faced?
By chilling out and watching cartoons on the day of the fight.
“(Ali’s legendary trainer) Angelo Dundee invited me to come to his suite because they moved him out of the hotel so he’d have no distractions,” Sheridan told Australian Regional Media.
“I spent the afternoon with him.
“He was just resting and watching cartoons, and when the media came he let up three or four of the top media guys and he was right back on stage again.
“That was Ali – he was totally aware of the media.”
Ali, ever the showman and political activist, had legions of fans follow him everywhere he went.
“He was always fun to be around but he was always distracted because there were always a million people around him,” Sheridan said.
This was obvious before and after The Rumble in the Jungle when Ali knocked out the previously undefeated powerhouse George Foreman to regain the world heavyweight title in Zaire in 1974.
That fight is still widely referred to as arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century and one of the greatest triumphs of Ali’s career.
It seemed Ali had all the Congolese people in his corner, and a popular chant leading up to and during the fight was:
“Ali, bomaye!” which means “Ali, kill him!”
Straight after Ali knocked out Foreman in the eighth round, he was mobbed by thousands of adoring fans.
Sheridan called that fight and 998 other world title fights, but will remember it as one of the best.
“That fight with him winning the title back that night was an extraordinary night in the place where it was, being in Zaire in Africa,” Sheridan said.
“When I called the fight I knew it was big but I had no idea that 35-40 years later we’d still be talking about it.”
Such was the legacy the late, great Ali built back then, he will never stop being talked about.