FACING ALI: 15 Fighters, 15 Stories
Brunt provides penetrating and honest profiles of 15 fighters from around the world who faced Muhammad Ali, and he produces a book that should become one of the essential works for understanding the legendary fighter. Brunt's subjects range in chronological order from Tunney Hunsaker, the first man to fight Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) as a professional, to Larry Holmes, whose crushing victory in Ali's fourth comeback showed that the champion's career was truly finished. In between, Brunt (columnist for Toronto's Globe and Mail) offers bracing new looks at Ali's well-known opponents, including Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman. Some of Brunt's best portraits, however, bring to life those "extremely unlikely tales, longshots, no-hopers, fighters lifted out of obscurity for their date with the most famous man on earth," such as Germany's Jurgen Blin, who fought Ali and the next day "was back at work at the sausage factory." Although each story varies, Brunt is amazingly sensitive to and respectful of each fighter's own words, no matter how factually wrong or self-serving they might be. He deftly illustrates how all the fighters to some degree believe that, as Jean Pierre Coopman says, "The Ali fight was the defining moment of my career," although this feeling is ironic for some, such as George Chuvalo, who despite his winning record became better known in his native Canada for going the distance with Ali and losing. Others are bitter, such as Joe Frazier, who views Ali's current Parkinson's disease unsympathetically; as Brunt cannily observes, "on the cosmic scale, [Frazier's] getting even." (May)
Forecast: Facing Ali should be as coveted as other recent popular works on Ali to which it compares favorably, such as David Remnick's King of the World and Mark Kram's Ghosts of Manila.