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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
CNN Special Report: Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali Dead at 74. Aired 5:30-6a ET
Aired June 4, 2016 - 05:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CNN ANNOUNCER (voice-over): The following is a CNN Special Report.
MUHAMMAD ALI, PROFESSIONAL BOXER: Too fast. He's too fast.
I must be the greatest.
CNN REPORTER: He told the world he was the greatest before anyone believed him.
GEORGE FOREMAN, PROFESSIONAL BOXER: It was something like caviar. You had to acquire a taste for him.
MUHAMMAD ALI: This will be a total annihilation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You couldn't shut Ali up gun or whip and a chair. Couldn't do it.
CNN REPORTER: Dubbed the "Louisville Lip," he fought his way to the top.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No fighter fought that way. He could jab and move back.
CNN REPORTER: Worshipped in the boxing ring, once vilified in the public arena.
MUHAMMAD ALI: If I'm going to die, I'm going to die now right here fighting you.
GENE KILROY, MUHAMMAD ALI'S BUSINESS MANAGER: Ali lost the title. Came back 10 years later and won the title. That's unheard of.
CNN REPORTER: He was a poet. (BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)
MUHAMMAD ALI: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
CNN REPORTER: A prophet.
MARYUM ALI, MUHAMMAD ALI'S DAUGHTER: He made me think I could walk on water.
CNN REPORTER: And a role model.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Under no condition, do we take part in wars and taking lives of other humans.
MARYUM ALI: I remember every conversation, which is amazing. He's always taught me make sure you exercise your soul and your spirit. And that's what my father fought for.
CNN REPORTER: A fighter till the end. Tonight, boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
CNN REPORTER: The opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But look who gets it next.
CNN REPORTER: A surprise guest expected on stage.
MARYUM ALI: Actually, they kept that a big secret from everyone. The children didn't even know.
CNN REPORTER: Muhammad Ali's daughter, Miriam.
MARYUM ALI: I got a call, and I was told, your dad's going to light the torch. Call all your siblings. I'm like what. It was just a beautiful moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Greatest.
CNN REPORTER: The crowd roared when they see the champ on stage.
(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my!
CNN REPORTER: And the world held its breath as Ali, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a decade earlier, struggled to control the torch.
JERRY IZENBERG, SPORTS WRITER: He burned himself trying to keep his hand from shaking. Nobody knew it. That's Ali. I don't want anybody to know I can't light that torch. That was Ali.
CNN REPORTER: When Ali lit the Olympic flame, it was an indelible moment in sports history.
MARYUM ALI: He needed that. He needed to see that people still cared for him, you know, even with Parkinson's disease.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): I've always wondered what it would be like -- he's your father, but he's also this world renowned figure.
MARYUM ALI: Yes, he always fought for freedom and love. And he wanted this country to be accountable for treating all human beings equal. He was like really more than just a boxer.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): He was really just the kid next door born Cassius Clay Jr. in 1942 in heavily segregated Louisville, Kentucky. The older of two boys to mom, Odessa, a housekeeper and dad, Cassius, a billboard pager. Ge grew up here.
ROBERT COLEMAN, MUHAMMAD ALI'S CHILDHOOD NEIGHBOR: Cassius didn't appear to be the greatest athlete when he was a kid. I don't think he even played softball and basketball with us.
CNN REPORTER: Robert Coleman lived down the street.
COLEMAN: We saw (inaudible) camp called "Camp Sky High" through the YMCA. I remember Ali punched me in the chest one day. I said we can't play no more.
CNN REPORTER: At 12 years old, Cassius discovered the power of his punch through an odd twist of fate when his bike was stolen. He told a police officer he wanted to beat up the thief. That cop, Joe Martin, was also a trainer and encouraged him to try that aggression out in the ring. He was a natural.
Years later, Martin and Ali were reunited on TV's "This Is Your Life."
MUHAMMAD ALI: He taught me the jabs, taught me hooks. And both of them together made me what I am today.
CNN REPORTER: Cassius was hooked and dead serious about learning the ropes. He trained at two gyms, hitting the streets before school. RUDOLPH DAVIDSON, MUHAMMAD ALI'S CHILDHOOD FRIEND: You could tell he
was going to be different. We would ride the bus to Madison Junior High, and he would be running behind it, still training. And we'd laugh at him. He's crazy.
CNN REPORTER: Crazy, fast and driven. And by the age of 14, he had six Kentucky Golden Glove titles and two national titles under his belt. By 18, Cassius Clay was an Olympic champ, winning the gold medal in the 1960 summer games in Rome.
Ali's long-time business manager Gene Kilroy.
KILROY: I met him in the Olympics. If they could have taken a mayor in the Olympic village in Rome, it would have been him. He -- everybody loved him. He wore his gold medal around.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): Where do you think the confidence comes from?
KILROY: He just believed in himself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cassius Clay of Chicago challenges Gary Joyce.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): That confidence combined powerfully with his size, fast speed and stinging jabs, he was a dancer in the ring. Clay turned pro in the '60s, winning most matches by knockouts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why all the crowd and all the cameraman? Why, of course, Cassius has just hit town for his --
CNN REPORTER: As his star power grew, so did his voice.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Floyd Patterson's as sissy. He ain't nothing but a chump.
CNN REPORTER: Clay craved the spotlight and became as famous for his rants.
MUHAMMAD ALI: This will be no contest. This will be a total annihilation.
(END VIDEOCLIP) CNN REPORTER: And rhymes.
MUHAMMAD ALI: He's going around claiming to be the real heavyweight champ, but after I'm finished he'll just be a tramp.
CNN REPORTER: As he did for his boxing.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
BOB SHERIDAN, BOXING ANNOUNCER: Any fight that involved him was a circus.
CNN REPORTER: Boxing announcer Bob Sheridan.
SHERIDAN: Athletes at that time prior to Cassius Clay were not brash and unspoken. They wanted those people in the seats to go and see him. He was a promoter's dream.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I'm the prettiest fighter in the ring today.
IZENBERG: There's a fine line between confidence and braggadocio, and I had no idea which side of the line he was on.
CNN REPORTER: Sports writer Jerry Izenberg covered most of Ali's fights, including his first heavyweight bought against the ferocious Sonny Liston.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has been bouncing up and down, and here they come. Clay and Liston, and Liston misses a long left lead to start it off. Lands a left jab on the nose. Clay is backing away. And Clay moving to his left, as they said he would do.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): Ali was in the ring, but with his hands down and was moving around like this.
IZENBERG: He was the only fighter that I ever knew who could punch moving backwards. He wasn't a big banger no matter what. His knockouts came after he hit you and hit you and hit you, and finally you fell down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cassius Clay jabbing with the left, jabbing with the left. Another left by Clay.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): The big bear, Sonny Liston, couldn't withstand Clay's jabs. He was a beaten man by the sixth round.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clay looks (inaudible).
CNN REPORTER: He didn't answer the bell in the seventh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sonny Liston's not (inaudible)! The winner and the new heavyweight champion of the world is Cassius Clay be a (inaudible)!
CNN REPORTER: It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, and Cassius Clay, at 22 years old, became the youngest boxer to beat a heavyweight champ for the title.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come here. Come here, champ.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I'm the greatest thing that ever lived.
CNN REPORTER: Next, Ali's biggest fight came outside of the ring.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Under no conditions do we take part in wars that take the lives of other humans.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I took out the world. I took out the world.
I upset Sonny Liston, and just turned 22 years old. I must be the greatest. I told the world.
(END VIDEOCLIP) CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Almost as quickly as Cassius Clay arrived, he vanished.
IZENBERG: His life changed the next morning.
CNN REPORTER: In 1964, after he stunned the nation by winning the heavyweight title, he joined the Black Separatists, Nation of Islam, and became Muhammad Ali.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): Did the two of you ever talk about why it was important for him to change his name?
IZENBERG: It was important to him, because he did believe he had a slave name. He wanted a new identity.
MUHAMMAD ALI: You know my new name. Why are you calling me that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will your next fight be billed as Cassius Clay or as Muhammad Ali?
MUHAMMAD ALI: Muhammad Ali.
DAVID REMNICK, AUTHOR, "KING OF THE WORLD": The fact that he made this conversion from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali helped make him a figure in the Arab world, in Africa. They may not have been paying any attention whatsoever to American boxing champions. He basically was the sporting reflection of what would become the black power movement.
MUHAMMAD ALI: If I'm going to die, I'm going to die now right here fighting you. You're may enemy. My enemy's the white, not --
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Ali, famous worldwide, was a radical voice at home. He criticized U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and refused to serve in the Army as a Muslim and a conscientious objector.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me, champ, would you have been prepared to go into the Army if it hadn't been for the Vietnam War?
MUHAMMAD ALI: No, under no conditions do we take part in wars that take the lives of other humans.
CNN REPORTER: In an instant, Ali, for many, turned from sports hero to villain.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): When he made that decision, a number of people in this country turned against him.
IZENBERG: Well, first of all, a number of people didn't like him to begin with, because he was what they call a braggart. And then when the Army came up, it alienated a whole other section of the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heavyweight champion Cassius Clay at a federal court in Houston is found guilty of violating the U.S. Selective Service laws.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Ali faced five years in prison, and in 1967 was stripped of his heavyweight title, banned from the sport at the prime boxing age of just 25.
IZENBERG: I loaned him $20 one day in front of the Americana.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): So he was broke?
IZENBERG: He didn't have any money, and he didn't have any income.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): But his gift for gab helped him earn money lecturing at universities. Ali easily held his own.
(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP) B
MUHAMMAD ALI: You're my foes when I want justice. You're my foes when I want equality. You won't even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs, and you want me to go somewhere and fight. But you won't even stand up for me here at home.
DAVIDSON: In a war in which young black men, mainly without any money and with little education, were dying in disproportionate numbers, this young black man, outspoken, stands up and says, no.
CNN REPORTER: Exiled from boxing for more than three years, Ali even gave acting a shot, taking a part in the Broadway musical "Buck White."
ED SULLIVAN, ED SULLIVAN SHOW HOST: Here's the world famous world heavyweight champion.
CNN REPORTER: He performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.
MUHAMMAD ALI (singing): We came in chains. We came in misery.
CNN REPORTER: His music career, not surprisingly, fizzled. In 1967, he got hitched to Belinda Boyd. They had four children.
MARYUM ALI: He wanted all his kids to be with him during the summertime, so he got himself a pool. There's Laila here, Hana, the twins, Muhammad.
CNN REPORTER: Ali doted on all his children, seen here in a home video from the film "I Am Ali."
MUHAMMAD ALI: Daddy's going to fight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, MUHAMMAD ALI'S DAUGHTER: I want to go with you.
MUHAMMAD ALI: You want to go with me? Can you fight?
CNN REPORTER: He called them from the road with fatherly advice.
MARYUM ALI: I remember every conversation, which is amazing.
CNN REPORTER: Many of those conversations were recorded.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Everybody's born for a purpose. What do you think you were born for?
MARYUM ALI: To make people feel better. To fix people up.
MUHAMMAD ALI: That's good. That's good, Maryum.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I remember when I'd tell my dad he's too old to fight.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I was just getting dressed. I am getting ready to go look at another place like Deer Lake.
To go look another another place like deer lake. It might be possible if I like, I might fight again.
MARYUM ALI: What?
MUHAMMAD ALI: Yes, it might be possible that if I like it I might fight again.
MARYUM ALI: No! Don't fight again, please!
(END AUDIOCLIP) But just for a man to ask me, an 11-year-old and get my take on it, that was pretty amazing.
MIYA ALI, MUHAMMAD ALI'S DAUGHTER: He would ask about boys. He would ask about school.
While married to Boyd, Ali had daughter, Miya, with another woman.
MIYA ALI: I remember growing up, and he used to play boxing in the street. It would start with one person, and there would be hundreds of people surrounding him. He never lost me, thank God.
MARYUM ALI: He just really was the glue that held it all together with his nine children. You know, my dad, if he makes mistakes, nine children and, you know, four wives, a couple of mistresses, what I love the most is that he doesn't pretend to be perfect. Never has. That's why he's always taught me make sure you exercise your soul and your spirit.
CNN REPORTER: Ali's spirit, his convictions about the war, never wavered. He stood his ground, and eventually the nation came around.
In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. He returned to the ring and got a chance to win back his title.
Billed as the fight of the century, Hatch (ph) pitted Ali against current champ, Smokin' Joe Frazier.
JOE FRAZIER, PROFESSIONAL BOXER: I predict the fight won't got the distance.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Try to stop me.
IZENBERG: They were the two best fighters in the world.
Bing, pop, bing, pop, and Frazier is plotting, plotting, plotting. He's got that left hook. You can make a comic strip about his left hook. It had a life of its own. When it wanted to go, it went. When it went, you went down.
CNN REPORTER: The slugfest went the full 15 rounds. Ali was losing but tried hard to psych out Frazier.
IZENBERG: He was screaming, fool. You're a fool. God says I'm the champion. And when that happens, he slips a jab, steps inside, throws that left hook right on in there. Ali goes down.
CNN REPORTER: It was Ali's first ever professional loss. But he and Smokin' Joe were far from finished.
(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP) MUHAMMAD ALI: Joe Frazier is in trouble, because the Muhammad Ali Joe Frazier's going to meet is going to be better than the Muhammad Ali he met three years ago.
CNN REPORTER: When we return, the greatest comeback ever.
FOREMAN: I thought he was going to fall. This was going to be a long night.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Too much speed for him. Too fast. Too fast.
CNN REPORTER: It was 1974, and 32-year-old Muhammad Ali was on a mission.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I'm going to retire the heavyweight champion of the world. That's right. If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait till I kick Foreman's behind.
CNN REPORTER: Big George Foreman was boxing's most feared fighter, destroying Joe Frazier in two rounds.
FOREMAN: I'm sitting on the throne. I thought I was doing a charitable contribution to Muhammad Ali by allowing him to fight for my title.
CNN REPORTER: The match was called "rumble in the jungle."
FOREMAN: I was being offered $5 million to fight Muhammad Ali. I went to Africa to get my money and beat up someone and go home.
MUHAMMAD ALI: They want to be like me. I'm getting ready to go whoop George Foreman.
CNN REPORTER: But the locals fell hard for Ali. And Ali, seen here in when "When We Were Kings," loved every minute of it.
(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP) CROWD: Ali! Ali!
VERONICA PORSCHE: He loved people, and I think that's why they loved him so much.
CNN REPORTER: Eighteen-year-old Veronica Porsche was hired as a poster girl to promote the fight.
PORSCHE: We were told at the very last moment that we could go.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): And when did you start getting butterflies?
PORSCHE: It was when -- we used to walk by the Zaire River in the evening, and that was probably during those times.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): They would marry eventually. But first, the fight that captured the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Foreman is head hunting himself. Ali tries to hang on.
FOREMAN: I hit him with all kinds of punches. And the one thing about a power puncher is every time you throw one big right hand or a left hook wide and wild, it's like 10 miles of road work that's going away from you, and you'll never get it back.
IZENBERG: Ali's got his gloves up here. So the round goes by. Boom, boom. He's hitting gloves. Boom, boom.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): He's going to wear him out.
IZENBERG: He's going to make him wear himself out.
FOREMAN: Somewhere about the sixth round, I hit him and he folded, and I thought I got him now. He just fell over and whispered, is that all you got, George? That's when I realized this was going to be a long night.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Round eight, Ali leaned back on the ropes, purposely absorbing punch after punch until he was ready to attack.
IZENBERG: I never saw a fighter fall in sections. Like his ankles hit the ground, his knees hit the ground. His chest hit the ground, and then he hit the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Muhammad Ali has won!
CNN REPORTER: Against all odds, Ali made one of the greatest comebacks in history.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I told you, all of my critics. I told you all that I was the greatest of all time.
KILROY: Ali lost the title and then came back 10 years later and won the title. Won the title, won the title. That's unheard of.
FOREMAN: I was a good fighter, very good fighter. But Muhammad Ali was better than me.
CNN REPORTER: A year later, Ali got his revenge against Smokin' Joe Frazier in their final brutal fight called "thrilla in Manila."
IZENBERG: Frazier is standing there with his legs the consistency of wet spaghetti. All Ali has to do is walk three feet, push him. Ali could not walk those three feet. Neither one was ever the same again. They took everything they had out of each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all over!
CNN REPORTER: Frazier's trainer stopped the fight after the fourteenth round. Ali won with a TKO, ending one of the biggest boxing rivalries of all time. Friends and family begged Ali to hang up his gloves and go out on top.
IZENBEERG: Ali came up the aisle, and he said, this is the closest you fellas will ever see to death.
KILROY: I pleaded with him to retire. Retire after this fight. Retire, retire.
CNN REPORTER: ABC sports announcer, Howard Cosell, who covered Ali for most of his career, even tried to talk the champ down.
HOWARD COSELL, ABC SPORTS ANNOUNCER: He told me 3-1/2 weeks ago, one more fight. That you had had your fill of it. One big fight, a lot of money, and that was it. Now there are more fights in the offing. Why?
MUHAMMAD ALI: Well, because I've changed my mind, and I feel that I can go another few years. The fans want to see it.
COSELL: And that, in effect, is our show today. Ali still the heavyweight champion of the world. Knock it off!
MARYUM ALI: They loved each other, man. They really did. They were like brothers. They really were.
CNN REPORTER: Over the next six years, there were 10 more fights, two more marriages, and three more children, including daughter Laila, who followed in her father's footsteps. LAILA ALI, MUHAMMAD ALI'S DAUGHTER: Just being Muhammad Ali's
daughter, people are always going to want to test you. You know, and I've always been the one to take it on and not want to back down.
CNN REPORTER: Then, Muhammad Ali would take on his toughest opponent.
MARYUM ALI: We saw the slurred speech, a little slowness.
CNN REPORTER (on-camera): How did you find out that your father had Parkinson's?
MARYUM ALI: The diagnosis came years after he actually had it. That was a time when even the top researchers did not know that young people can get Parkinson's.
CNN REPORTER (voice-over): He was 38 years old. In 1982, after three decades of redefining boxing with a lifetime record of 56 wins and only five defeats, Ali retired for good.
LONNIE ALI, MARYUM ALI'S WIFE: The disease had a very slow progression for him, and it hasn't stopped him from doing anything he wants to do.
CNN REPORTER: Like that moment in 1996 that brought the world to its feet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once the most dynamic figure in sports --
MARYUM ALI: That was a very positive highlight for him, and it was massive. I mean, millions of people saw that.
CNN REPORTER: Millions of fans all over the world continued to worship the champ.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you say the greatest of all time is in the room, everyone knows who you mean.
CNN REPORTER: And in 2005, the one-time objector of conscience received the country's highest civilian award, the presidential Medal of Freedom.
CNN's last visit with Ali was at his home, the champ moving slower. His voice, barely a whisper.
MUHAMMAD ALI: This was the gymnasium of my comeback.
(END VIDEOCLIP) CNN REPORTER: His spirit unshaken until the end.
FOREMAN: I still look at the guy and see "The Greatest."
KILROY: Muhammad Ali had no fear.
MARYUM ALI: He always fought for freedom and love.
MIYA ALI: That was his mission in life is to help people.
FOREMAN: We were privileged to lay on hand on him a little bit.
SHERIDAN: Muhammad was bigger than boxing.
FOREMAN: But to say a great boxer, give that to some boxer. The guy was one of the greatest human beings I've ever met in my life.
MUHAMMAD ALI: I am the greatest!