- Homage to the Champ
Float like a butterfly,
sting like a bee,
rumble, young man, rumble.Drew "Bundini" Brown
I remember wondering what all the fuss was about, watching him on TV, his quick hands and loopy mouth. I remember my grandfather and uncles discussing him, with wary faces, pondering him aloud, "Yeah, he can dance, but can he fight?"
"Vamos a ver, este Liston es cabrón."
Then I lost track of him. And now, six or seven years later, in a dry and dusty classroom, he floated into my life again and rope-a-doped me in a little known performance four or five years before he rope-a-doped George Foreman in the most brilliant athletic spectacle of the twentieth century. But this isn't about George Foreman. This is about Ali, 1971, and a boy, widening . . .
"Ali! Ali! Ali!"
I finally knew what he was about that day, sitting there dewy-eyed at my desk. Ding, ding. Ali in the fifteenth chopping down Bonavena flitted across my mind, replayed itself in an endless series of variations dethroning my old hero and installing Him, my new one.
Bonavena, the big, brawny Argentinean I had been secretly rooting for before the fight, lost his luster. Lots of things had made me in his favor.
There was the fact of Ali's race, and that was everything. There was the fact of Bonavena's race, and that was more. Or rather Ali's race didn't mean anything to me, per se, not like Bonavena's did. [End Page 65]
Deep in the recesses of my mind though Ali's race did matter . . . and maybe not so far back in the recesses, either . . .
All I remember was that Bonavena was my man up till then. In the Quarry fight I wanted Quarry to get smashed by Ali's fists, but in the second fight leading up to the Fight of the Century, the biggest sports event to ever take place in the history of recorded civilization, I was for Bonavena all the way. It was time for Ali to go down, drop, under that Latin American's fists of fury.
Latin American. I guess that's what I was in the sixth grade, during those heady days of Ali's comeback and "Chicano Power!" in the streets.
And I wanted Bonavena to carry it into the ring for me, too.
I remember the time a nigger—ah, there it is—jumped me and my cousin in the restroom of the Olympic Auditorium at the Wednesday night wrestling matches. There were two of them, actually, lean, brown-skinned guys pushing us up against the wall and, in my cousin's case, rifling through his pockets as he stood there sputtering with a cup of popcorn in his hand, "Motherfuckers! Motherfuckers!"
"Motherfucker yo-self, muthafucka," and he slapped him once across the face, hard. My cousin started kicking, but they threw him against a wall, and things threatened to get worse before an old man, black and gentle, grandfatherly, walked in and scowled at them, saying, "Wha' the," as he made his way to the urinal unzipping his pants, one eye on them, concerned. They scrammed.
And Ali . . .
We gathered ourselves and left. That was about three years before the fight took place. We were about eight or nine then, the bloods were in their early teens. I've hated niggers ever since, quite simply; at some level deep in my mind I felt so violated by their coldness and brutality that I . . .
Used the word in my consciousness every time I saw one, which was rare. In my part of town, East Los Angeles, Mexican Americans predominated.
"Dominated," in my mind. Latin Americans. Chicanos. I didn't know the difference then because I was in sixth grade and . . .
Bonavena had to win the fight, for me, for us, to show the world that these bad slick nigger fighters couldn't keep up with a hard-hitting, Latin American Chicano like us, us . . .
Sixth grade, remember?
And Ali . . . [End Page 66]
Stepped into the ring and destroyed my hopes, grabbed my dreams instead and made me...