Since the fighters had agreed to make separate but equal appearances at the ceremony, it was not surprising that one of them should be absent, but when after 45 minutes of waiting neither had appeared, the troops were getting restless. 

At that point Garden vice president John F.X. Condon mounted the state to nervously “explain” Norton’s tardiness.

“Norton’s hotel is only 15 minutes from here,” Condon said, “but the chauffeur driving his limousine got lost and wound up 45 minutes away.  But he’s getting dressed right now and he’ll be here in a minute.”

People were still contemplating the possibilities of a naked chauffeur driving around Manhattan in the middle of a police demonstration when Ken Norton walked into the room.  After the amenities had been dispensed with, he stepped on the scale and was announced at 216 pounds.  Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, immediately demanded a recount, and Norton enacted the meaningless rite again.  (“I just didn’t wan him to think he was any lighter or quicker than he really is,” Angelo explained afterward.)  This time he weighed  217 ½ , which seemed to placate Dundee, but what made the whole thing perfectly ludicrous was the fact that on both occasions Norton had dangling from his neck a huge solid gold pendant that had to weigh a pound and a half. 

Shortly after the challenger departed, Muhammad Ali strode into the room after waiting with bated breath, those in attendance learned that he weighed 221.  Replying to a succession of questions, the Champion emphasized that he was “through dancing’” and would fight Norton from a conventional stance.

Ali heaped denigrating remarks upon the absent Norton, questioning his courage – “He’s a flat-footed, knock-kneed, two-bit sucker.  His legs was shakin’ before he even got in the ring with George Forman [who knocked him out in Caracas in ‘74]” – and his punching prowess.  “I’ve been in there with the best punchers there is, Joe Frazier and George Forman, and taken their best punches and they couldn’t knock me off my feet. Ken Norton couldn’t take out a trial horse like Ron Stander of a chump like Larry Middleton.  Now, do you think I’m worried about Ken Norton hurtin’ me?”

After casting a few barbs at members of the press, singling out Dick Young of the Daily News and his sometime tormentor Howard Cosell (Ali’s Cosell imitation is superb). Ali began pointing out other celebrities in the in the assemble throng.  He kidded Barry white about his name, and then called Dustin Hoffman to the stage. (This initially didn’t make much of a stir, since the day before he had called for Elvis Presley to join him on the stage and had 500 heads scouring the room when he cackled and shouted, “April Fool!”)

Hoffman joined Ali at the microphone and the Champion hugged him protectively, boasting that “Dusty knows who’s going to win.”

Ali pressed him: “C’mon, Dusty, tell ‘em.  Who do you like, Norton or me?”

Hoffman, nearly a foot shorter, squirmed uneasily in the midst of a pregnant silence. (Presumably he was reluctant to offend either fellow actor Norton or the man who had him in a veritable half-nelson.)  He finally looked up at Ali with a Ratso Rizzo countenance and shyly smiled.  “I like you better that I like Ford of Carter,” he said finally.

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Related: Flashbacks: October 6, 2006, Can even the Greatest be free of the past?, The return of trash talking, More more >
  Topics: Flashbacks , Dick Gregory, Evel Knievel, Joe DiMaggio,  More more >
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