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February 20, 2024 26 mins

Davis Miller was a grieving, sickly child whose life was transformed the first time he witnessed Muhammad Ali proclaim his greatness. With Ali as his source of inspiration, young Davis rises above being bullied to forge his own path that ultimately lands him face to face in the same ring as his hero.

In this episode, Davis and his co-host Craig Mortali share their experiences being empowered by Ali. Then, they sit down with former heavyweight champion James "Buster" Douglas and his trainer John Russell to reminisce how Ali inspired Douglas to make history.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:05):
I'm Davis Miller, author of the acclaimed international bestseller The
Dao of Muhammad Ali. We're going to share with you
some of the ways Ali transformed my life and the
lives of innumerable others while we deeply explore what few
people who never met Ali realize that during the second
half of his life, his years away from the public eye,

Muhammad Ali became an even greater man than he'd been
during his time as a boxer. Maybe you're wondering why
this strange title, The Tao of Muhammad Ali. Well, the
Chinese word Dao means way or path. Think of this
simply as the way or the path of Muhammad Ali.

Living in the Tao is living in harmony with nature,
with the natural world. My great friend Ali was the
most natural person I've ever known, the most natural man
I've ever seen.

Speaker 2 (01:03):
Who, throughout his life, moved with his.

Speaker 1 (01:06):
Own flow, writing his own personal path, his own stream.
And I want to confide in you how I spent
a good chunk of my own life following the path
that Ali started me on. But before I do, let's
hear from Ali himself about whether the cost he paid

for that influence was worth it. Here our story begins
the Taal of Muhammad Ali, Episode one, Paradise Lost.

Speaker 3 (01:53):
I look at all my world, fame, the people I'm helping.
I look at all I've done physical and love, physicle,
and I've added all of them.

Speaker 4 (02:04):
I'm gonna do it all of the.

Speaker 1 (02:19):
Muhammad Ali saved my life. He continues to save my
life even today. He saved it and transformed it and
enlarged it many, many, many times over. When I first
saw him, he was young and glowing and was in
process of becoming King of the world. I, on the
other hand, was this puny, skinny, sickly, little white kid

and wished to say the North Carolina. My mom had
died just a few months before of a kidney disease
that we didn't know was fatal, and I blamed myself
for her death.

Speaker 2 (02:53):
I shut down.

Speaker 1 (02:54):
I was hugely depressed, catatonically depressed, didn't talk hardly at all,
and I also quit eating and taking fluids. I was
so miserable and sickly I had to be admitted to
the hospital, where I was pumped full of fluids until
I had some strength back. The first time I always

saved my life was when I got out of the hospital.
I was sitting in front of my dad's little black
and white TV, flipping channels. Suddenly I landed on this
voice and his face, and the voice said I'm young
and handsome and fast and pretty and can't possibly be beat.

And it lit me up. I felt like the glory
train had passed through me. Suddenly. I was no longer miserable,
at least in those moments and the moments of hearing
the voice and seeing the face. Every word that came
out of his mouth was music. It was lyrical, and
I wanted music to live inside me. I wanted to

be music. In addition to the music. It was Ali's
bombacity that I connected with. That's not the way everybody
else thought of Awi. He was possibly America's most despised person,
at least by white folk.

Speaker 2 (04:26):
I wasn't one of those white folk.

Speaker 1 (04:28):
I mean, I'm as white as white can be, but
internally I wasn't. I was different, and Ali gave me
a path to follow. All through my high school years,
I lived vicariously through Awi. I was the smallest kid
in school. My nickname was Fetus. At sixteen, I was

four foot ten weighed less than seventy pounds. I was
pushed into lockers and locked up inside them, shoved into
the girls' restrooms, punched in the belly, or ignored. But
no matter what kids did to me, I had this
safe place inside me where I was the Great Ali.
Other geeky kids like myself live vicariously through the Flash, Superman,

the Green Lantern, Batman, the Mighty Thor. But for me,
the man, the one man, was Muhammad Ali. No matter
how kids treated me in school, though I wanted to
be one of them, I wanted to be seen as cool.
And the coolest kids in my high school were the
ones who were also the stupidest. So I went out
of my way to make myself stupid. I'm almost twenty

years old and I graduated third from the bottom out
of a class of fifteen hundred kids. I flunked everything
that could be flunked. I even flunked PE. And despite
the fact that I flunked English four years in a
row and even had two senior years in high school,
I became a writer. And I became a writer because
of my man Ali. After high school, I had no ability,

no interest in anything other than being an Ali fan.
So I decided I'm going to become Muhammad Ali Junior.
And I went into training at twenty years old. By
that time, I was probably eighty five pounds. I'd grown
to my full adult height of five to seven whooh,
and I couldn't even do a single push up. Yet
within six months of hard grinding work, I was doing

five hundred to one thousand push ups a day. I
was running five miles a day, and I was spending
hours of each day living as if I could become
Ali Junior.

Speaker 2 (06:41):
I was doing up to ten rounds a day.

Speaker 1 (06:43):
On the heavy bag, on the speed bag, I'm doing
ten rounds of shadow boxing, sparring everybody who was far
with me, my puny little self, working toward becoming a
great fighter. Now, of course I never made it, but
I thought that I could, and the effort changed me

both inside and out.

Speaker 2 (07:05):
I was in the flow.

Speaker 1 (07:09):
I didn't so much want to hurt people or get hurt,
as it was a kind of marriage, a way of
getting closer to people. I patterned everything I did after
Ali I had his snake click of a jab. I
got to where I could throw a beautiful lead right hand.
I could throw five to six punches per second. Man
I was full of beans. I thought I was something,

and it would take me years to find out that
I wasn't. But during the time I thought I was something,
I had a karate buddy, Bobby. He was ali trainer
Angelo Dundee's nephew. He knew I was this huge Ali fan.
Bobby said, why don't you drive up to training camp
in dear Lake, Pennsylvania. Ali is training to fight Joe

Bugner for the World Heavyweight Championship, and I'll see if
I can get you in the ring with him. And
I didn't believe he could do that, but I wanted
to see Ali in person anyway. So I hop in
my old Camaro and I drive six hundred plus miles

from Winsday Salem, North Carolina to Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. The
firthest I'd ever been from my dad's house. And I
go up to ali assistant trainer, Drew Bondini Brown, and
I tell him who I am, who sent me? And
I ask, is there any possibility that Ali will get
in the ring with me?

Speaker 2 (08:32):
And the next thing.

Speaker 1 (08:33):
I know, I'm in a dressing room pulling on this
pair of red Everlast trunks I bought just for this occasion,
I hear his voice from outside the dressing room. He's
already in the ring, and he's talking to the maybe
seventy five spectators who'd each paid one dollar to watch

him train. He introduces me to the crowd, is this
great karate master? And I wasn't grated anything, but it
sure felt good that he said I was. And I
step out of the dressing groove and climb awkwardly up
into the ring, parting the ropes, trembling all over. This
huge god of a man is standing in front of me,

looking so beautiful, copper colored skin and amazingly fit. Before
the bell ring, I was so nervous I thought I
was going to pee in my trunks. The bell rings
and I start dancing to the left in exactly the
style I learned from Ali. Now suddenly I'm not nervous.

Speaker 2 (09:38):
I zing a.

Speaker 1 (09:39):
Jab out toward him. He pulls away effortlessly. I'm trying
my best. What can I hit this guy with that
he's never seen before? So I vault a front kick
toward his face and he pulls away as easily as
if he's been pulling away from kicks his entire life.

Speaker 2 (09:57):
Man, he's just toying with me.

Speaker 1 (09:59):
He sticks out a lot white coated tongue and he
goes and he sits back on the second strand of ropes,
where his head is almost level with my own nail,
and he waves me in with this brisk flick of
his gloves, and I fake a jab, throw a kickboxing shot,
a spinning backfist, and I hook off it and tag

him with another backfist.

Speaker 2 (10:21):
I caught him with all three punches.

Speaker 1 (10:26):
That was too bad for me because it woke him up,
and his eyes got round and wide, and he throws
one fly swatter jab at me. It buckles my legs,
and I can't see and I can't hear. My legs
go to slow turtle soup beneath me, and he knows

he could knock me out with a single shot. Of course,
instead he drapes a long arm across my shoulders and
speaks to me tenderly. No old man had ever spoken
to me that kindly before, other than my own father.
And he says, you're fast. You sure can't hit to

be so little. He may as well have said he
was adopting me. What can I possibly say that would
impress the world's most famous and admired man. He had
just told me I was fast and that I hit hard.

Speaker 2 (11:27):
What can I do?

Speaker 1 (11:29):
And I hesitate and then I say, I know.

Speaker 2 (11:43):
Well, here we are.

Speaker 1 (11:45):
We're with my friend and co host Craig Mortali, Emmy
Award winning producer and pale of Mohammads. Greg produced a
documentary called Muhammad Ali Still the Greatest, which won the
Cable Ace Award for Best Sports dot Com Documentary. We
are the odd couple lemen in mathol.

Speaker 4 (12:04):
We are the.

Speaker 5 (12:04):
Odd couple, aren't we.

Speaker 1 (12:07):
We're distinctly different guys, But I think that our point
of connection is with Muhammad.

Speaker 2 (12:12):
He let both of us into his life.

Speaker 5 (12:16):
Well, many people over the years covered Mohammad as a
matter of journalism. There are others over the years, long
before us, when he was fighting, that got to be
close to Mohammad. And I think he only let you
close if he enjoyed your company.

Speaker 2 (12:31):
This is a terrible time in the world for young men.

Speaker 1 (12:34):
The people that they have as role models are not
the best folks out there. Young men are really struggling
with their violence, with sort of a dead end life
and not knowing where to go.

Speaker 2 (12:46):
You and I were lucky Craig Mortally.

Speaker 1 (12:48):
We were extremely lucky to have found Muhammad Ali, and
we were extremely lucky to have had good parents. Let's
give it back to those kids in the current generation.

Speaker 5 (13:05):
We are now joined by someone who has a deep
personal connection to Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight champion of
the World, James Buster Douglas. Along with his longtime trainer
and best buddy John Russell, James was a forty two
to one underdog against the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson. Buster

knocked out Mike Tyson in the tenth round in Tokyo, Japan,
February eleventh, nineteen ninety. Gentlemen, welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 4 (13:35):
Thank you, thanks for having me.

Speaker 6 (13:37):
When we were in Tokyo getting ready to fight Tyson,
so he James puts his trunks on, then he puts
his shoes on, and I look down at his shoes.
He's got those red tassels on. I said, Man, he
goes Ali Ali.

Speaker 2 (13:52):
Man, he wore him for Ali.

Speaker 4 (13:58):
It was the Honespeeda Heavyweight cham and it was first
and foremost thinking about your idol, Muhammad Ali. Let your
hands go, be quick and sharp and.

Speaker 6 (14:06):
Showing the world you had to emulate Ali, and Buster
looked up to Ali.

Speaker 7 (14:13):
He had to move like Ali and use that jab.

Speaker 6 (14:16):
Ali was a big part of that win for us,
a big part of that wine list.

Speaker 1 (14:25):
Thank you.

Speaker 5 (14:27):
On a flight out to Tokyo, you had a copy
of Sport magazine which had Davis's article Mike Tyson can
be beat Iron. Mike's legend may be invincible, but he's not.
You had a copy of that and you shared it
with Buster playing right.

Speaker 6 (14:42):
I had had the magazine and I had read that,
and I was like, the hell is this guy?

Speaker 7 (14:46):
He actually knew what he was talking about, Jesus.

Speaker 6 (14:50):
So I read the article a couple of times a
matter of fact, and I says, I'm gonna show this
to James because a lot of what we have been
preparing to do for three months, right, James. So he
read it, and then we both read it together and
I said, it's kind of amazing.

Speaker 7 (15:06):
Yeah he did. David Davis knows what he's doing.

Speaker 6 (15:08):
But we're, hey, James, we're not giving him no money,
or we're not going to give him no money for
but we knew that he was We'll give him some credit. Yeah, yeah, No, Davis,
he knew what he was talking about I was confident
in Buster.

Speaker 7 (15:22):
But did I tell you we were going to beat
Mike Tyson.

Speaker 6 (15:25):
No, I'd be lying because nobody was beating him, right,
But I had confidence in James. I said, you got
to get by the first two rounds and then by
the sixth round.

Speaker 7 (15:34):
He came back to the corner. I said, we got him.

Speaker 5 (15:37):
Buster, take us to the tenth round, that final flurry
of punches, and then you dropped Mike Tyson.

Speaker 4 (15:49):
I dropped him once I senhim reach in front of mouthpiece.
I knew he was hurt then, and I knew it
was over.

Speaker 2 (15:55):
I raised my hand.

Speaker 4 (16:01):
A childhood dream come true. I went in the heavyweight
championship of the world. That's something that you always dream
of as a child growing up. And that was my
moment and I got it. I'll never forget it.

Speaker 5 (16:13):
You were in the corner and just before John was
taking your gloves off, you notice the camera was pointing
right at you. You mugged for the camera with your
mouth opening, your hands up. Were you feeling ali then?

Speaker 1 (16:23):

Speaker 4 (16:24):
That was that was the moment. I did it. You know,
I like mugging for the camera, like what's my name?

Speaker 5 (16:31):
John? Not long after the Tyson fight you and Buster
went to go see Ali and he revealed his reaction
to the fight.

Speaker 6 (16:38):
Yeah, we went to this event and Buster was a
guest and Ali was a guest. We got together and
then Ali invited us up to his hotel suite. So
Buster and I went up and we're talking back and forth,
and Ali says.

Speaker 7 (16:51):
You want me to show you guys what I did.

Speaker 6 (16:53):
When you knocked up the brat. He called Tyson the brat,
not Tyson, he called it the brat. So he sat
down on the couch and then he's like he's watching
TV like this, and then when Buster knocked him down,
Ali got up off the couch and jumped with his
hands straight up in the air and screamed, and he goes,
that's what I did when you knocked out the Brent.
Then he goes, I want you to do me a favor.

Bus says, what's that? I want you to have don
King cut his hair and us just said, what says?
You could tell him you'll go back with him if
he cuts his hair, and he'll do it because there's
too much money involved.

Speaker 7 (17:24):
Just please do me that fav He was serious. He said,
please do me that favorite. Then we sat there and
we're talking.

Speaker 6 (17:31):
He looked over at me and he goes, look what
Buster did to Tyson. He says, what do you think
I would have done to him? He was very adamant,
but he was funny as he was really happy for James.

Speaker 7 (17:41):
He was happy at he for Jim.

Speaker 4 (17:43):
And that that was one of the most exciting moments
in my career.

Speaker 7 (17:46):
Mine too.

Speaker 4 (17:47):
I moved him, you know, my skills and talent just
shocked and moved him, impressed him. That was a moment
that I always remember the rest of my life.

Speaker 5 (17:56):
What were you thinking when you saw your hero out
there severing through his illness.

Speaker 4 (18:01):
How strong he was, how he endured and he continued
to push on. You know, he lived his life all
the way to the end. He never gave up, stand
up human being in a proud Black man.

Speaker 7 (18:13):
We still talk about him.

Speaker 6 (18:15):
I said, a week doesn't go by that we don't
have a conversation about Ali.

Speaker 7 (18:19):
That's what kind of drew me.

Speaker 6 (18:21):
To Davis, because of Ali, because of his relationship with
Ali and how much Ali liked him, and all that
stuff that drew me to him. That honest guy that
drew me to Davis.

Speaker 1 (18:32):
James Man, I really liked hanging with you way back
in nineteen ninety. I remember you told me the one
thing you learned from Ali was to be kind to people.
I learned that from him too. I was a shy,
messed up kid who never talked to anybody, and Ali
inspired me as a kid. But then when I got
to know him as a grown up, as an adult,

that's something I really picked up from him. If I
could take my kids to drive through, I talked to
whoever's behind the counter, Wahi's name in a lot I'll
say every once a while. You know, I was friends
with Muhammad Ali, and what he would say to you
right now is he'd say.

Speaker 2 (19:07):
You are the prettiest, you are the greatest. Believe it
and get out there and be it that lights people up.
Do you feel that it had that effect on you.

Speaker 4 (19:17):
Yeah, that's a beautiful thing. That's a beautiful thing. That's
that's something that you can take with you. Or meeting
Ali and being around Doley is to be humble and
more outgoing, more acceptive to a lot of people that
you may have not normally been like that. Absolutely, now
there's something that you gain that you get from Ali.
Being around Loley being in his presence.

Speaker 1 (19:37):
He treated almost everybody like family. Every once while he'd
shy away from somebody. I trust his instincts on that,
But for the most part, it was like he did
with you guys.

Speaker 4 (19:46):
You know, it just rubs off on you.

Speaker 1 (19:48):
He treated people as if they really mattered and if
they were part of his family, and they were part
of him.

Speaker 4 (19:54):
In a strong presence, larger than life.

Speaker 1 (19:56):
I want to tell you my story of what happened
after you knocked out Tyson. Everybody in the world started
calling me. I worked out of the house and I
had a phone upstairs. Back in the days when you know,
there were no cell phones. Everything was still plugged into
the wall. And the phone up in my office was ringing.
The phone downstairs was ringing, and then it kept bringing upstairs,
kept bringing downstairs. I was in bed asleep. I woke

up and I answered the phone downstairs, and it was
my wife's brother. He said, Tyson just got knocked out.
Douglas just knocked out Tyson. I turned to my wife
and I said, the brat just got knocked out. Then
I went upstairs and checked on my phone in my
office and it was all lit up, and I started
playing back the messages. It was one from my editor

at Sports magazine called me, Davis, this is great. You
can't imagine the timing on this that you had that
had to beat Mike Tyson piece and then Douglas knocked
him out. And then it was like the fourth or
fifth message there was his voice, and the voice said,
they're still going to compare Tyson to me now, and
it was behind. It was the same thing as when

you met him in that hotel room. And so when
I met you, I felt that connection too. You were
the same size as Mohammed, which is another thing that
was part of how you were just made to order
to whoop Tyson's ass. Not only the jab, but you
had that reach so mobile, the beautiful right hand, the
beautiful uppercut, you had it, all, all the tools, and

you put them together in that fight on that night.

Speaker 4 (21:27):
Total folks.

Speaker 6 (21:29):
Ali was to me was the greatest fighter of all time.
And I think the only person that was close to
him was Sugar Ray Robinson. Ali was the best of
all time. And Jame's one of the nicest guys I've
ever met in my life. He's just a special individual.
He's carrying the whole time I've known him, I saw
mad like maybe once.

Speaker 7 (21:49):
We rode Parley's together. So he had rode up to
my house.

Speaker 6 (21:56):
I lived in an acron and he lived at Columbus,
and I was going to go over to my aunt
and to see my mom.

Speaker 7 (22:01):
My mom was over there. James, you want to go?
He says, yeah, let's go. So he went over. It
was my mother, my aunt, and my.

Speaker 6 (22:10):
Uncle in the house, all elderly, and so me and
Buster rode our bikes went in the house. We had
talked for quite a while and my aunt says to
my mom.

Speaker 7 (22:18):
She goes, man, those two guys are good friends. And
she goes, no, they're brothers.

Speaker 4 (22:28):
And that's him.

Speaker 7 (22:29):
That's how he is. Till my uncle died, and he
lived to be like two months from a hundred.

Speaker 6 (22:34):
My aunt said every time someone come in that house
and sit on that couch, he would look at them
and say, that's exactly where Buster Douglas sat.

Speaker 7 (22:43):
That's Buster Douglas. That's Buster Douglas. One of the nicest
men I've ever met in my life.

Speaker 1 (22:49):
He is a completely sweet man, James, and I felt
that on you from the moment I first met you.
It's a gift.

Speaker 4 (22:56):
Well, it was something that not only got from Ali,
but with my mother and father as well. They were
very charitable people. Growing up. A house was one of
the central spots in the neighborhood where the kids came
and hanged out at and my father worked at the
rect Center as well. Boxing instructed when I started boxing
back in the early seventies, So it was just something

that carried over from there, and then media Iley just
took it to another level because here was all time
Idol was just as nice and kind and generous man's
my parents was just a natural jail. I'm back at
Columbus Parks and Wreck Boxing Instructed at the same department
that I started my parmateur boxing career, at the same

program and doing them my father did when I was
ten when he introduced me to the sport.

Speaker 7 (23:43):
He's keeping those kids off the streets, is what he's doing.

Speaker 6 (23:46):
They love it, right, Yeah, guys coming in there are homeless,
younger guys, and he takes them under his wing, gives
them money, feeds them and they come every day to
see them. They come every day to see them, and
then their mother will call James and thank him.

Speaker 7 (23:59):
For what he's doing. For those guys. He's a good
human being. That's what he is.

Speaker 4 (24:03):
Because I can see now the work that my father
did back then. I run into individuals that was training
with me as a kid that are productive citizens today,
and they say how I follow a great influence on
them as well, Billy Donomane Douglas, And you know that's
a great, great feeling man full circle.

Speaker 1 (24:31):
On our next episode of the Down of Muhammad Ali,
at twenty three years old, I fall in love for
the first time.

Speaker 2 (24:40):
I fall hard, and when Lynn and.

Speaker 1 (24:43):
I decide to get married, I realized I can no
longer play around at being Muhammad Ali Junior, not anymore commitment, responsibility,
a new path alive with mystery, responsibility and disappointment. How
would Muhammad Ali play into all this? Stay tuned to

find out.

Speaker 2 (25:08):
Also, you had some really incredible questions and it took
me back.

Speaker 1 (25:13):
Muhammad's daughter Rashida unveils stories about her fun, loving father
during his later years.

Speaker 3 (25:20):
The questions made me cry, but also it just made
me remember how a special daddy who was to all
of us and my kids, and how he's missed every day.

Speaker 1 (25:28):
Next time, on the Dao of Muhammad Ali, the Dao
of Muhammad Ali is produced by Imagine Audio for iHeart
Podcast and hosted by me Davis Miller. My co host
is Craig Mortally, Carl Welker, Mark Bouch, Nathan Kloke, Davis
Miller and Derek Jennings are.

Speaker 2 (25:50):
The executive producers.

Speaker 1 (25:52):
Sound design and mixing by Juan Borda, music by DJ
Sparr and introducing Isaac Miller. If you enjoyed this episode,
be sure to rate and review The Dao of Muhammad
Ali on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast
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