Paul Johnson

Weekdays 6am-9am

In 52-plus years of broadcasting, I’ve been been SO lucky to have met more than my fair share of entertainers, celebrities and personalities! I promise I have never (nor will I ever) take my good fortune for granted! More than once, some of my friends have said, “You need to put all that in a book.” Well, I’m not so sure about that – but I figure I CAN start organizing some thoughts and things and put them in a common place!  So here is one of my stories on the 40th anniversary of one of the coolest sports moments I’ve ever lived through, featuring Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell.

My hometowns of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. are famous for lots of great things but heavyweight title fights aren’t one of them. In my lifetime, there’s been only one – Monday, July 7, 1980. During 1977 to 1981, I worked at 50,000-watt legendary Top-40-turned-Country station 1130 WDGY as Nighttime DJ and Research Director. I lived in Bloomington then. The station and Met Sports Center were also in Bloomington.

Daytime hours were my playtime so when the fight came to town, I made up my mind to hang around the Sports Center as much as I could and take in the heavyweight championship fight “experience.” I did some favors for Don King’s publicist (if I recall correctly his name was Murray Abramson.) He took a liking to me and answered most of the thousand questions I asked him.

As the weigh-in ceremony at the nearby Thunderbird Motel approached, Murray took me upstairs to a terrace overlooking the stage and said, “When the weigh-in starts you’ll want to stand right here!” pointing to a place on the raised platform just beyond the aisle on the front edge of the veranda. “In this area?”, I asked. “No — on this exact spot!”, he emphasized.

I followed instructions and, as the weigh-in of the events card’s participants began, I was transfixed on the proceedings – not even aware the veranda was filling up with other observers. Just as Saoul Mamby was being regaled and introduced as one of the gladiators contending for the IBF Light-Welterweight crown, the unmistakably distinct voice of the man beside me proclaimed, “Why don’t they bypass the tiny men and bring on the fighters!” It was legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell, resplendent in a plaid suit! On the other side of Cosell was a then-prominent Minnesota Vikings wide receiver.

No sooner had I recognized them, than the rest of the crowd on the terrace erupted with a buzz! An entourage shuffling down the aisle stopped right in front of Cosell only to reveal Muhammad Ali, showing his old friend/nemesis and interviewer a scowl!  Cosell said, “Ah, the once-great former Heavyweight Champion of the world – greeting me with a sneer! Is that the way you say hello to the man who made your career?” Ali countered, “I was the one who made you, Cosell!” To which Cosell replied, “Say, Ali, I’d like you to meet a REAL athlete … Ahmad Rashad!” We all laughed. Ali shook Rashad’s hand, sneered at Cosell again and left with his entourage for Ali’s seat for the weigh-in festivities.

As Holmes was finally called up to tip the scales, Ali, from his seat, taunted him, standing and yelling, “I want to fight you, Holmes!” then shadow-boxing in the direction of his former sparring partner turned champion.

It dawned on me I had just witnessed World Championship staging befitting the promotion of a World Championship fight. Ali’s appearance MADE the fight against journeyman Scott LeDoux bigger than the 7th Round TKO it would become. As the weigh-in wound down, I snuck over to where Ali was seated. We exchanged smiles, a handshake (his hand engulfed mine), I thanked him for being “the Greatest” and asked for his autograph.

As he did for anyone who ever asked (he humbly believed it was his “rent due” for being a celebrity), he obliged.

With the true patience of a Champion! The GREATEST EVER!