Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Minnesota boxing legend Scott LeDoux stepped into the ring with Muhammad Ali

Scott LeDoux, also known as Minnesota's Rocky, stares down Muhammad Ali
before their five-round exhibition in December 1977.
Image courtesy of the family of Scott LeDoux.
























BY PAUL LEVY


Scott LeDoux loved talking about Muhammad Ali. He fought the champ in a five-round exhibition in Chicago in 1977. LeDoux and his manager visited Ali at his California mansion and watched movies together. And LeDoux loved telling the story of Ali meeting Scott’s first wife, Sandy.

“How did he get you?” the champ asked Sandy LeDoux.

“He got me when I was young,” she told Ali.

LeDoux’s introduction to Ali came in February of 1964, when Scott was a teenager. Cassius Clay, the brash Olympic gold medalist, fought the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston for the heavyweight crown in Miami that night, and LeDoux listened intently to the round-by-round recaps on his Philco radio. I was 13 at the time and remember crawling under my covers with my transistor radio, rooting for the charismatic challenger against the evil Liston, all the while trying to contain my excitement from my parents, who assumed I’d gone to sleep.

Like many children of the 1960s, Ali would become one of my heroes—and it all started that night. Years later, I met Ali—and promoter Don King—in a New York hotel elevator, a surreal experience, to be sure. But sharing an elevator with Ali and sharing the ring with the champ were two very different experiences. And LeDoux couldn’t wait to go toe-to-toe with Ali, even if for only five rounds in which Ali wore headgear, oversized gloves, and about 20 extra pounds.

This is what he told Ali at a press conference promoting their exhibition:

Float like a buffalo
Sting like a tank
You couldn’t hurt me
If you were swinging a plank
You may be big
You may be fast
You fight me
You’ll end up last.

To which Ali replied, “Not bad for a white boy.”

This is the essence of what attracted me to LeDoux. It started in 2007, when I worked as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and LeDoux was an Anoka County commissioner. The county was bidding for a stadium that would house the Minnesota Vikings, in Blaine. I was at the Minnesota State Capitol, covering the evolving story. LeDoux never ducked a fight and rarely ducked any questions. He became a source.

But I wanted to know more about a stadium that, ultimately, would be built in Minneapolis. There were more important questions to ask LeDoux.

“What was it like to get punched in the head by George Foreman in his prime?” I asked LeDoux.

“Why would you ask that?” LeDoux responded.

“Because,” I told him, “I’ve never met anyone crazy enough to suffer through that.”

LeDoux told me that Foreman bloodied his nose and opened a 12-stitch gash above his left cheek.

“George Foreman hit me so hard my ancestors in France felt it,” LeDoux told me—and anyone else who asked.




That’s how the seeds for my biography of LeDoux, The Fighting Frenchman, were planted. LeDoux was a boxing historian who loved telling boxing tales. More often than not, when LeDoux regaled me with boxing stories, the conversation always floated like a butterfly back to Ali.

LeDoux loved to tell the story of Ali agreeing—in principle—to fight LeDoux for the title and how the dream unraveled when Ali lost his championship to Leon Spinks, the young Olympian who took a pounding from LeDoux when LeDoux and Leon fought to a draw in Las Vegas.

The title fight with Ali never materialized—not even after Ali reclaimed his crown by defeating Spinks in a rematch. But Ali remained a presence in LeDoux’s life. Ali was ringside at the old Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, when LeDoux fought Larry Holmes for the title in 1980. And LeDoux was part of the undercard when Ali fought for the final time, in the Bahamas.

Through the years, Ali and LeDoux continued to occasionally cross paths, thanks in part to LeDoux’s charitable work or his travels as a ringside announcer for ESPN. LeDoux, who died in 2011, said he last saw Ali in 2006.

When you examine their careers, it’s hard to place Scott LeDoux in the same category as Muhammad Ali. The last person who would do that was LeDoux, who reminded doubters that he wasn’t a cheap date. But he wasn’t Ali. When you hear the title “The Greatest,” you think of Ali and only Ali.

Yet, during the days following Ali’s passing, I could not help but marvel at how fate linked the careers of LeDoux and one of the dominant personalities and athletes of all time.

“Guys like Ali have it every night,” LeDoux said. “Guys like me have it once or twice in a career.”


-------

Paul Levy was a writer for the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune for thirty-five years. He has written for the New York Times, ABC News, the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, and Mother Jones.

"Nobody ever gave 100 percent like Scott did. You can argue about his technique, but not his heart and effort. Of course, after every fight he lost, he’d say, ‘He never touched me,’ or that it was a lucky punch."
—Bob Lurtsema, Minnesota Vikings legend

No comments:

Post a Comment