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Ringside Report Book Review: The Man Who Put A Curse on Muhammad Ali By Norman Giller

By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart

As we get our heads around the Saudi influence in our favorite sport and how money makes people converse together, one of the major talking points was how Joseph Parker, in beating Deontay Wilder stopped the dream fight of Anthony Joshua up against Wilder and lead to the second professional Francis Ngannou contest.

Rewind to the 6th of April 1976. Bernd August, German heavyweight, in against Yorkshire’s very own Richard Dunn who was supposed to be the steppingstone for August getting ready for a pre booked fight in Germany against Muhammad Ali. In the 3rd round Richard Dunn ruined it all. He beat August and the winner stayed on to fight Ali.

The hall had been booked so there was no backing out now, but instead of a German hero, they were getting Ali against who? Norman Giller was the man employed to tell us precisely who.

From the very beginning this was a fight that needed someone to sell it. Giller, a man with a pedigree in doing just that, put together a beauty of a promotion which, though it never managed to find enough heather for a fire, was ringside for one of the most bizarre events in boxing in the 70’s, in fact ever.

This book begins in a tightly structured 15-chapter, 15 round format, to tell the tale of how he got a man who was a legend in his own head, Ronald Markham, stage name Romark, as part of the promotion. Self-styled as a mentalist, hypnotist and illusionist, he had managed to get everyone – including the mainstream media – to believe he had the power to drive blindfold round London. The stunt lasted 20 yards before Romark ploughed into the back of a huge police van.

Romark was the man, as noted in the title, who was going to put a curse on Ali, and help Dunn win. If he did, it didn’t work, and Dunn simply came up short in a half-filled hall that was filled more by thoughts and memories than action. But what thoughts and memories they were. The fact was that Giller nor anyone in Dunn’s camp were fooled by Romark, but Giller needed something to sell the event and Romark was the best he could get.

The whole enterprise and the unbelievability of the tactics used to get people to become interested in this contest has provided a tremendous book. Divided into three it has, in the first part an account which is sparkling with understatement and incredulity on behalf of the author who knows what happened as he was definitely there. What emerges from these pages is Richard Dunn, a man with great dignity, who was literally as he remarks, “…given this chance in a million to win t’greatest prize in sport.” Originally wanting to be a rugby star, this giant of a man settled onto a career which was to include being the British, Commonwealth and European champion. After the Ali fight, he came home to a hero’s welcome despite the fact that he had not managed to get past the 5th round. He was to fight twice more thereafter, before retiring from the game but his presence within it is at the heart of the first part of a book that quite simply, as the writer says, you had to be there to believe it was happening.

But there is also all of the problems of the 1970’s with the “mesmerizing” Micky Duff, Dunn’s promoter who rightly has legendary status within the business. His stamp is all over this and his ability to take complex ideas and turn them into grudging grunts of instructions is all over the storyline. The Shakespearean reference to “lead on Mick Duff” is well made and beautifully framed for this has all the complexities of a Shakespearean comedy.

There are so many huge personalities who merit final chapters, epilogues dedicated to them, but Giller provides two of real note. Firstly, the demise of Romark himself. It is a fitting end to a man with more self-belief than ability as he was jailed for fraud.

The final man was never a fraud and that was Ali himself. As Giller was dispatched to get Ali’s boxing gloves signed by the great man, a promise given by Ali himself that he would do it, we are carried by the author on that walk to the hotel room door, feeling his nervousness with every step. The encounter between the author and his hero avoids schmaltzy but manages to capture the beauty of a man who truly lived a life of charm. As Ali is also my hero, I loved rereading the chapter to keep those thoughts and impressions fresh enough with the crispness of the explanations given by Giller.

The final part of this half of the book is the second section which is an Ali timeline which is nice, but there are better ones elsewhere. We also get a part two, the third section which is all the heavyweight champions to date. And I mean all of them. Each get a pen picture and quote each which is nice to have in the one place for reference purposes. It could be said that it highlights the complexity of something that in the first half had a beautiful craziness, but it underlines just how difficult defining who is the heavyweight champion of the world actually is…

Overall, this was thoroughly enjoyable and Giller has an engaging writing style which you can find in many more tomes he has authored. If you get a chance to find them, I would go beyond this and check them out too.

UK buyers

US buyers