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Never-seen Muhammad Ali footage added to 'Champions' DVD update

Robert W. Butler
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a life of encounters with celebrities, comedians and crooks, Craig Glazer has met all sorts.

The one who sticks with him the most is Muhammad Ali. But Glazer wasn't always a fan.

"When he first became famous I was a kid and a fan of Sonny Liston," Glazer, owner of Stanford's Comedy Club in Kansas City, Kan., said.

"I hated Cassius Clay. I thought, 'Who is this loudmouth? I hope he gets the crud beat out of him.' "

More than 45 years have passed, and Glazer now believes that that "loudmouth" may be the most influential pop culture figure of the late 20th century. Of course the former Cassius Clay, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, keeps a low profile, rarely making public appearances and never giving interviews.

In fact, the last in-depth series of interviews Ali gave were conducted by Glazer as part of the 1991 boxing documentary "Champions Forever." This month "Champions" was re-released on DVD in "The Definitive Edition," this time with scads of Ali material not used in the original production.

"I'm claiming, though I couldn't prove it, that this was Ali's last interview. Or at least his last meaningful interview," Glazer said. "I think it's an important part of history."

The never-before-seen footage finds Ali in a playful mood, joking with Glazer and the film crew, mock sparring and giving blow-by-blow recaps of his greatest fights.

The former champ talks about the meaning of his life, death and how he wants to be remembered.

How Glazer became part of the Ali saga is a story in itself. He'd just gotten out of prison, the culmination of a decade-long scam in which Glazer and a partner posed as drug agents and set up fake busts, seizing money from big-time dealers and keeping it for themselves. He and pal Don Woodbeck got so good at it that they were hired by the authorities to be real narcs. (Those events are recounted in Glazer's 2008 book "The King of Sting," now in development as a feature film.)

The newly freed Glazer had just moved into a halfway house for ex-cons when he was contacted by a former inmate making a boxing documentary.

"The producers were looking for help because they knew nothing about boxing," Glazer said. "They didn't know which fight was which, but I was a huge fan. So I'm two days in a halfway house in L.A. and a Rolls-Royce pulls up, and the next thing I know I'm on the lot at MGM with Ali and George Foreman."

Cut to a year later at the film's premiere party at Century City in Los Angeles. The big-name sportscaster who was to interview the movie's stars — Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes — was late showing up.

"All these celebrity athletes are standing there with nothing to do," Glazer said. "I said, 'Hey, I'm a movie producer now.' So I jumped the rope, they turned on the camera and I started asking questions."

"Champions Forever" was a huge success, with a solid theatrical run. For a time it was the world's best-selling sports video.

Glazer's credit as a producer on the film led to a brief career making sports documentaries. "Suddenly Hollywood figured I knew how to do sports movies."

He cranked out a sequel — "Champions Forever: The Latin Legends" — and a movie about racecar drivers.

And with some of that money he and partner Ron Hamady launched an effort to buy the rights to "Champions Forever."

"They'd given it to this lawyer, Ed Masry, and he's the guy I negotiated with," Glazer said. "He had this assistant you might have heard of named Erin Brockovich."

Along with the finished film, Glazer and Hamady bought all the unused footage, including Glazer's Ali interview at the premiere.

"I'd edited the movie while the other producers were taking these athletes to lunch, and I knew there was lots of footage that wasn't used — not to mention my interviews at the premiere. I knew that one day it would be worth a lot of money.

"Now, 20 years later, that day has come."

The new, expanded "Champions Forever" was finished three years ago. But legal issues ate up many months.

"It took that long to get approval to use the additional footage," Glazer said. "We had to go through an army of lawyers. You don't mess with the Ali tradition, and he's got lots of people looking out for his interests. But we finally got the final OK, and I'm glad it's out."

This "Champions" is 30 minutes longer than the original, but it could have been longer still, Glazer said.

"There's still lots of unseen footage with Norton, Foreman, Frazier and Holmes. All five of these heavyweight champs haven't been in the same room together since then."

For better or worse, Ali changed the idea of fame in America, Glazer said.

"You can credit him among other things with launching this whole ideology of the last 30 years of athletes telling you how handsome and great they were. It's an attitude that's common today in sports and hip-hop.

"Before Ali, athletes made a point of being humble. He angered a lot of people. The thing is, Ali could back it up."

———

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