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"60 Minutes" Legends Pull No Punches:
Mike Wallace & Ed Bradley Talk Boxing
By Barry Lindenman
When "60 Minutes," the hard hitting, investigative news program debuted on CBS thirty two years ago, Muhammad Ali was still the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world. However, at the time in September of 1968, his boxing license had been revoked for his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. army the year before. Decades later and 69 Emmy Awards later, "60 Minutes" still consistently ranks among the Nielsen's Top 10 highest rated prime time television programs.
Since it first aired, Mike Wallace has been co-editor of "60 Minutes." Still going strong at the age of 82, Wallace's no holds barred interviews and features have made him, along with the show itself, legendary. His long list of interview subjects reads like a "who's who" of world history: John F. Kennedy, the Shah of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Ronald Reagan, Muammar Qaddafi, Richard Nixon, Anwar el-Sadat and countless others. Among the vast amount of prestigious awards that he has earned during his distinguished career, Mike Wallace has won 19 Emmy Awards in recognition for his outstanding achievement in television journalism. Originally hailing from Brookline, Massachusetts, Wallace graduated from the University of Michigan in 1939. He has two grown children and lives in New York with his wife Mary.
The city of Philadelphia has a reputation for turning out some of the toughest fighters ever: Joe Frazier, Battling Levinsky, Lew Tendler, Midget Wolgast, Bob Montgomery, Harold Johnson, Joey Giardello, Bernard Hopkins, and of course, the fictional Rocky Balboa. It should come as no surprise that the tough, hard nosed journalism that Ed Bradley is known for can be traced back to his Philadelphia roots. Despite boxing some himself in high school, the toughness that Ed Bradley has come to be known for is as an investigative television journalist. For the last twenty years, he has become a fixture, along with Mike Wallace, as one of the co-editors of "60 Minutes." Like Wallace, Bradley's outstanding journalistic coverage over the years has garnished him numerous awards and accolades, among them, 11 Emmy Awards. After launching his broadcast career with WDAS Radio in Philadelphia in 1963, he first joined the CBS network in 1967. Following a four year stint with CBS Radio, Bradley landed a job in their Paris bureau in 1971. He was assigned to the CBS Washington bureau in 1974 and was the CBS News White House correspondent from 1976 - 1978. Bradley also became anchor of the "CBS Sunday Night News" in 1976 where he remained until joining "60 Minutes" in 1981. He graduated from Cheyney State College, just outside of Philadelphia in 1964. Like Wallace, Ed Bradley currently lives in New York.
BL: Ed, you're originally from Philadelphia, a city traditionally known as a hotbed for boxing. Is that how you first got educated about the sport?
EB: I first became a fan because of Joe Louis. When I was a kid, I remember everybody in my neighborhood crowding around the radio to listen to Joe Louis fights. It was a neighborhood event. That was my real introduction to the sport of boxing. After the Joe Louis era, the first fights I actually saw on television were on the old "Friday Night Fights"show. I used to watch the fights with my uncle. I remember seeing guys like Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, Rocky Marciano and Joey Giardello. You're right. There were some great fighters in Philly. When I first got into radio, I realized that no one covered sports at the station where I was. That was a chance for me to do two things. First, if I went to the fights, I could get on the air by reporting the fights. Plus, I could get in the fights for free!
BL: What about you Mike?
MW: As a kid, I remember seeing Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling. I must say, being Jewish, I loved it. I used to love to watch Sugar Ray Robinson fight. Rocky Marciano came from Brockton, a town close to my hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts. So I obviously paid a lot of attention to his career.
BL: What is it about boxing that appeals to you as a fan?
EB: Some people see a fight and just think of it as someone knocking somebody out with a left hook. I like watching all the footwork and coordination because it's always more than just a left hook. There are other things that set up the left hook. It was knowing that and understanding some of that as I got to cover boxing and observe training and things like that. I would watch a trainer saying, "jab, jab, hook, cross," and see a fighter throw that series of punches. So part of the attraction for me is understanding what it's all about. If you watch somebody who's a good boxer and not just a slugger, you're gonna see someone who is a graceful athlete.
MW: When you see a fight like the "Thrilla in Manilla," it's extraordinary. It's skill and courage. It's all of the things that you would want to see in a boxing match. I loved watching Sugar Ray Leonard. When Leonard fought Tommy Hearns in Las Vegas, it was stunning. At certain times when I'm watching a championship fight on HBO or pay-per-view, I feel that wonderful thrill of what's about to happen. My adrenaline is pumping and I get very curious to see who's gonna do what to whom. Unlike a football game which is gonna go four quarters or a baseball game which is gonna go nine innings, you never know when a fight is going to end. And you also never know when a fighter who's losing badly, is all of a sudden gonna turn it around with one or two punches. It's fascinating to me from that angle.
BL: You both are huge tennis fans as well, even attending the U.S. Open regularly. Do you ever attend fights live in places like Madison Square Garden, Vegas and Atlantic City or are you more of a TV fan?
EB: I just sort of stopped going. I got out of the habit of going to fights. I'll watch a good fight on television but I haven't been to a live fight in a long time.
MW: I have in the past. I remember going to the Ingemar Johansson - Floyd Patterson fight in Yankee Stadium in the rain. That was a million years ago. I don't go regularly but when I get interested in a particular fighter then I do go. For instance, I once did a profile of Rock Newman, who as you know was the manger of Riddick Bowe. So I spent a lot of time with Riddick. I was at his first fight with Golota, which was chaos, as you know.
BL: What's your opinion about the current popularity of women's boxing? Do you think they should be given a legitimate chance to display their skills or do you think it is just a sideshow attraction to sell more tickets?
EB: I think if they want to get in there and hit each other, they should be given a legitimate chance. It's All a sideshow to sell tickets. Men's boxing is also a sideshow to sell tickets. Everybody's in it to make some money. Why should women be any different? If a woman wants to take a left hook to the chin, that should be her right. I think boxing should be an equal opportunity sport.
MW: I despise it. I find it grotesque. Maybe that's just an old man talking who's not used to that kind of thing. We commercialize everything and I suppose that from the point of view of the promoters, it's a perfectly sensible way to make a living. But I don't want to watch it.
BL: Does the thought of seeing Mike Tyson fight again still intrigue you or are you fed up with all his antics and abnormal behavior?
EB: To me, Mike Tyson has been a great disappointment. I think he could have been a truly great fighter. Instead of a great fighter, I think he's a great disappointment.
MW: I feel sorry for Mike actually. I once had the opportunity to sit down with him for a little bit. Not on television but in an airport terminal in California. We were both waiting for a flight back to New York. This was a long time ago but I was struck by what an intelligent, complex guy he was. There was more to him than just being a fighter. I was surprised. I knew Cus D'Amato and I liked and admired him. So I was interested in Mike from that angle. Obviously, the poor bastard just took leave of his senses.
BL: Ed, you spent some time with Muhammad Ali a few years ago in a piece for 60 minutes. What are your thoughts about him now as he struggles with his current physical condition?
EB: Muhammad Ali is a seminal figure in all our lives. We're roughly the same age so I grew up following Muhammad Ali. I remember him as far back as the 1960 Olympics. I remember the first professional fights he had even before the Sonny Liston fight when he was still Cassius Clay. I remember him standing up for what he believed in and refusing to go into the military. You take all of that in with you when you sit down with Muhammad Ali. But having said all of that, yes he is Muhammad Ali but basically, he's a kindhearted, funny and generous man. And he loves magic and he'll show you how he does the tricks!
MW: I remember watching Ali spar in Miami at the very beginning of his career. My Lord, how long ago was that? I love the man. I find him to be a very gentle, interesting and funny man. When I see him occasionally at various events, he looks happy to me. All things considered, he seems to be having a fairly fulfilling life.
BL: Who do you think has been the most important person in Muhammad Ali's life? Would you say its Elijah Muhammad, Howard Bingham, Angelo Dundee, his current wife Lonnie?
EB: I don't think there has been any one person that has dominated Muhammad's life, other than Muhammad Ali. I would say that Lonnie is probably the most important individual in his life now because Muhammad is her life. When he was boxing, maybe Angelo Dundee. I think he was a critical part of his life during his career. I think Howard Bingham (Ali's longtime friend and personal photographer) has been the most important person for the longest time because he's been with him for so many years. I think Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X played key roles in his life. But I don't think there has been any one person more important in Muhammad Ali's life, than Muhammad Ali.
MW: I would think Dundee, probably. Elijah Muhammad and the nation of Islam gave Ali a sense of belonging to something that he apparently needed. I must say that I admire his wife immensely. She seems to take very good care of him.
BL: What do you think has been the biggest change in boxing that has hurt its credibility and popularity in recent years?
EB: All of these divisions that they have now. I think it's silly. It used to be just heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, lightweight, featherweight, bantamweight and flyweight. Now there's all this "junior" this, "super" that, "cruiser" this. All it is is to create more titles, which means more money. I think its bullshit.
MW: I think it's the common belief that boxing is corrupt and that people like Don King can not be trusted. He's entertaining. I wish he'd cut his hair but he's entertaining. But people wonder how much of boxing is on the up and up.
BL: Ever experienced frustrations on "60 Minutes" over a story that made you feel like hitting someone?
EB: I don't think so. I work hard at controlling my temper. I used to let Mike (Wallace) take shots at my stomach. I'd say, "go ahead Mike, take your best shot." He enjoyed that (laughing).
MW: That is correct. I have a picture of Ed with both his arms up saying in effect, "take a wack at me." And I would. I'd hit him in the stomach. After a while, he decided that he wanted to do the same thing to me and so that brought an end to that! We haven't done it a long time.
Jersey Joe Walcott