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Scott D. Pierce: Holmes and Frazier still love Ali — well, sort of

Muhammad Ali lights 2002 Winter Olympics relay torch.
Muhammad Ali lights 2002 Winter Olympics relay torch.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PASADENA, Calif. — Larry Holmes said he's always going to love Muhammad Ali. Joe Frazier wasn't so sure.

They're two of the 10 boxers who faced off against the legendary Ali in the ring and tell their stories in "Facing Ali," a documentary film that airs Monday at 7 and 9 p.m. on Spike.

It's one of 15 films nominated for best documentary features at this year's Academy Awards.

"Facing Ali" is a different perspective on the three-time heavyweight champion — 10 men who stepped into the ring with him.

Holmes said he's "always going to remember" what happened after he beat Ali to retain the heavyweight title in 1980.

"I went to his room, and my memory is, 'Hey, Ali, man, you're always going to be the greatest in my book. And I love you,' " Holmes said. "And he says to me, 'Why you beat me up, then?' "

"And that's when I got it, man — when I left out of that room. Because he was still making jokes with an ice pack on and everything. … Ali was great, and I loved Ali then. I love him now. And Joe Frazier might say he doesn't like Ali, but Joe loves Ali, too."

"Love seeing him falling down," replied Frazier, who fought Ali three times and won once.

"You love Ali," Holmes persisted. "Come on. Tell the people you love Ali."

"Of course I love him," Frazier said, quickly pointing out that they both made millions of dollars fighting each other.

In addition to Holmes and Frazier, the film features George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, George Foreman, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks and Ernie Terrell.

"The foundation of the film really is, in fact, these 10 champions," said Derik Murray, who produced "Facing Ali." "It's their opportunity to tell their side of the story.

"I think each of the boxers would absolutely come on board and say, 'We would have loved to have had Ali participate and enrich our film.' But he's not able to."

Ali, of course, couldn't participate in the film because his advanced Parkinson's disease makes it impossible for him to speak for himself.

"And these 10 champions have done an amazing job," Murray said. "There are story lines and aspects of this film that have never been seen before."

"Ali was a great man. Don't take anything away from him," Holmes said. "But he needed people like Joe Frazier, like myself, like Kenny Norton to be the champion that he was."

Holmes, who was Ali's sparring partner before he won the title for himself, said he hasn't seen his old friend in a couple of years.

"And the reason why I don't go to see him is because I don't want to see him like that," he said. "I want to take what I remember of him, and I want to keep that. I don't want to think about the way he is now."

Frazier's own ambivalence about Ali stems from the things Ali said about him. Insults Ali tossed at Frazier with impunity.

"He doesn't love me. He called me ugly," Frazier said — and that was one of the milder insults.

"You wanted Ali to tell you you were pretty?" Holmes interjected.

"Why not?" Frazier asked.

"He's a man," Holmes replied. "A man is supposed to call a man ugly."

Ali's showmanship — including belittling his opponents — was part of what made him so popular.

"You guys liked it. You guys thought it was funny," Holmes said. "We didn't think it was funny at the time. But he said a lot of things to me, said a lot of things to Joe about Joe. And we didn't appreciate it. We were there to fight and to win."

But Holmes, at least, isn't holding any grudges.

"Ali played a very important part in our lives," he said. "Without him, boxing probably wouldn't have been alive because he had the mouth. He can talk, and he made people like him. He made people that didn't like him — he made them like him.

"So Ali had a lot going for himself. He had a lot of charisma. … Everybody around the world learned to love him."

Even Frazier loves Ali. Sort of.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com