Tyson vs. Lewis 

It's the Rumble On the River, the Showdown In M-Town, the Fight Of the Century, the Clinch In the Pinch, or, blandly, the River Bout. We may not be sure what to call the Tyson-Lewis heavyweight title bout, but we definitely can't ignore it.

PHOTO JACKSON BAKER
Never before has Memphis seen a party like this. Celebrities are bling-blinging into town every hour on the hour, limos are lining the streets, parties are raging in every possible venue, and the casinos are preparing for famous guests and crowds of curious onlookers. For thrills per minute, this is one week in Mid-South history that will be hard to top.

Tunica is getting its share of the action. Tunica will get co-billing with Memphis on the pads around the ring, and Tyson's headquarters are at Fitzgeralds Casino while Lewis is set up at Sam's Town. Other casinos are also heavily into fight promotion. Horseshoe, for example, has comped every room in its hotel for the entire week before the fight, according to John Sisinni, vice president of player development.

"My only concern, or reservation, is that the fight won't happen, and we do still have a few days to go," says Don Barden, owner of Fitzgeralds. "That's my only concern. But both fighters are in town, so we're one step closer. Once they step in the ring and the bell sounds, I'll be happy. But I think it will come off just fine. I don't think there will be any bizarre incidents between now and then because there is so much at stake that anyone who does something silly would have to be stupid."

Lennox Lewis is working out at the Racquet Club, just a mile or so from the East Memphis home where he is staying. "He has a ring set up and will use the Pilates and some of our other services," said club owner Mac Winker. "What we don't know is the timing. It may be after-hours or before-hours. Our staff worked really hard with Everlast to put the ring together, and the Lewis people were very complimentary. It's the first time we've had boxers at the Racquet Club as far as I know."

It's the first time for a lot of things here. While not exactly boxing virgins, Mid-Southerners have never hosted a fight of this caliber. As the rappers, producers, actors, athletes, and millionaires of every description descend this week for the biggest spectacle in the city's history, shine up your gators, dust off your Gucci and your Prada, and sit back to watch the greatest show on earth, the greatest show this week anyway.

Not to be left out, the Flyer has put together a collection of stories to stoke the fire. Who to see and where to go, what it means to get knocked out, what Muhammad Ali's daughter and photographer Howard Bingham think of the showdown, and -- God forbid -- what could happen if something goes wrong.


EaR Candy

Taking a bite out of this week's musical offerings.

by Chris Herrington

Anyone who's seen When We Were Kings or who remembers Ali-Foreman firsthand knows that heavyweight title fights can be culturally galvanizing events. Well, the Tyson-Lewis Bloody On the Muddy or Battle On the Bluff or whatever we're calling it (I think Celebrity Boxing III is most apropos) is no Rumble in the Jungle, and the gaggle of celebrities descending upon a starstruck Memphis doesn't have the cultural cachet that James Brown, B.B. King, and Miriam Makeba brought to Kinshasa back in '74. Still, there are more A-list hip-hop and R&B performers hitting Memphis over fight weekend than usually in an entire year. Of course, you'll need to be psychic or extremely well-connected to negotiate the matrix of "official celebrity parties" and actual concert performances littering the city this week.

For starters, if you're thinking you'll be able to hear the King of Pop -- Jay-Z, silly -- drop a few rhymes, you may want to think again. Hip hop's Sinatra will be "hosting" a fight-night party at the Premier but is not scheduled to perform. For 75 bucks, you can bask in his presence, and for a $200 VIP ticket, you might get close enough to challenge him to a freestyle battle, in which case he'll either embarrass you with verbal acrobatics or, more likely, have one of his bodyguards show you the door.

But if you insist on making time among the avalanche of parties to actually hear some music, there seem to be at least a few safe bets: Middle-aged farts can safely get their grooves on Thursday, June 6th, with a couple of massive classic-soul concerts. A Memphis Music Revue at the DeSoto Civic Center boasts performances from R&B icons Al "Take Me To The River" Green and Isaac "Black Moses" Hayes, along with the Emotions and the Temprees. Back in the city, the Isley Brothers will join ever-present R&B road warriors Frankie Beverly and Maze for a massive throwdown at the Liberty Bowl.

On Friday, June 7th, the best bet is the Mahogany Soul Explosion at the Mud Island Ampitheater, which will pair two of neo-soul's finest divas, Erykah Badu and Angie Stone. Other options on Friday include a Def Jam Records party at the Premier hosted by legendary hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons.

On fight night itself, the action heats up with an Arista Records Showcase at the Lounge that will reportedly get the party started with performances by Philly b-girl Pink and soul man Donell Jones. Those looking for something wilder might want to shake their asses with Mystikal, who is apparently performing at the International Shell Complex, or get down with O.P.P. at the Tyson post-fight party at Central Station, which is advertising performances by Naughty By Nature, Ja Rule, and DJ Clue. Other Saturday night options include St. Lunatic offshoot Ali performing at Club Mardi Gras or, for you classier types, R&B thrush Kelly Price at Club Ivy.


Seeing Stars

Is that a famous person?

by Rebekah Gleaves

This week celebrities are attracting as much attention as the fighters. But where do you find them? Ask around and everyone's got an opinion.

"Every celebrity in Memphis will be at my party by the night's end," says local hip-hop producer Phat Boy, who is hosting a star-studded soiree Saturday night in The Peabody's Grand Ballroom. "It's the headquarters for all the media covering the events that night. I've already been contacted by Access Hollywood, Inside Edition, and BET about setting up their cameras here."

Phat Boy says you can expect to see celebrities like Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Jamie Fox, Ice Cube, Suge Knight, P. Diddy, and Omar Epps at his party. He's also expecting appearances from Jay-Z, Luther Campbell, Russell Simmons, Mel Gibson, Magic Johnson, Master P, and assorted members of 'NSync and the No Limit Family.

But Phat Boy's isn't the only party in town. Also on Saturday, the New Daisy expects Evander Holyfield, Halle Berry, Chris Tucker, Britney Spears, and WWF's the Rock to show at the after-party there.

No word yet on whether another Peabody guest, England's Prince Andrew, will make a cameo. But with celebs like Janet Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Ludacris, and Johnny "If the glove don't fit" Cochran expected in town, there's just no telling where they'll all turn up.

But it doesn't all start on Saturday. Thursday, Fitzgeralds Casino will host a late-night party following the Memphis Music Revue at the DeSoto Civic Center. "We'll have a lot of big celebrities in the house," says Don Barden, owner of Fitzgeralds. "We may have Evander Holyfield staying here. Perhaps Chris Webber and some of the Sacramento Kings will be here along with Michael Moorer, Jimmy Paul, and Frankie Beverly."

Everything heats up a bit more on Friday. So So Def Records is hosting a party at the Spot; Suge Knight is hosting a party at Denim & Diamonds; Universal Records is hosting a party at the Mardi Gras featuring Nelly; and Todd Day and Penny Hardaway are hosting a basketball game, the NBA Celebrity Jam, at Agricenter International.

Finally, on Saturday, Jermaine Dupri performs at Denim & Diamonds; Jay-Z hosts a party at the Premier; the Cash Money Millionaires and Roy Jones Jr. host a party at the Hard Rock Cafe; Magic Johnson hosts a party at Isaac Hayes; Three 6 Mafia and Mystikal are at the International Shell Complex; and Naughty By Nature and Lil John & the East Side Boyz will perform at the "official" Mike Tyson party at Central Station.

Say goodbye to all the famous people on Sunday at The Peabody Celebrity Brunch. Or head over to Church Park for the Ruff Ryder's Bike Show.

Then, for God's sake, get some rest.


Anatomy of a Knockout

by Janel Davis

Standing on one's feet, it is painful to absorb a heavy body punch even when blocked with one's arms. The torso, the legs, and the spine take the shock. One has to absorb the brunt of the punch.

-- Norman Mailer, The Fight

For a while, all boxers can dance. At the beginning of their bouts, the bell rings and both opponents come out of their corners fresh, like horses released from their stalls. As they size up their challenger, each one begins to dance the rhythmic footwork vital to their survival until, ultimately, vicious blows are landed and the dancing stops.

What happens when a boxer can no longer fly like a butterfly and the punches begin to sting like a bee? With heavyweight boxers weighing at least 190 pounds, ring physician Dr. Jerry Floyd says the force of one punch is equivalent to a car traveling 10 mph and crashing into a stationary object.

Floyd has been a ringside physician here in Memphis for four years and is a regular at matches held at the New Daisy. Floyd will also bring his expertise ringside for the upcoming Tyson-Lewis fight. His duties include giving each boxer a pre-fight physical, making medical recommendations regarding the boxers' health, and being a consultant to the referee.

"What you have to realize is that the brain is encased in a nonexpandable object, the cranium. When a boxer hits another boxer with a knockout punch [to the head], the knockout, as we call it, is actually a concussion," says Floyd. "There are two forces at work as the head is hit: the brain goes toward the back of the cranium and then comes forward to the front of the cranium. At this point, blood flow is cut off momentarily, and the brain is bruised."

Floyd says these same forces occur in football and repeated blows to the head can result in a boxer getting "punch drunk" or, in Muhammad Ali's case, pugilistic Parkinson's disease.

Not only does the punch affect the victim, it also affects the one doing the punching. "As the body is twisted [to deliver the punch], forces are translated from the shoulders to the arm to the fist like a battering ram," says Floyd.

"My father treated a lot of broken hands, dislocated shoulders, and broken wrists," says Hal Johnson, whose father, Memphis physician Dr. H.H. Johnson, served as a ringside doctor here throughout the 1940s and '50s. "The interesting thing about fight injuries is that the deficits don't make themselves known until sometimes as much as two weeks later. Boxing leaves a person with residual injuries."

H.H. Johnson's photographs of his "clients," including Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Joe Louis, are currently on display at the Art Village Gallery on South Main. Johnson, like Floyd, was responsible for the fighters' pre-fight condition and also treated battered fighters for blurred vision and disorientation after knockouts.

In order to curb severe injuries, Floyd believes a regulated boxing commission should be put in place to record data on fighters and to keep them from returning to the ring before their bodies are completely healed.

For Saturday's bout, Floyd expects no trouble. "In all my years as a fight doctor, I've never known a referee not to heed the advice of the ringside physician."


A Long Reach

An interview with Laila Ali.

by Bianca Phillips

Laila Ali, the daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, has made quite a name for herself in the world of boxing. Her new book, REACH!: Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power (Hyperion), chronicles her life, beginning with her childhood surrounded by fame and fortune to her eventual decision to go into boxing.

Ali took a few minutes out of her schedule to talk with the Flyer about her new book and the upcoming Tyson-Lewis fight.

Flyer: The title of your new book is REACH!: Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power. How can it help people find these elements within themselves?

Laila Ali: I think that using myself as an example is a motivational story. Everyone takes what they need from the book. I used my personal experiences to show that you don't have to let what you've done define you. You can be who you wanna be.

You write about growing up surrounded by fame and fortune. How do you feel that shaped who you are today?

Any way you grow up affects you. If my last name wasn't Ali, I'm sure I would have grown up differently. A lot of kids with famous parents grow up sheltered, but I still have humility and compassion, which I owe largely to my dad.

You also say in your book that everyone has a gift but the struggle is finding it. What advice would you give to others on how to go about finding that gift?

Trust your own feelings and your own heart. Don't get caught up in listening to what others want you to do.

After your parents divorced, you spent a large part of your childhood in a house full of women. Do you feel that had any influence on your chosen career path as a female boxer?

Yes, definitely. Any time you have to be independent and make your own decisions, that makes you stronger.

In REACH!, you write of "The Ditch," which you describe as "the place where women end up when they hide from reality." What are some signs that a woman has hit that point, and can you give any advice for getting out of it?

A sign that you've hit that point is when you're in a wrong situation and you don't have the strength to make a change. My advice would be to take risks and just make those changes. You've only got one life to live.

Has your father, a devout Muslim, ever expressed any reserve about his daughter becoming a boxer?

He was concerned at first because he didn't want me to get hurt, but he knew from the beginning that I was going to do what I wanted to do, and he knew I wasn't Muslim. He was just being a father caring about his daughter.

You write that you first realized you wanted to become a professional boxer after seeing the televised fight between Christy Martin and Deirdre Gogarty. What steps did you take to reach this goal?

I didn't go on and do it right away because I was in school full-time. I thought about it for a while. When I finally decided to do it, I went to the gym to see if I had it or not.

You write that as a child you often felt uncomfortable with all the attention your father attracted. Has that changed since you've stepped into the spotlight?

I'm not uncomfortable, but I don't like it. Some people like it and want all the attention they can get, but I'm fine going out in public and having no one recognize me.

Why did you choose a career that would place you as a celebrity when you have such a dislike for public life?

It's what my heart wanted to do, but it took a while just thinking about it. The celebrity part is what kept me considering it so long, but I wasn't going to let that hold me back. The fans are important, though. They're what make you who you are. I realized I was having a selfish attitude about the whole thing.

When you fought Kendra Lenhart, the main attraction was the fight between Mike Tyson and Andrew Golata. Did you get a chance to meet Tyson?

I've met him on many occasions. I don't really want to talk about him. He's not a celebrity to me. I mean, we live in the same town, and I see him all the time. He's just another fighter to me.

What's your opinion on the upcoming Tyson-Lewis fight in Memphis?

I think Lennox will win, but I wouldn't put money on it. Anything can happen when you're dealing with two people with that much power.

Do you plan to attend the fight?

I don't know yet. A lot of my friends will be in Memphis, and I'm fighting the night before. Maybe.

Laila Ali will be fighting Cynthia Lozano at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven on June 7th.


Fear Factor

Experts predict safe skies and perfect weather for this weekend's fight, but the past says otherwise.

by Mary Cashiola

Do you hear a train in the distance? They say that when a tornado is headed right for your house, it sounds just like a freight train.

Mike Tyson travels in just such a tornado, churning up controversy and destruction wherever he goes. After Tyson fought Bruce Seldon in Las Vegas in 1996, West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur was gunned down outside Caesar's Palace. When Tyson fought Evander Holyfield in 1997 and was disqualified for ear-biting, the MGM Grand casino stayed closed for hours after gun battles broke out. This doesn't even take into account the allegations of rape and assault that seem to follow Tyson wherever he goes.

What will happen when that tornado is let loose in Memphis?

Hopefully, nothing. The Memphis Police Department has created a security task force that's spent months brainstorming on security for June 8th.

"Take former President Clinton's and Al Gore's visit to Memphis: Security was very high then, but the fight is much bigger," says Memphis Police director Walter Crews. "We will manage the situation well. ... It's a challenge for us, but we will manage it."

Along with uniformed and undercover officers from the Memphis Police Department, there will be personnel from the FBI, the Secret Service, the United States Coast Guard, and the Tennessee National Guard on hand to help ensure the city's security.

Security is so high that no officials will mention any specifics. Deputy Chief of Special Operations Charles Cook, a member of the Lewis-Tyson task force, told the Flyer that talking about that information or discussing a worst-case scenario would compromise fight security.

Judging from past Tyson events, as well as the heightened awareness and atmosphere of terrorism, anyone with a fairly decent imagination can come up with his or her own worst-case scenarios. We've all seen enough movies and CNN footage to envision the unthinkable.

The murder of Shakur after the Tyson-Seldon fight and the supposed retaliation killing of East Coast rapper Biggie Smalls are still unsolved. The two highly publicized killings escalated a bitter East Coast-West Coast rap war that seems to have died down of late. But with rumors swirling that Marion "Suge" Knight, recently released from jail, and P. Diddy -- the two legendary producers behind the West Coast-East Coast rap feud -- will both be in town, gangland violence of gangsta-rap proportions might rear its ugly head.

Another concern stems from the sheer volume of people that will be in and around the city. Director Crews says the police department's three greatest concerns for the evening are traffic, security, and terrorism.

"Our country is at war, and this could be an ideal situation for someone who plans a terrorist act, because all eyes will be on Memphis," says Crews, adding that he doesn't believe terrorists will take action, but it is something the department has had to consider.

The Pyramid will be crawling with assorted celebs and VIPs, international dignitaries and international media, along with a heavyweight champ or two. At The Pyramid, security will be tighter than a tutu on Tyson. No one is allowed onto the property without a ticket. The closest anyone can get to the fight, says Pyramid director of marketing Greg Lowry, is the Pinch District. Once the parking lots fill up there, that area too will become restricted.

And for those actually going to the fight, anticipate airport-like lines for security. The Pyramid will be doing bag searches and using magnetometers to make sure no one is carrying weapons of any sort.

There are also restrictions on airspace over The Pyramid as well as security measures on the river and on the MATA buses that will be shuttling people to and from the fight. Outside The Pyramid might be a different story.

"My real concern is people's fear factor of public disorder, like riots and gang violence," says Crews. "But this is not going to happen."

All the law-enforcement officials seem confident that the steps they've taken will secure Memphis and its residents and visitors from danger. But, Cook acknowledges, there are no guarantees. When asked what would stop a bomb-laden van from being parked in one of the city's public parking garages, Cook said there was nothing that could.

"That's something that can happen. We'll hope that the garage attendants will be taking a look at the vehicles that come into the garages for those large weighted-down vehicles," says Cook. "There are no absolutes involved in that type of security. We'll do everything we can to prevent that from happening, but if it does, we'll go into a crisis-management-type situation at that point. We'll try to protect as many lives and as much property as we can."

Just consider it a tornado watch.

Additional reporting by Simone Barden.


Through the Years

A timeline of Tyson-related mishaps.

compiled by Bianca Phillips

1978 -- Twelve-year-old Mike Tyson is arrested in Brooklyn for purse-snatching.

June 21, 1987 -- Tyson is charged with assault with a deadly weapon after striking a parking-lot attendant.

December 12, 1988 -- Sandra Miller of New York sues Tyson for allegedly grabbing and propositioning her at a nightclub. A jury later fines Tyson $100.

July 18, 1991 -- Tyson and Desiree Washington, a Miss Black America contestant, meet at a rehearsal and end up in Tyson's hotel room. A week later, Washington files a formal complaint accusing Tyson of rape.

September 7, 1996 -- Bruce Seldon falls to Tyson in the first round, and the crowd immediately starts chanting, "Fix!" Later that night, rap star Tupac Shakur is gunned down.

June 28, 1997 -- Tyson bites Evander Holyfield twice, once on each ear, during the third round of a rematch and is disqualified.

March 9, 1998 -- Two women file a $22 million lawsuit against Tyson, claiming they were verbally and physically abused after one of the women spurned his sexual advances.

February 5, 1999 -- Tyson is sentenced to two concurrent two-year sentences for a motorist assault in August 1998.

June 24, 2000 -- Tyson knocks Lou Savarese down in just 38 seconds then steps around referee John Coyle so he can keep hitting Savarese after the fight has been stopped.

December 18, 2001 -- Police look into a complaint from retired heavyweight boxer Mitchell Rose that he was assaulted by Tyson outside a New York nightclub.

January 2, 2002 -- Tyson checks out of a Havana hotel after witnesses claim he tossed glass Christmas ornaments at journalists attempting to interview him.

January 22, 2002 -- Tyson bites Lennox Lewis on the leg during the official announcement of the fight between Lewis and Tyson. Tyson also throws a punch at Lewis' bodyguard.

May 1, 2002 -- Tyson makes several lewd comments to television reporters, telling one female, "I normally don't do interviews with women unless I fornicate with them. So you shouldn't talk anymore. ... Unless you want to, you know."


Fight Week Fun

RING GIRL SELECTION. Ring girls for the Tyson-Lewis fight will be chosen. Club 152, 152 Beale St. (544-7011). Wed., June 5th.

Concerts

MEMPHIS MUSIC REVUE. Performances by Al Green, Isaac Hayes, the Emotions, the Temprees, and Larry Dodson of the Bar-Kays. DeSoto Civic Center, I-55 and Church Rd., Southaven, Mississippi (tickets, 525-1515 or 888-280-9120). 7:30 p.m. Thurs., June 6.

NICKELBACK. With special guest Jerry Cantrell and Course of Nature. Mid-South Coliseum, Mid-South Fairgrounds (tickets, 525-1515). 7:30 p.m. Thurs., June 6.

MAHOGANY SOUL EXPLOSION. The concert will include performances by Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, and Jaheim. Mud Island Amphitheater, 125 N. Front St. (info, 576-6595). 8 p.m. Fri., June 7.

Parties

AN EVENING OF MAGIC. Ervin "Magic" Johnson will host the party with celebrity guests and his NBA friends. River Terrace Yacht Club, Mud Island, 280 S. Island Dr. (info, 521-8082). 9 p.m. Thurs., June 6.

HENNESSY PRIVATE PRE-FIGHT CELEBRATION. Isaac Hayes will host the party, which includes a tasting of cognacs and celebrity guests Denzel Washington, Johnny Cochran, Judge Greg Mathis, Don Barden, and FUBU designers. Isaac Hayes Music, Food, Passion, 150 Peabody Place. 5-8 p.m. Friday, June 7. Not open to the public.

NEW VISION SPORTS PARTY. Hosted by Ervin "Magic" Johnson with celebrity guests Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes. Isaac Hayes Music, Food, Passion, 150 Peabody Place (tickets 260-5187). 8:30 p.m.-4 a.m. Fri., June 7.

THE PREMIER. Welcome to Memphis Parties. Fri., June 7th: hosted by Russell Simmons and Def Jam artists. Sat., June 8th: after-fight party with Jay-Z. 5020 American Way (365-0077).

THE LOUNGE. 145 Lt. George W. Lee Ave., inside the Gibson Beale Street Showcase (544-7998). Pre-fight party and music showcase with performances by E-40, Eric Gales, and Monster Clique: $35, 7 p.m. Fri., June 7. Fight party with performances by Pink, Donell Jones, Rob Jackson, and Lady May: $55, 7 p.m. Sat., June 8.

RUMBLE-ON-THE-RIVER PARTY. Radisson Hotel Memphis, 185 Union Ave. (tickets, 277-9433). 8 p.m. Fri., June 7.

SO SO DEF ALLSTARS PARTY. Music company performers Jermaine Dupri, Janet Jackson, Usher, Ja Rule, Ludacris, and P. Diddy will attend the party. Holiday Inn, 2240 Democrat Rd. (info, 332-1130). 10 p.m. Fri., June 7.

NEW DAISY. Celebrity after-fight party, guests include Evander Holyfield, Halle Berry, Chris Tucker, WWF's the Rock, and Britney Spears. 330 Beale St. (525-8979; tickets, 888-361-5327). Sat., June 8.

Fight Broadcasts

ELVIS PRESLEY'S MEMPHIS. Live closed-circuit broadcast of fight on giant main screen with monitors throughout the restaurant. 126 Beale St. (info, 527-6900). $25. Sat., June 8.

NEWBY'S. Live broadcast of the fight. 539 S. Highland (452-8408). $15. Sat., June 8.

SILVER STAR HOTEL & CASINO. Live broadcast of the fight, with two complimentary beverages. South of Memphis in Choctaw, Mississippi (tickets, 800-557-0711). $25. 9 p.m. Sat., June 8.

Art Exhibits

ONE-DAY SHOW. "Split Decision," boxing artwork by Michael Warren. 863 Gallery, 863 S. Barksdale St. (527-0130). 2-8 p.m. Sun., June 9.

ART VILLAGE GALLERY. 410 S. Main (521-0782). Showing through June 30: "The Ringside Doctor," photos by Dr. H.H. Johnson, a ringside physician throughout the 1940s and '50s whose "clients" included boxing greats Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Archie Moore.

JOYSMITH GALLERY & STUDIO. 46 Huling Avenue (543-0505). Showing June 6-9: work by Ernie Barnes and Paul Goodnight, plus Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe and leather wall hangings from South Africa. Exhibit will also be on display at Fitzgeralds Casino/Hotel.

NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM. 450 Mulberry (521-9699). Showing through Sept. 15: "The Main Event: The Ali/Foreman Extravaganza Through the Lens of Howard L. Bingham," the exhibit captures the 1974 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire.


AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF

The story of Howard Bingham.

by Janel Davis

PHOTO BY GORDON PARKS
Every once in a while, we get the opportunity to do something we really want to do in our lives. Sometimes, it is of our choosing, and other times, it just happens by chance. This was the case with Howard Bingham.

Howard Bingham is the well-known photographer who chronicled his favorite subject, Muhammad Ali, beginning when the champ was still Cassius Clay and no one knew he was the greatest. And Bingham is still photographing Ali like an omnipresent shadow with camera in hand.

When Bingham was a child in Jackson, Mississippi, his father heard the call to go west and moved the family to Los Angeles. California became a place to thrive for Bingham, who excelled in Compton schools and even skipped 8th grade. After graduating high school, Bingham went on to Compton Junior College and majored in music. "Also in that time, I took a photography course along with my musical courses, and I made an F in that and made Ds and Fs in everything else too," he says. After two years, Bingham was "asked" to leave the college.

After an 18-month stint mopping supermarket floors at 4 a.m., Bingham decided to try his hand at full-time photography. He went looking for work at the Los Angeles Sentinel, and, after repeated attempts to get recognized, was taken under the wing of the paper's photographer, Clifford Hall, who required half of Bingham's $60 weekly salary.

"Within that time at the Sentinel, I got the chance to meet this loudmouth named Cassius Clay. I hadn't heard of him, because I wasn't interested in boxing. This was in 1962. Even then, he was saying what he was going to do, saying he was going to knock someone out in so many rounds, etc. He was a nice guy. He just was his own promoter. So I went to the match, took a photograph, and left," says Bingham. After the match, Bingham spotted Clay and his brother wasting time on a downtown street corner, picked them up, and became their tour guide and chauffeur for the duration of their time in Los Angeles.

After 18 months, Bingham was fired for doing side jobs, and his life has never been the same: "I think I have the best job in the world. I have the opportunity to do a lot of things that other people, even with money, cannot do. People I've met over the years, and the contacts that I've made, and my experiences over the past 41 years, it's been marvelous. I have not had a formal college education in photography, I just picked mine up and ran with it with the opportunity."

Bingham's work at Life involved photographing the turbulent '60s, including the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and the 1967 Detroit riots. He also chronicled the people and town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, for a 1969 photography feature.

"[Bingham] is a wonderful photographer and an even better friend," says Gordon Parks, legendary photographer, artist, producer, and, most importantly, Bingham's mentor. "Ali needed [Bingham] when others were out to get him. Ali had to share him with me because I was his friend too."

Although Bingham has photographed queens, kings, presidents, civil rights leaders, and entertainers, his work always returns to Ali and their lifelong friendship. "I've never been what you would call a 'photographer's photographer.' I was a photographer and would happen to be around Ali. But I wasn't taking pictures for him, I took pictures of him," says Bingham. "At the fights, I don't think I took the right pictures at the right moment. When he got hit pretty hard, I couldn't just keep on taking pictures, because I felt for him. When he got hit, I got hit."

As Bingham gets older, he is finally experiencing the life of other accomplished artists. He has produced a book of photos taken of Ali and is touring the country on speaking engagements but always keeping close ties with Ali.

"[In the end], I want to be known as a guy who cared, who did not want to interfere while he was there," says Bingham. "I was offered thousands of dollars for my work, but I would not take it. Your friendship and my honor mean more to me than money. But I have more than money. I have friendship, I have acquaintances, I'm a happy man, I have no enemies, I think. I love life."

Bingham's work "The Main Event: The Ali-Foreman Extravaganza Through the Lens of Howard L. Bingham" can currently be seen at the National Civil Rights Museum through September 15th.

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