Dave Meltzer, publisher and editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and probably the most well-known journalist covering wrestling, has been nice enough to give mention to both of the larger pieces I have done so far for my blog in the “Updates” section of his website F4WOnline.com. After attaching a link to the latest one (The Greatest and Wrestling), he commented:
Everyone always talks about Ali learning from Gorgeous George. The week in question was a show in Las Vegas where George vs. Fred Blassie was the main event that sold out the same building Ali drew only a few hundred people at for a real fight. Ali's interview style is so much more patterned about Blassie than George that I've always been skeptical, although Ali was at the show and people say he was backstage with George. When Blassie was put together with Ali for Japanese and American purposes as his manager and Ali saw him, he immediately thought he was Gorgeous George that he learned his interviews from. In 1976, Ali publicly claimed he learned interviews by watching Blassie, after always saying George before that time. After 1976, Ali went back to saying George while Blassie always claimed it was him. And Blassie's friends always spoke that it was a given it was Blassie.
Further scouring the internet for information, I found this fan report from a 1991 Freddie Blassie appearance in Boston:
He said that it was he, and not Gorgeous George, that Muhammad Ali patterned his act after. He said that Ali went to a wrestling match on a night that Blassie had sold out the place, just 3 days after Ali had drawn 1/3 capacity in the same arena. A few days later, Ali asked a sportswriter about the guy he had seen fighting in the arena a few days before. The sportswriter assumed that it was Gorgeous George and told Ali that. Ali believed him. When Blassie heard Ali talk about the night that he saw this wrestler, Blassie knew that it was he and not George that Ali had seen (according to Blassie, George really couldn't speak too well). When Blassie told Ali that it was he who Ali had seen, Ali agreed that he was right. Ali and Blassie became friends; Blassie was even in Ali's corner for his "fight" against Antonio Inoki. For a while, said Blassie, Ali did change his story and admitted that it was Blassie who influenced him, not George, but then Ali either started getting a little forgetful or just never bothered to correct people when they said George.
Could it have been Freddie Blassie selling wrestling at that Las Vegas radio station in June 1961?
While I am incredibly intrigued by just the whole theory of this, I still think the influence being Gorgeous George has at least a few things going for it. As Meltzer mentioned, it has been reported over and over that the two were backstage together after the card (and that they'd met at a radio station beforehand, something Blassie does not mention in his version of events). There’s also the very simple fact that Ali only really credited Blassie during the short period he was working so closely with him. Unless I’m mistaken, many of these accounts (at least the verifying of them) come from John Capouya, Gorgeous George’s biographer. Capouya conducted research that included interviews with George’s first wife, Betty.
Back to the other side, George’s meeting with Ali would have been ten years after he had divorced Betty Hanson. Capouya also felt it necessary to include in his “About the Author” for Harper Collins that, “he knew nothing of wrestling and didn’t see his first pro match until he became intrigued by the story of Gorgeous George.” I read the book and thought that apparent disinterest showed, so who knows how far past the hearsay he really looked.
I suppose I had blinders on to a degree myself. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t include something about this opinion on the matter and Blassie’s claims in the piece. Then again, this kind of stuff is one of the reasons I write in the first place: to get a conversation going, find out new things about wrestling and learn.