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Pat Bigold

The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Keiter to be

portrayed in Ali movie

WHEN "Ali" premiers in December, you'll notice a familiar local personality portrayed in the movie.

Les Keiter, who broadcasted four of Muhammad Ali's heavyweight championship bouts in the 1960s, got a call recently from an actor who said he's been selected to play him.

The actor, whose name Keiter couldn't recall, said he wanted to ask Keiter what he was like about 35 years ago.

Will Smith will portray Ali. A Columbia Pictures spokesman confirmed that Keiter's character will be in the movie, but he could not say how many lines, if any, the character will have.

The important thing is that the film company did enough research to know Keiter was a fixture at ringside during much of the Ali era.

The late sportscaster Howard Cosell, friend and critic of Ali, gets plenty of attention in the film. He's played by Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight.

But what Columbia may not know is that Cosell cut his teeth on fight broadcasts as Keiter's color man at seven major bouts. The most notable collaboration between the two was the Feb. 25, 1964, Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston fight in Miami when Clay (he adopted his Muslim name shortly after the bout) first won the heavyweight title.

Keiter's other Ali victory broadcasts were on Aug. 6, 1966, vs. Brian London (in London), Nov. 14, 1966, vs. Cleveland Williams (Houston) and Feb. 6, 1967, vs. Ernie Terrell (Houston).

He and Cosell were competitors during the London fight when Keiter did blow-by-blow for Mutual Broadcasting and Cosell was working for ABC.

Keiter said he considered Cosell a good friend until that fight at Wembley Arena.

THE fact is, it was Keiter, not Ali, who scored the first knockdown of the evening.

Keiter was working with Mutual sports director Van Patrick (legendary voice of Detroit Tigers baseball and Notre Dame football) and color man Bill Stern, one of the great college football broadcasters of the 30s and 40s.

"The discussion came up, who was going to interview the winner after the fight," said Keiter.

He said that because Brian London was "everybody's punching bag," there was no question that Ali would win. That he did with a third-round KO.

The president of the fight broadcast sponsor, Bic Pen Company, was sitting right next to the president of Mutual, and the Bic president insisted that one of the Mutual broadcasters get to Ali before ABC did.

"The ring was four feet above our position," Keiter said.

Van Patrick nominated Keiter for the dash.

"When the fight was over, I threw the mike over to Van Patrick, they threw me up on to the apron, someone held the ropes, and as I dived through I see my friend (Cosell) coming from the other direction with his camera man," said Keiter.

"I get to him (Ali) the same time Cosell does, and there was only one way I could talk to him first. I had to throw a hip block at Howard Cosell and turn him around, and put the microphone in front of Ali."

Keiter said he recalls saying, "Congratulations, champ, all America's so proud of you tonight."

The response was classic Ali, who was gifted with a showman's sense of timing. He took the microphone from Keiter and said, "I want to thank the Bic Pen Company -- it's the only fountain pen I would ever use."

Chortled Keiter, "He knew what we wanted."

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.
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