Chasing Ali is about Jonathan Eig’s quest to meet Muhammad Ali while writing a biography about him. There are twelve episodes which is fitting for a podcast about a boxer. In each episode, Eig tells a story of something that happened while writing his book. These stories are generally about awkward interviews, meeting colorful characters, and trying to meet Ali. All of them are interesting anecdotes about unexpected occurrences. Though there are dozens of books and movies about Muhammad Ali, Eig was able find little known stories about him which listeners will enjoy hearing in this podcast.
In the first episode, Eig describes his experience interviewing Ferdie Pacheco who was Muhammad Ali’s doctor and was in his corner during his fights. Unfortunately, Pacheco was somewhat hostile to Eig and remarked frequently that Eig was asking stupid questions. There are audio records of this interview and you can hear him making these remarks. His agitation could have been because Pacheco has been interviewed about Ali often but he came across as rude nonetheless. However, he did make interesting revelations about Ali’s condition following Ali-Frazier I. He stated that Ali was beginning to show signs of dementia after the match ten years before he retired. It was interesting to hear how Eig could extract these gems despite Pacheco’s hostile demeanor.
Throughout Eig’s journey of writing Ali’s biography, he interviewed several colorful characters. In his podcast, there are descriptions and audio recordings with a few of them. One is Khalilah Ali who was Muhammad Ali’s second wife. People have often stated that she is similar to Muhammad in her outgoingness. In Chasing Ali, you get a sense of this. Though she initially wanted $6,500 for being interviewed, Eig was able to interview without paying. One shocking tale that she recalls is catching Ali cheating on her hours before one of his boxing matches.
Another colorful character is Don King who is infamous for ripping off fighters that he promoted. In an episode with King, you hear one of the ways that he was able to do this. King would hand over thousands of dollars of cash before a fighter signed a contract with him. In the podcast there is an audio recording of him describing a story in which he allowed Ali to keep all the cash he could grab in one hand. Of course, in the long run he would rip off Ali by millions.
The title is Chasing Ali so obviously there are a few episodes about Eig trying to meet Ali. By the time Eig was writing his biography, Ali’s health had deteriorated significantly and meeting him was difficult. One of the benefits of this was that Eig was able to spend time with Lonnie Ali who was warm and receptive to him. They bonded over Eig’s daughter who wrote a letter to Muhammad. This is a tremendous build-up to the meeting between the author and Ali and you will be excited for Eig when he is able to meet him.
The final episode of Chasing Ali is about Muhammad Ali’s funeral in Louisville, Kentucky. Eig was among thousands at his funeral and in the streets of Louisville. He makes an interesting point when he says that funeral was equivalent or even greater than that of a head of state. He provides a nice summary of his life when he describes how Ali was hated by a large portion of United States at one point but overtime won over the hearts of millions.
Chasing Ali provides insight into the process of writing a book. Eig often had to make dozens of phone calls before an interview was held. Prospect interviewees wanted to compensated in the thousands which was a challenge in convincing them to be interviewed. The podcast also provides valuable insight into those who were close to Muhammad Ali and the man himself. Muhammad Ali is a such a beloved figure that I recommend Chasing Ali to mature general audiences.
You can listen to Chasing Ali on Jonathan Eig’s website or numerous podcast apps.