Muhammad Ali and Jeff Rimer kick it in Calgary

Chris Gaitten

In the June issue of Columbus Monthly, Blue Jackets broadcaster Jeff Rimer told the story of his locker room rumble with Pete Rose, the loved and loathed former Cincinnati Reds star. On a tip from Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson, we also asked Rimer about a less-contentious bout with sports royalty from more than a decade earlier—a long-lost interview with boxing great Muhammad Ali. The two crossed paths in the early 1970s, at the outset of Rimer’s career, when he was a 20-year-old college student majoring in communications at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada. Meanwhile, Ali was returning to boxing after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. The rest of the story, in Rimer’s words:

I wanted to be a broadcaster, and I used to do some radio while I was going to college and I also—when cable TV first came to Calgary—I was given a half-hour TV show. And it was called Sportscope, and I would get guests on and interview people. And Muhammad Ali was stripped of the heavyweight title, and he came to Calgary to fight three-round exhibitions against three boxers, and it was a national story.

I went [to the press conference] hoping to get an interview with Ali, and I talked to Angelo Dundee [Ali’s trainer]—who I would get to know later in Florida because I spent 11 years with the Florida Panthers—and anyway he couldn’t have been more gracious, couldn’t have been nicer. And I walked up to him and I said, “I’d like to talk to The Champ,” and he said, “Well, do you have a camera here for a one-on-one?” I said, “No, but I’ve got a studio a mile up the road here on Macleod Trail.”

And here’s the heavyweight champion of the world, and he’s going to go to some rinky-dink cable community station? Well, the press conference ends, and I’m still standing by Dundee, and Ali’s finished all his one-on-ones, and he comes over to Dundee and says, “OK, let’s go.”

Dundee points to me and he says, “This young man here would like to do an interview with you.” And Ali kind of looks at me, kind of gives me the once-over, and people are starting to laugh and snicker, and he kind of looks around the room and he says, “OK kid, where’s your camera?” And I said, “I don’t have a camera, but I’ve got a studio a mile and a half up the road here on Macleod Trail.”

So when I said I had the studio, again the room breaks out in laughter, and he again looks around and he’s thinking: I’m not going to let these people laugh at this guy. I’m going to go and do this interview. Well, he says to his limo driver, “Do you know where the studio is?”

My crew and I run up to the studio and try to get it ready. Well, nobody in the studio would believe that Muhammad Ali’s coming to do this interview, and it was kind of like bedlam in the lobby of the offices, and the general manager walked out and said, “What’s all the commotion here?”

“Well, Jeff Rimer says that the heavyweight champion’s coming up here to do a half-hour show with him.” Well, two minutes later, guess what? The entourage arrives, Ali gets out of the car, he walks into the studio, sits down, we do this 20-, 25-minute show.

He turns to me just before it’s over … and he says, “What did you say your name was, kid?” And I said, “My name’s Jeff Rimer.” And he turned to the camera and he said, “I’ve been on The Dick Cavett Show, David Frost, [The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson] … but he’s held his own with me, Muhammad Ali, and I predict in five years he’ll be the greatest, most outstanding and most controversial sportscaster in the world.” And I said, “Thank you.” He got up and he said, “In your dreams,” and walked off the set. It was unbelievable. It was unbelievable.”