Is boxing great Muhammad Ali about to become a Virginia gentleman?
Ali, who now spends two or three months a year on a farm outside Charlottesville, came to the State Capitol today and told Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder that he is "unemployed and thinking about a job," possibly in Virginia politics. "Maybe I'll run for governor," he joked.
"Then I'm going to start fighting," sparred Wilder.
Ali came to Richmond to talk about business opportunities in the state, according to his lawyer, Richard Hirschfeld of Charlottesville.
Ali said he owns houses in California, Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere, but has decided to spend more time in Virginia.
"I love it -- it's peaceful and quiet," he said, noting that he owns a 50-acre horse farm in Nelson County, south of Charlottesville.
Hirschfeld described Ali as being "very well off" and as establishing a financial base in Virginia. "Muhammad Ali Holdings" was incorporated in the state several months ago, and Ali "created a very nice trust at Sovran Bank yesterday," has a dozen of his cars titled here, and uses a stock broker and insurance agent in Charlottesville, the lawyer said.
"And he might like to marry a nice, quiet, dignified Charlottesville girl," Hirschfeld said.
Ali, 44, recently divorced his third wife, Veronica, who lives in Beverly Hills.
The one thing Ali hasn't done in Virginia is register to vote. "Not yet," he said.
Hirschfeld talked to reporters as Ali, sitting in Wilder's chair on the Senate podium, signed autographs and traded shadow jabs with dozens of Capitol employes who lined up to meet him. He gave each one a paperback book, "Religion on the Line," which contains Muslim philosophy for prisoners.
The former heavyweight boxing champion suffers from Parkinson's syndrome, which results in him walking hesitantly, shaking a bit and being slow to speak. He attributes his condition in part to being "hit about 300,000 times in the upper torso and head," Hirschfield said.
But the champ, wearing a pinstripe suit, patent leather shoes and his famous grin, appeared in fighting shape today at 238 pounds, only 16 pounds over his weight at his final boxing match.
He declined to comment on upcoming title fights. "I can't predict. I don't follow boxing like I used to," he said.
Asked if he agreed with those who say today's fighters aren't as good as he was, Ali showed the potential of a politician. "They always say that. They said that about Joe Louis when I was boxing."
One business possibility, Ali said, is "building sports cars." An aide said Ali is exploring the idea of using a vacant Volvo plant in Chesapeake to produce a customized sports car, now manufactured in Canada with a Pontiac Fiero engine under the name "Vipre."
The American version of the car would be called the "Ali 5000, 3.WC," signifying that Ali was "three times world champion." The car would be "built here, predominantly for export," Hirschfeld said, because Ali likes the idea of "selling American cars overseas, instead of importing foreign cars here."