Muhammad has gone to the mountain, in a crater of accumulated calories to plan therapy for an anemic account with a $14-million bout in June against John Tate.
The former ambassador has, for the comfort of his soul, the only frame mosque in this community of 355 (by the U.S. Census Bureau's 1977 estimate), adorned with a dome and escalloped windows.
His entourage is gathering to try to help Ali fool mother nature at 38. Dr. Richard Passwater, renowned author-nutritionist, already has forwarded Ali his "Easy No-Flab Diet," to help the fighter get rid of fat, but not pounds.
The former heavyweight champion of the universe, presumably after mightily sucking up his gut came out of his dressing room today tentatively, like a small boy wondering what's for breakfast.
Surprisingly, he was stripped to the waist, but at the sound of two clicks from a camera by a spoilsport in the gymnasium audience, Ali shouted, "No pictures" and darted back to his boudoir to get a plastic jacket.
Sore from 15 rounds of boxing the day before, and tender from the body punches of No. 1 light heavyweight contender Eddie Gregory, he settled for three rounds of sparring and retreated into the comfortable role of Ali Babble.
"I didn't look too bad for my second day, did I?" he asked. "My ribs hurt a little.A miracle is going to take place on this hill. 'Muhammad Ali knocks out John Tate for the World Boxing Association title in 1:38 of the first round,'" he said simulating a sportscaster.
Ali said that Ken Norton, Joe Frazier and George Foreman started boxing when he was "already champion. They have ended their career, and I'm still here."
Now he was the characteristic Ali -- dissembling, pretending things were not as they seemed, that he was having no trouble after an 18-month layoff.
He lifted the bottom of a plastic reducing jacket to show how much perspiration had accumulated under it
No more questions? he asked before going to the rubbing table in his dressing quarters. "The hardest part was today," he said of his aching body as it was massaged. "Tomorrow will be easier; the next day easier yet."
He grunted as he did situps and other exercises in a darkened room. No pictures please, was the plea here. He instructed a training camp hand to keep account of the repetitions.
He got off the table and on to a scale, which registered 241 pounds.He looked at his puffy facial features in a mirror and returned to look at the indicator on the scale, as if expecting a small miracle. No change.
Facing up to the reality of the scale, he observed, "You don't get something for nothing. I plan to lose three pounds a week. Sixty days from now, when I have taken off 25 pounds, I will be terrible mean. I'm going to be 218 when I fight Tate. I can do it because I've had a year and a half of rest.
"I've got new rules now: I go to bed at 9 o'clock and watch TV till I fall asleep at 10, I'm going to get lots of rest.
"Jersey Joe Walcott won the title when he was 37 years old," said Ali. "I'm as fast as when I was 21 years old; I'm faster than the 18- to 21-year-olds I have on my amateur boxing team here."
Sparring partner Gregory, who fights Marvin Johnson for the World Boxing Association title March 31 in Knoxville, Tenn., said, "He hasn't lost anything. He was moving, getting out of the way his combination punches were lightning, his jab was great. I am learning how to judge how close to be to an opponent from him; he's getting me in great shape."
Ali said, 'You have to take risks; Columbus wouldn't have discovered America; the astronauts wouldn'r have landed on the moon.
"If they can make it to the moon, I can win the title again. Floyd Patterson won the title twice, but that was within a year, when he was 21 years old. I won my title in 1964 (from Sonny Liston), 1974 (from Foreman) and in 1978 (from Leon Spinks). (Acutally, Patterson was 25 when he regained the title.)
"I'll be in Knoxville on March 31 to challenge Tate in the ring when he fights Mike Weaver (his first ploy in long-range psychological warfare). Then ILl fight Larry Holmes. Holmes would be easy after eight rounds, but Tate gets stronger.
Ali admitted he has been assailed by doubts in some of his fights, despite his bravado. "I had doubts about beating Foreman; I was hoping he would get tired from too much punching early, and he did. I thought Spinks would get tired in our first bout, but he didn't."
Ali suggested that 38-year-olds could identify with him if they tried to follow his new routine and disclosed his eating habits:
"No pork," theedisciple of the Black Muslim sect said. "I have my own cook and Lana cooks for 20 grilled or baked fish or chicken; beef, lamb, veal, and some times squab; fresh stringbeans cabbage and carrots. For breakfast -- I eat 1 1/2 meals a day -- cornflakes with bananas, two or three poached eggs on toast, grapefruit juice and lots of ice water to clean out the system."
As to his literary taste, he favors Rudyard Kipling's "If," a copy of which is posted in his dressing room.
What about his diplomatic career in behalf of President Carter's effort to persuade countries to boycott the Olympics in Moscow?
"It was an honor," Ali said. "I'd do it again. This the country I love; I'd go to war for it. No other country is as good as the smallest city in the United States. The President sent me in his plane.
"I'm for America when it is right. Vietnam was wrong. I was insulted and told that I was a traitor to my (black) people in some parts of Africa. But I don't regret it. Carter is a good man. This is the greatest country in the world."