For a moment, it seemed to be more of Muhammad Ali's disarmingly blatant pre-fight showmanship. Then, suddenly, it turned ugly, and in New York's Waldorf-Astoria real fury boiled up between Ali and current champion George Foreman, who will fight for the title in Africa in September.

Throughout a boxing-writers' dinner, Ali had needled the colorless Foreman, chiding him for waving the flag at the 1968 Olympics and belittling his punching ability. Foreman, knowing Ali is still undefeated as a wiseacre, endured stoically and at the end even cracked a smile. But then, after the two boxers shook hands, Ali put his arm around Foreman. Foreman shook it off and Ali made a grab for the championship belt Foreman held. The two scuffled, with a growing edge of anger. Ali's jacket, then Foreman's shirt were ripped. Ali began to yell, "I'm gonna beat your Christian ass." As Foreman walked away, Ali grabbed water glasses off the table and threw them at the wall near the departing champion. Afterwards, the question was not whether the two men's embarrassing lapse of poise would hype the TV theater gate for the fight—but only how much. Ali, for once, was almost at a loss for words—almost. "I was doing to him what he tried to do to me," said Ali lamely next day. "Put fear in him. Since he was acting crazy, I had to act crazier."