Returning to the U.S., the champion immediately embarked on a nationwide tour of 10 cities. From the joyous crowds that greeted him wherever he went, it became apparent that a nation that had once scorned him for his refusal to be inducted into the Army was now respectful, even adoring. Sensing the changed mood, Ali says cautiously, "I don't know what was in their hearts, but they were different. This year has been the happiest of my life."
His commitment to the Black Muslim religion, which he adopted in 1961, is stronger now than ever. He talks seriously of someday giving up his boxing career to become a Muslim minister and even now he donates a large percentage of his income to the church. His only extravagances are the Chicago mansion he recently purchased and two Rolls-Royces, "which I bought at a time," he says, "when I thought material things were important."
While renovations are underway on their Chicago home, Ali, his wife, Belinda, and their four children, ages 2 to 6, are living in the log cabin training camp Ali designed and helped build in the Blue Mountains. Although he once talked of taking it easy in 1975, he now says, however improbably, he'll defend his title "at least four times," and he has bragged that he might take on Foreman and Joe Frazier "both in the same night." But for a while fighting has become almost secondary. "The only way next year could be better than this one," he says earnestly, "is if it brings me a new son."
For the first time since he boasted "I'm the greatest" 13 years ago, Muhammad Ali finally made clear that he just might be. In October, before a frenzied mob in Kinshasa, Zaire, the 32-year-old Ali handily knocked out the bull-like George Foreman in eight rounds and regained the world heavyweight boxing title. Now it seems there is hardly anyone left for Ali to fear—or fight—but Ali himself (as above).