Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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The man Muhammad Ali calls the ‘world’s best’

Manager Bernie Yuman has built 50-year relationship with ‘The Greatest’

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In a photo from November 2000, Muhammad Ali, left, discusses the making of a second biographical motion picture about his career, with actor Will Smith starring as the former three-time world champion. Also pictured in Ali’s suite at the Mirage are, from left, longtime Ali confidant Bernie Yuman, former Sun reporter Ed Koch and Ali photographer Howard Bingham.

He was there for Muhammad Ali’s fights; when Ali attended the funeral of his trainer, Angelo Dundee; and when former President Bill Clinton spoke during the opening of the fighter’s cultural and educational center in Louisville, Ky., to name just a few of the big moments in Ali’s life.

Bernie Yuman can even recite excerpts from Clinton’s speech during the dedication of the Muhammad Ali Center in 2005.

“The president said, ‘It’s never the example of power,’ and pointed to himself. Then, pointing to Muhammad Ali, he said, ‘It’s always the power of example.’ ”

Yuman can tell you a lot of profound things said about — and by — Ali. That’s because he’s spent a lot of time around the legendary fighter.

The two met 50 years ago on the nose — in 1962, when Yuman was 13. Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, saw him running on a golf course in Miami, preparing for football season. Ali joined him in the workout — just like that — and they talked for a while when they were done.

They’ve had a connection ever since — a relationship that led to Yuman joining Ali’s inner circle and becoming his manager in 1999.

How deep is the bond? Take a look at Yuman’s office. It’s packed with Ali memorabilia and photos — including a pair of boxing gloves presented to Yuman by Ali, a handwritten note from Ali calling Yuman “the world’s best manager,” a photo of Yuman with long hair and a 70s moustache with Ali during the Rumble in the Jungle/Thrilla in Manila era.

There’s more. If you are a Muhammad Ali fan, visiting Yuman’s office — housed in a nondescript building just off I-215 in Henderson — is practically like stumbling into a pharaoh’s tomb.

Then there’s talking to Yuman, which is as close as anyone who doesn’t know Ali already will probably ever get to knowing him.

“We were always there for each other,” Yuman wrote in an essay published in the 2003 book, “Greatest of All Time: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali.” “He would show up for the birth of my children. I would call for no other reason than to talk.”

Ali is far from the only major celebrity tied to Yuman. He’s forged relationships with figures ranging from Clinton to Siegfried & Roy — who flourished after he began representing them — to Anthony Hopkins, to name a few. Alongside the photos of him and Ali on his office walls have been images of Yuman with Cary Grant, Steven Spielberg and Pope John Paul II.

“By all rights, Bernie Yuman should be a fake,” read a July 2006 profile of him in Vegas Magazine. “He’s a fast talker and a smooth operator, and he drops names like 15-ton boulders. But here’s the thing about Bernie Yuman: He’s the real deal. A genuine, hard-working, mesmerizing personality, he speaks in parables and sermons, peppering his phrases with idioms and hyperbole. Yet his ability to attract star power seems innate, and he is, to this day, one of the most respected and consulted entertainment gurus in Las Vegas. Everything is a superlative, every thought a lesson, every simple idea a life philosophy. His friendships with celebrities, dignitaries, multimillionaires and icons aren’t merely casual meetings or embellished barroom tales. The guy actually knows these people.”

Yuman will be near Ali this Saturday — as he’s been so many times in the past — when the fighter is celebrated at the Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala in Las Vegas. The event, which comes a month after Ali’s 70th birthday, is a fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center and will be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It will be broadcast on tape delay by ABC at 2 p.m. Las Vegas time on Feb. 25 and re-aired that evening on ESPN2.

Yuman said the event was meaningful to him on two levels.

“What it means to me is that, in conjunction with celebrating the 70th birthday of someone who is very important to me, we’re getting a chance to do something great for Keep Memory Alive and the Clevland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which is a cause that is very important to me,” he said.

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