‘Maverick’ Star James Garner Fought Like Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Quick-footed “Maverick” star James Garner may have known a thing or two about boxing like legend Muhammad Ali.

According to MeTV, Garner had some moves. The World War II and Korean veteran earned two Purple Heart medals and ended up in acting.

Physically gifted, Garner performed many of his own stunts and fistfights during his career. He became famous for his “Maverick” TV show that ran from 1957 to 1960.

James Garner sort of popularized the rope-a-dope boxing style that Ali famously employed throughout his career. 

Ali made his professional debut in 1960, and one notable fight, the 1975’s Ali-Frasier “Thrilla in Manilla” fight, came down to the technique. Tired early in the contest, Ali had to wear Frasier down by taking body blows and resorting to clinching just to have a shot with his foe.

Garner’s fighting was a big part of the show’s three-year run.

In one episode named “Pappy,” Garner rolls with the punches. In Season 1’s “Stampede,” James Garner’s character Bret gets into a boxing match as a substitute fighter. He goes against Battling Krueger, played by former professional boxer Pat Comiskey. 

In the show, Garner even got a chance to throw punches with film legend Clint Eastwood in an episode.

Later in his life, James Garner found success with “The Rockford Files.” He tried to keep doing his stunts for the series when it began in 1974. But, by then, the physicalness of the show started to catch up with him. Dogged by back, knee, and ulcer issues, the studio canceled the series in 1979.

Life Before Acting

Garner seemed to do it all. Maybe it was that versatility that translated well into his film and TV roles.

Time Magazine recounted Garner telling Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne about his work life in a 2001 interview. 

The actor said he worked in oil fields, drove trucks, worked in grocery stores, chicken hatcheries, and even the telephone company.

James Garner said he “did a little bit of everything and never found a job I really liked, until I finally got into acting.”

And even then, the actor said it about three years before he liked doing that. 

Garner’s Love For Racing

Garner’s daughter talked about his father’s love doing his own stunts. But he also loved doing his race car driving.

“When he did Grand Prix, he got to do all the driving,” Gigi Garner said. “He actually learned to be a race driver and even did his own stunts, like when he caught on fire and things like that. 

Gigi Garner said her father acted because he loved to work. She said he didn’t do it for the money or the awards. He was so committed. He was the first to the set in the morning.