Muhammad Ali: The final bell tolls
Despite its many internal squabbles and strife, the sport of boxing (as well as the internet and, more specifically, social networks) came together to mourn the passing – and celebrate the life – of Muhammad Ali, who passed away on Friday, June 3, after a hospital stay, in which severe respiratory concerns were addressed, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ali, (a light heavyweight gold medalist in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy), born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, was commonly known as “The Louisville Lip” (for his garrulous, boastful nature – albeit often delivered with a wink-and-a-nudge-style delivery) and (most famously) “The Greatest of All Time.” Whether or not you agree with this writer’s overall respect and adoration for Ali for being blatantly anti-establishment isn’t important but his impact on combat sports is and indelibly so. In a era when being a prominent black American personality seemingly pinned a target on one’s back instead of a badge of honor on his lapel, Muhammad Ali couldn’t care less, openly converting to Islam in February of 1964, after stopping Sonny Liston in six rounds for the world heavyweight championship at the mere age of 22.
First (and briefly) declaring “Cassius X” as his new name, eschewing “Cassius Clay” as a “slave name,” he then adopted a permanent title, Muhammad Ali, to which he would proudly answer to his final day.
Ali perfected the concept of gamesmanship and psychological warfare, whether it was simple name-calling, impromptu poetry or even associating black opponents with warming up to the “white establishment.” In the midst of all this, Ali refused induction into the United States military in 1966, proudly railing against the idea of killing foreigners with whom he had no quarrel. As a result, for over three-and-a-half years, from 1967 to 1970, he was professionally exiled.
In October of 1970, Muhammad Ali returned to stop Jerry Quarry in three rounds and restarted his march toward another heavyweight championship reign, that finally came to fruition when he stopped George Foreman in eight rounds on Oct. 30, 1974. The fight, held in Kinshasa, Zaire and famously known as “The Rumble in the Jungle,” marked the use of what would become known as the “Rope-a-Dope,” an elusive and revolutionary maneuver devised to physically exhaust the Texas wrecking machine and spell his doom. Ali would make 10 successful consecutive defenses in his second reign before losing his championship to Leon Spinks in February of 1978, only to regain it in their rematch seven months later.
For over 30 years, Ali had battled the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease but although his physical frame had suffered, his mind was always razor-sharp. To me, and many other admirers and fans, that’s what was really important, just knowing that, somewhere, shielded by the dreadful shakes and worrisome expression on the countenance of “The Greatest,” a vibrant, bright and crafty spirit remained and fought to continue being heard. Muhammad Ali wasn’t just the Greatest of All Time for what he did in the ring, for his penchant for poetry, hilarious insults and predicting how he would win and in what round. He was The Greatest because he dared to set an example of how to stand up for one’s self.
How to never be afraid when the world seems to be against you.
How to stand up for what you believe in.
I always said that if I ever met Muhammad Ali, I would probably cry because, first of all, I’m sure I wouldn’t know what to say to him (and that’s a hell of a confession coming from a born talker). And how exactly does one meet one of his all-time heroes and influences and not stumble all over his words, when trying to express how much this hero means to him?
I suppose it’s better off that I hadn’t. I sure would have looked like a total fool. Well, more so than usual.
Thank you, Champ. For everything.
The boxing world reflects on The Greatest…
HBO Sports: “We join the rest of the world in mourning the passing of Muhammad Ali and celebrating the legacy of this unique man in unifying us through his acts and gifts.
“Ali’s charisma, grace, and genius transcended all races, religions, nationalities and generations. His spirit will inspire people forever.
“HBO is honored to have known Muhammad Ali as a fighter of beauty and a man of principle. We experienced the joy of working with him in support of initiatives he passionately cared about including, most importantly, his never-ending desire to teach tolerance and understanding of others to all people.
“Muhammad Ali was an icon and hero, father and friend and beacon of hope for oppressed people throughout the world. He will be missed by all of those whose lives he touched. There are not enough bells to toll this loss.”
Golden Boy Promotions President and CEO Oscar De La Hoya: It is with great sadness today that we mourn the loss of the Greatest of All Time – Muhammad Ali. I send my deepest condolences to his family and pray for strength and peace for them during this difficult time.
“Muhammad Ali is a legend and one of the world’s most celebrated athletes, the fighter who ushered in the golden era of boxing and put the sport on the map. He paved the way for professional fighters, including myself, elevating boxing to become a sport watched in millions of households around the world.
“Ali’s talent was undeniable – he was an Olympic gold medalist, three-time lineal world heavyweight champion, and the only one to accomplish that to this day and reached the pinnacle of our sport as the undisputed heavyweight champion in 1964.
“Beyond his incredible talent, he also made boxing interesting. Ali was fearless in the ring and took on the toughest, most challenging opponents. Ali exemplified courage – he never took the easy route, something to be admired in and outside of the ring.
“As he grew older, he didn’t let his physical condition become an excuse to stop working; he continued to work hard, focusing on giving back to the community. Today, as we reflect on his life, let us remember a man who pursued greatness in everything he did and be inspired to hold ourselves to that same standard. Rest in peace, my friend.”
Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum (whose first promotion featured the main event of Muhammad Ali vs. George Chuvalo, March 29, 1966): “A true great has left us. Muhammad Ali transformed this country and impacted the world with his spirit. His legacy will be part of our history for all time.”
Eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao: “We lost a giant today. Boxing benefited from Muhammad Ali’s talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefited from his humanity. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Ali family. May God bless them.”
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