Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of my generation and perhaps of all time, died this evening in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 74 years old. His passing brings back so many memories that it’s hard to know where to start, but in these few words, completely off the cuff, I am going to give you my personal tribute.
I first became aware of Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, as a 13 year old 7th grader in early 1964. At the time he was 22 years old and was preparing to fight the heavily favored Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. No one that I knew gave him much of a chance against the powerful Liston, nor did any of the sports commentators I knew of. Nevertheless, in the weeks leading up to the fight Ali brashly predicted that he would defeat Liston, and when he went out and did it in 6 rounds he shocked the world. I remember listening to that fight on the radio as it was happening. I had taken Ali’s pre-fight comments as bragging and was kind of looking forward to Liston shutting him up. As the fight progressed, however, I found my critical sentiments morphing into a grudging respect. When Liston couldn’t answer the bell for the 7th round I was stunned. I had a homework assignment to write a poem for English class, and I was so impressed by the fight that I chose it as the subject for my poem. With the years intervening I don’t recall the bulk of the poem, but I have never forgotten the closing stanza:
“Though Clay is a braggart
And you know that is true
He did, yes, he did
What he said he’d do”
Across the rest of his career, whether it be his conversion to Islam and the changing of his name to Muhammad Ali; his anti-draft stance and refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army, which took prime years from his career and cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions; his 3 magnificent fights against Joe Frazier; or his legendary 1975 “Rumble in the Jungle” victory over then undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman, during which he unleashed his legendary “Rope-a-dope” strategy; Ali continued to shock the world. By the end of his boxing career even those who criticized his brashness, who opposed his stance against the draft and his refusal to be forced into the Army, and who refused to acknowledge his conversion to Islam by still insisting on calling him Clay; even those people for the most part had been won over.
Such is the way with greatness. It often starts as something outside the box of convention and is not easily tolerated by the conformists; but in the end it makes a new box.
So it was with Muhammad Ali. He had his own unique brand of integrity, and you had to admire him for it. And he was the greatest boxer I have ever seen.
Personally, I will miss him.
Just having him alive and walking among us made this world a more interesting place–and a better one.
And wherever he is now, or will be in the future, I am certain he will be speaking his mind and sticking it to his critics, like that left jab he used so effectively against Liston…floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee…forever!
Copyright © 2016
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved