Muhammad Ali standing over the defeated Sonny Liston

Muhammad Ali standing over the defeated Sonny Liston

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”

Poster for the first Ali-Frazier fight

Poster for the first Ali-Frazier fight

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.

"The greatest fighter I have ever seen."

“The greatest fighter I have ever seen.”

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

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6 Responses to “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”-Reflections on Muhammad Ali—by Mark Arnold

  1. Charlotte says:

    Lovely commentary, Mark. I expect he will be back as another god-like athlete soon.

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks Charlotte! There will never be another quite like him, unless the original returning of course. When that happens I wanna be there! MA

  2. Steve Rodriguez says:

    He was the greatest!

    Here are some writings from my friend Jeff Mintz about Muhammad Ali, whom he knew personally:

    ALI TRANSFORMATIONS

    A Youth witnesses discrimination;
    develops an inclination toward segregation.

    Black and white separation;
    Out of communication;
    In need of re-evaluation.

    A trip to another nation with a different orientation lead to a modification of the registration of earlier information and a purification of the earlier mental persuasion .

    Emancipation from generalization and the un-fixation of determination is an attribute of greatness worthy of veneration.

    And a whole civilization goes through a major elimination of its prejudicial constipation with a vaporisation of racial fixation

    But there are other variations on the theme of transformation in relation to those in approximation with Ali.’s communication.

    The Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali transformation and Muslim Affiliation and then the alteration from “draft dodger” adjudication to Conscientious objector classification were all part of the concatention in the Ali transformation.

    But Perhaps the greatest elation elevation was watching the presentation of the intimidation Of Sonny Liston or the pure joy and jubilation viewing the Forman Rope-a-dopification.

    Jeff Mintz

    ALI’s GREATEST FIGHT

    A peaceful warrior with no option of retreat; Moved defiantly upstream against a power elite; with a purpose that knew no defeat.

    Against mercurial suppression and impossible odds; Ali eventually flourished and prospered despite a stacked deck of cards.

    A government with an oppressive agenda – not Liston, Foreman or Smokin’ Joe; was what was Ali’s greatest foe.

    Motivation of Nobility vanquishes hostility! And Motivation with integrity vaporizes obstacles with dexterity.

    And so with un-alloyed conviction,
    Intention without restriction,
    determination without compromise – Ali did mobilize – a transformation from a reputation being villainized, ostracized and despised to being dignified, iconified and idolized.

    And here is something we all now know – Ali triumphed, whupped the odds, the system and the status quo.

    He said becoming a postage stamp would be the only way he’d ever get licked and for the record I predict: There will come to be a Muhammad Ali Day to celebrate the birth of Cassius Clay!

    Now if while reading this you thought its style unorthodox; perhaps a little out of the box; remember it’s about a man who defied the rules, murdered a rock, injured a stone and hospitalized a brick; and was so baad he made medicine sick – and whether it rhymes or not -You gotta love Ali.

    Jeff Mintz

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks, Steve, for the awesome Jeff Mintz writings. Loved them…as I’m sure would Muhammad Ali himself. How privileged we were to see the man fight…and live…MA

  3. Becky McLoud says:

    Nice one Mark. I read this to Charlie and he told me he got to meet Ali in 1976 when he was visiting Fairbanks Alaska where Charlie grew up. Shook his hand and got to talk to him a bit. He was very interested and a bit intimidating due to his fame and stature. But Charlie felt he really cared and wanted him to succeed.

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks Becky! Charlie was fortunate to have personally met Ali and to have gotten a chance to talk to him. The man rocked our world in the ’60s, not only with his ring skills, but also with his conviction as a Muslim and as a conscientious objector, That stance cost him greatly but he never gave in. I so respected that. “Float like a butterfly/sting like a bee/the hands can’t hit/what the eyes can’t see” L, Mark

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