Tell me the name of another boxer your grandmother stayed up all night to watch.
Tell me of another boxer your grandmother could even name.
Tell me the name of one boxer your grandmother wanted to run away with no matter how beloved your Grandad was.
That was Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay as your granny probably still calls him. Cassius Clay who rejected his slave name. Muhammad Ali, the man who captivated everyone’s hearts and minds except of course those Southern crackers who wanted to see that black boy whupped so bad they poured their redneck dollars into the sport and made him a rich man, at least for the moment, though it’s questionable if The Greatest died with a single penny in his pocket.
He was The Greatest on so many levels it has become impossible to talk about him because everything you say has already been said by others and said better, and that’s why talking about Muhammad Ali / Cassius Clay is such a hard thing to do.
This was a man who sacrificed his finest years, between the ages of 25 and 28, a time when he would have been at the peak of his athletic career, yet it’s hard to differ with his logic.
[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape or kill my mother and father…. How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.[/dropshadowbox]
It’s impossible to justify America’s invasion and subjugation of a small country at the other side of the globe, a country that had never done anything to America, but Muhammad Ali identified the essential problem, he articulated it and he stood by his principles in doing so.
Not only that, but he was subsequently vindicated in his stance.
He sacrificed the magnificent years when he could have bestrode the world like a Colossus, when he could have stamped his authority on the title to end all titles, simply because he didn’t see why he should kill some man who had done him no harm.
What a man.
Everything he achieved after that rests in the shadow of his wonderful principled stance and yet he went on to reaffirm his greatness time after time, though perhaps he prolonged it too much.
Such is boxing and such are the leeches who run it but if there ever existed a most-loved sporting hero, there would be few enough to compete for the title.
Muhammad Ali would be one. Perhaps Pelé would be another. I struggle to think of a third but it doesn’t matter because Muhammmad Ali is undoubtedly The Greatest.
Today we lost the finest sportsman the world has ever known.