He has gone by many names over the course of his career, The Louisville Lip, The People’s Champ, Cassius Clay, The Greatest of All Time, but regardless of what you call him he is one of the most enigmatic, and awe inspiring individuals in my life time. There is a very strong chance the likes of which will never be seen again.
In case you have been living under a rock for the past week the infamous and famous boxer Muhammad Ali passed away over the weekend, he was 74 years old. As a Louisville native it has been pretty crazy around town and the coverage is that of a king that has died not a poor boy from the West end. Ali is certainly a iconic figure filled both with controversy and a man of principle, never afraid to speak his mind or what he stood for which is one of the many reasons was such a popular and polarizing figure.
I first would like to say that I am an Ali fan, being a Kentuckian I do not think there is anyone in the state that could say otherwise, and there is little argument that Ali is certainly the greatest Kentuckian, sorry Lincoln. No I am not crazy, but go to another country and mention Ail’s name, then mention Abraham Lincoln’s and see which they know. Ali is certainly the greatest Kentuckian, but I would almost argue that he is also one of the most recognizable individuals In the world.
With that being said I would also like to talk about how the media has portrayed Ali and how I think this aspect of his life is very fascinating especially now that he has passed on.
Around town every local media outlet is airing specials about the champs life and the radio stations are filled with callers wanting to tell about the time they had the privilege to meet Ail and how nice he was. That is one thing that every story has in common, that Ail was a genuine person and always nice to his fans who genuinely enjoyed meeting and spending time with fans. Which is quite strange to hear given now some stars and athletes treat fans these days. I have yet to hear of a story where someone was treated badly by Ail.
Again with all that being said I am still more fascinated with the fact that the media, both local and national, has seemingly skipped over some of the more controversial aspects of his life. I am not here to tear down the legacy of a great man just to perhaps shed light on some different aspects of his very interesting life. I simply want to talk about everything he did not just the good stuff. As this often happens when someone great dies, the bad stuff in their lives gets downplayed or lost in the shuffle. There is nothing wrong with this but still I think to truly appreciate and celebrate one’s life you should know the whole story.
Last week I wrote a post about the PC Culture that we live in and how it I affecting our lives and different aspects of our society. What I find very very fascinating is that if Ali were to just now be in his prime as he was in the 60’s and 70’s how would the media treat him? Let me ask you this, how do you think the media would react to Steph Curry telling the media at a press conference before the first game of the NBA Finals that he was going to dominate that gorilla Lebron and his cracker teammate Kevin Love. How do you think the media would have reacted to a statement like that? I would have to say that Curry would be crucified and I would almost say kicked out of the NBA, or at the very least lose sponsors and the like and there would be a lot of push for the Warriors to get rid of Curry for a statement like that.
But way back when Ali made similar comments about Joe Frazier before their fight in Manilla. He said something to the affect, “Its gonna’ be a thrilla’ in Manilla and I’m gonna’ kill that gorilla.” Basically calling Frazier, not only that but he said Frazier was too ugly to be champ. “Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.” Which I think falls more in the line of trash talking, but still could certainly be taken derogatory especially in today’s PC Culture. I can also remember Ail holding a plastic figure of a gorilla punching it as if it were Frazier. He was also insinuating that Frazier was dumb in a variety of ways.
Now on one hand you can look at this as simple trash talk and clever trash talk at that, but on the other hand I again ask how in today’s PC Culture the media would have handled Ali and his statements? I will say that Ali was the first to be the loud mouth and talking trash, as I don’t think there was to that point in time, such a brazen outspoken athlete. BUT he certainly backed it up. There is trash talk and there is something else that crosses the line. I am more or less anti PC Culture, everyone is to goddamn sensitive these days, that is just my opinion, but I also think that perhaps Ali when too far with his comments about Frazier. See I have somewhat of a heart, it just pumps black liquid tar throughout my body! I would also like to note that even when he died Frazier never forgave Ali for what he said about him. He was deeply hurt by the comments and resented Ali for making them. Ali tried many times to reach out to Frazier and be friends with him but Frazier was having none of it, he never forgave Ali. What I also find interesting is that if Ali was never a boxer Frazier would have been the one we would all be talking about, he was certainly one of the best fighters out there. Some say that the reason Ali made all those comments was that Frazier scared him. I have no idea if that is true, but still I think some of the comments were a bit much.
Ali was also famous for be drafted into the United States Army, citing his religious beliefs as he was Muslim at the time and had changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. He was sent to prison and stripped of this title and banned from fighting for three years. No one can every say that Ali was not a man of principle. The Army told him that he would not be sent to fight that he would be given a simple job, basically of going on tour to raise money. Still he refused to given in and stood up to the most powerful people in the world simply out of principle. I don’t think many people much less athletes in their prime would have or could have done that.
What I find the most interesting is that these were three of the most prime years in Ali’s career. Many say that when Ali came back from this ban much of his speed had left him, but he was still a great fighter. That is the thing that made Ali so impressive and such a difficult opponent to fight. He was a heavy weight but with lightweight speed, the combination had never been seen before. If you watch some of his early fights you can see his flurry of punches that are thrown in seconds. It looks like the video is sped up, the punches are thrown so fast, simply amazing.
The last thing that I want to mention is that I don’t think there has ever been a more suitable person for their profession than Ali as a boxer. His personality, courage, stamina, determination, confidence, ego fit perfectly into what it is to be a boxer. Ali was perfect for the boxing world and loved the limelight. He could not have been a professional basketball player or football player, that would not have worked. He was perfectly suited to be a boxer, the one man band. I often wonder if I will ever find what I am truly good at. I often wonder if there was one thing that everyone is good at. For some it is obvious, but for others they have to work to find it, and I would bet that some spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. I think Ali figured it out early and was the best at it, he was The Greatest.
I am not sure what else there is to say about Ali that has not already been said. I am fascinated by how the media has portrayed him in his later years, despite the controversy that has come about in his life. Still he was one of a kind and quite simply, he was The Greatest. I will leave you with some great Ali-isms, the man among so many other things was also a poet…
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.
I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.
If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.
I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.
Ali’s got a left, Ali’s got a right – when he knocks you down, you’ll sleep for the night; and when you lie on the floor and the ref counts to ten, hope and pray that you never meet me again.
My only fault is that I don’t realize how great I really am.
When you can whip any man in the world, you never know peace.
I shook up the world, I shook up the world.