The Greatest. That’s a term that gets thrown around a lot in today’s world of professional sports. People use it to describe someone who has accomplished incredible feats in their respective areas of expertise, and often times just to describe someone who they are particularly fond of. It’s a bit cliché and tired but sometimes that word fits someone perfectly. That is the case with Muhammad Ali, who the world lost yesterday at age 74.
Muhammad Ali was a three-time world heavy weight champion, with a professional record of 56-5, including 37 knockouts. He is the prototype of today’s modern athlete. Just as quick as his hands and his feet, were his wits. He could dance circles around his opponents in the ring, and talk circles around anyone who was unfortunate enough to tangle with him, and deliver a knockout blow in either fashion. He was proud, he was razor-tongued, he was vicious with his enemies and fervent in his defense of what he believed was right. And he was talented. Oh man, was he talented.
“Float like a butterfly…”
To watch Muhammad Ali boxing was to watch art in the making. The style and grace with which he moved is unrivaled among fighters, past or present. The speed of his hands was enough to baffle, enrage and subdue his opponents. His talents were such that he routinely toyed with them in brash, some might say arrogant, displays of his boxing prowess. It often seemed like he barely touched the other fighter, but down they would go.
When fighters tried to get to him, he couldn’t be touched. He would bob and weave his head away from oncoming punches with such confidence. I could never imagine trying to fight someone who was that evasive. How do you beat something you can’t hit, something that slips away at the last possible second every single time? Floyd Mayweather Jr is a brilliant tactician in the ring, but for a heavyweight like Muhammad Ali to be able to move like that is truly awe-inspiring. At his peak, especially before his 3 1/2 year lay-off, he may have been the most graceful man on earth. Hell, the most graceful human ever. He was pretty.
“Sting like a bee.”
The left jab was his go-to move in the ring. He could throw it at you from any angle and it was just as effective. His unorthodox style of defense, leaving his hands low and daring other fighters to over extend themselves in an attempt to try to hit what they thought was an open target, left them vulnerable to his barrage of punches. Often with devastating results. He would leave them stumbling around the ring, desperately trying to remember their names and where they were. He could knock you out, but if you made him really mad he would just toy with you. Bringing you to the edge of oblivion before backing off so that he could continue the punishment without having the fight stopped. When he was on his game, he could do whatever he wanted. And he wasn’t afraid to let everyone in the world know it.
The sting of his tongue was every bit as lethal as either of his fists. Not only did he perfect the art of trash talking your opponent, he may well have invented it in its modern form. He used his incendiary monologues to get inside of the heads of whoever he was fighting. He said whatever was necessary in order to get a mental edge. As a fierce competitor, winning is all that matters and he would attack his opponents, sometimes crossing the line. But the fact of the matter was that he was showing everyone where the line was in the first place. The world had never seen someone like him, and though many people have tried, his linguistic talents have never been replicated.
Athletics aside, Muhammad Ali was a man of principle and conviction. He stood up for what he believed and refused to apologize for doing what he thought was right. He changed his birth name, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr, to Muhammad Ali and sent a message to the world about self determination and taking a stand. When he refused to be conscripted into the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, he was standing up against a war and a system that he believed was unjust. He was unwavering and because of that he lost 3 years of his prime in the ring. The Supreme Court eventually overturned his conviction of draft evasion and he returned to reclaim the title that had been stripped from him. He might have been a little less fleet of foot than before but he was just unrelenting in the pursuit of his goals.
After his retirement and his diagnosis with parkinsons, he continued to impact the world in a positive way through his humanitarian efforts. He helped many causes by working to improve the lives of those less fortunate and spreading a message of peace and understanding.
He was the Greatest. He is the Greatest and will aways be the Greatest. Muhammad Ali is the embodiment of the American Spirit. Unapologetic and unrelenting. He knew what he was and he knew what he wanted, and would not let anyone tell him he couldn’t have it. He upset the status quo in a country that was beginning the fight to throw off the shackles of racism and segregation. He made the establishment nervous because he was was loud and in your face and could back it up. The world will never see another like him. Rest in Peace, Champion.