Along with Jackie Robinson, the only athlete that ever really mattered. He’s my favorite poet (delivery counts big with me) and the first and most uplifting rapper of all time. Was this fighting disciple of pure love actually once seen as America’s angriest and most dangerous? The most hated man in America eventually becomes the most loved man in the world – try pulling that off. Dude’s life is like a Greek Myth filled with great flights of fancy, some he made up, and so many that were true that I wouldn’t be all that surprised if in a few hundred years they started to wonder how much was real and how much was Hollywood.
There are some famous snapshots of Ali and the Beatles taken when the then Clay was training for the first Liston fight. See if your eyes stay on the Beatles, I doubt it.
No athlete was ever as principled, as purposefully political, as wily, as psychologically deadly, as courageous, or as talented at his best as Ali. He saved boxing and then when he left, he killed it. Intellectuals dig boxing, but they should have retired the ugly thing after Ali stepped down. He did it perfectly, why go on. In the ‘70’s if Ali was fighting there was nothing else happening anywhere on the planet.
I read Ali’s first autobiography in high school. It’s incredibly entertaining and from what I’ve heard almost complete bullshit. Did he and Frazier really take a limo ride through the city agreeing on Black brotherhood, when Ali was in exile, hell if I know, but it was a great read. The greatest myth of all time is the one about him coming back from the Olympics and tossing his medal into the Ohio river after confronting stateside racism. He had just lost it but that was a much cooler story, and I’m guessing he faced enough discrimination to justify it. The book led me to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which remains the greatest piece of literature that I have ever read.
He lost his athletic prime to an ugly war and had to rely on sheer determination and his ability to take a punch to regain his rightful throne. He lost as much as he won in the Foreman fight, essentially in both cases the world. The only two people I’ve ever stood in line to shake hands with are Ray Davies and Muhammad Ali. I’m pretty proud of that.
How the people who truly hated his mouth in the sixties would love to see his current state, and yet I swear that to this day that there is a radiance about the man. My hands are tinier than most girls, so you know his huge mitt engulfed mine. I miss that voice. It’s like Elvis had he lost the ability to sing. Man could that man talk, but then again when you tell everyone that you are going to shock the world and then you do it six or seven times maybe there is really nothing left to be said, and yet we learn again that nobody ever beats time unscathed, especially athletes.
Cool Things I dig about Ali
1. Great Superhero like origin as he learns to box after having his bicycle stolen, and wants to whoop the guy that did it.
2. Dug Sam Cooke, introduced him on camera after beating Liston for the title. The biggest ego-maniac in the history of sport using his biggest moment to laud Cooke as the Heavyweight Champion of singers.
3. Blew off all his high school assignments by telling everyone he would be champion of the world. Got away with it because Principal believed him.
4. As good looking as he said he was
5. Man he was fun to watch when he was young. Holding his hands down around his waist, mocking his opponent, making faces, predicting his round of victory. Dancing around like Baryshnikov. Throwing down bombs from angles no one had ever considered before.
6. The Ali shuffle. Part showbiz, part genius. His way of announcing “I’m about to kick your ass.” Pretty much 90% of Nintendo’s Mike Tyson’s Punch-out.
7. Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee. Best slogan ever.
8. “Rumble, young man Rumble. I am a bad man!
9. The whole build-up to the first Liston fight was left out of Michael Mann’s movie Ali, possibly because that year or two in itself was worth a movie. Ali calling him too ugly to be champ. Recording an entire album about how he was gonna kick Liston’s ass. Ali showing up at random times like a stalker to yell his head off like an enraged panther.
The reporters who thought he was scared shitless. Liston, the gangster’s bad man convinced Ali was out of his mind eventually winding up the one who was scared shitless. Then Ali starts showing up with Malcolm X, who 90% of the white world at the time thought was the Anti-Christ.
Not to mention the fight itself as the then Cassius Clay comes out and plays with Liston.
Liston can’t hit him. He can hit Liston at will, but then he gets blinding by a solution on Liston’s gloves and after thinking about quitting for a while, went out and faced what was thought to be the most lethal heavyweight ever — blind for a round and a half! Are you fucking serious? Eventually his eyes clear, Liston quits and he starts pointing to every reporter, who had ever doubted him.
Oh, and then he changes his name the next day and aligns himself with the Nation of Islam, who even most liberals of the time thought was the Black Ku Klux Klan. Did anyone ever seize a moment like this? Maybe only Ali in Zaire a decade later.
10. The photo of Ali standing over the downed re-matched Liston, is my favorite photograph of all time and has a neat side story. The man who took the photo was used to getting the second best seat at heavyweight title fights. The photographer with the prime ticket can be seen right between Ali’s legs in the famous shot.
11. Cosell: Muhammad, you’re being truculent
Ali: Howard, I don’t know what truculent means, but if it means I’m pretty, you’re right.
12. Beat Ernie Terrell silly after he refused to acknowledge his new identity. “What’s my name, fool?” Pow! “What’s my name?” Whap!
13. “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet-Cong.”
14. Essentially offered a choice between being inducted into the army and being able to rake in the cash by confining his fighting to one on one appearances, or making no money and losing the title he prized above everything, he stuck by his principals and chose the latter.
15. Wilt Chamberlain is about to sign to fight Ali. Ali is instructed to not say anything to screw up the big payday until the Stilt signs because he’s worried about being made a fool of. Chamberlain walks in the room, grabs the pen and Ali bellows out “Tiiiiiimmmmbbbbbeeeerrr.” Chamberlain backs out.
16. Zaire, another movie in itself. He conquers Africa and then he conquers Foreman, who he had no business beating by using his brains. He ruins Foreman’s life for a decade. Foreman returns worshiping Ali and makes a small fortune by doing his best impression of the guy who kicked his ass.
17. As Sinbad in the greatest moment of his career said he has some smoking hot daughters.
I skipped out of work to shake Ali’s hand in San Francisco, and waited in line to buy a book I already owned to meet him. The man in front of me in line was a Black Muslim. He wanted the champ to autograph a picture of Ali and Malcolm X. This presented some problems:
1. Because of his trembling hands, he wasn’t signing anything, they were pasting his autograph into the books.
2. It had to bring back sad thoughts about how he and Malcolm ended up. I think that the two eventually made the same journey to true Islam, but Ali was misled about Malcolm and spoke out against him after he had left the Nation.
3. I really think Ali felt bad that he had let the kid down. Even though he might not have wanted to sign it had he been healthy.
So when Ali shook my hand, he was a bit distracted, but here’s the holiness of the man to me. When he noticed my disappointment, he turned his attention immediately upon me and made that cool boxing pose that Red Foxx stole from him when he used to get mad on Sanford and Son. Imagine spending years and years shaking people’s hand and caring about each and every one.