Albeit, this one will make us sit up and take notice of a life, well lived and better still, loved. The “Rumble in the Jungle” was a glorious funeral march to the grave. The ring was his canvas, his legs conjuring a work of delightful art as they moved about with gay abandon. His palette of tricks made jaws drop. The left hook coming out of nowhere, the Phantom punch, the snake lick et al. What a canvas!
“I would like to be remembered as a black man who won the heavyweight title. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was”.
-Ali in an interview to Playboy in 1975
He was always there within striking range, yet just tantalisingly out of reach. You thought you had him but you didn’t. He had you all the time! His calves would be bobbing about in gay abandon. This wasn’t absolute disregard for the opponent or his skills but it was cold-blooded confidence in his own.
To be the best you truly had to take out the best! Boy, he did that over and over again.
“I am the greatest of all time. I knew it even before I was”.
The imperious young man had downed Sonny “sledgehammer” Liston by the time he was all of 22. ‘You got to box son’, so Ali heard from the cop as he wanted to blow off a conman’s head for relieving him of his bicycle. We would have nothing to rave about had Ali not taken that retort seriously.
And 56 wins later, you begin to realise that it is just that one moment that matters. When your insides want to catch hold of the dreams welling up in you, all it takes is a mere spark to set off an inferno!
Frazier, Liston, Foreman and Ali formed an extraordinary league of gentlemen in the heavyweight boxing world. Ali had just that little extra, a cutting edge. He was different. He challenged the establishment outside the ring as he did in it with his inimitable style. He downed opponents of all shapes and sizes, styles and backgrounds with a finesse never witnessed before.
On another day sans his boxing shorts, he was up in arms challenging the order to fight the Vietcong.
That tussle with the US Govt took away the Cassius “butterfly” Clay out of Muhammad Ali. And yes, 42 months of an ordeal too. He came out all guns blazing, of a different kind. He was slower and vulnerable but never down on spunk and chutzpah. Every great artist reinvents when presented with a different canvas. He was the GREATEST OF ALL TIME!
The tag of the greatest never rested heavily on him. It was nice and easy. He wore it with disarming grace as he championed against everything from the draft evasion to racism. 74 years of a life is being documented all around the globe right now about a man who went down fighting!
A little boy once asked him “I would like to know what are you going to do once you retire from boxing”? Ali replied ,“ I will ready myself to face God, in heaven”. It doesn’t matter how many titles are strapped to your torso or how many Thrillas and Rumbles you were a part of. All that mattered to the one up there is how you treated your people”.
As Bill Clinton lines up to deliver an elegy on the great man’s funeral, he will know that there wont be another like him. Probably ever. The coffin will be another canvas for Ali. This was it. He endured pain to end up a champion, lived like a champion and died fighting like a champion.
This was it! Take a bow, champ! We’ll let you work on your new canvas. RIP Muhammad Ali!