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The Greatest

I was fifteen when I saw Cassius Clay on television for the first time. He put on a masterclass in the Olympic final in Rome, dismantling the best opponent Europe had to offer. And he was only three years older than me.

When he turned pro, I followed his career in the Ring magazine, my monthly read, and on telly when his fights were shown on Grandstand. They thought he’d be lucky to escape with his life against the brutal  Sonny Liston, who would probably have beaten every other opponent that Clay faced in his career. The young man humiliated him.

Ten years later Muhammad Ali faced another monster, someone else who was going to kill him, George Foreman, christened ‘The Mummy’ by Muhammad. The 34-year-old humiliated him.

That was the point at which he should have quit for the sake of his health, and for that of Joe Frazier. But he didn’t. He fought on, too long.

And yet afterwards, when he couldn’t any more, he didn’t drift into a punch-drunk slumber. He went on, as best he could, spreading the word of tolerance and understanding, making people laugh, until they couldn’t any longer, so badly was he maimed by the affliction that followed his career.

There has never been an icon who has transcended his sport as Muhammad did. Yes there have been others; Pele, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, even David Beckham. But when they die, their passing will not dominate the world’s media, or provoke such a wave of love and regret as his does today.

Categories: General, Sport
  1. Fergus
    June 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Totally agree. An icon/legend – I grew up watching him too although I wasn’t even a fan of boxing – except him and not only for his boxing! He said things that will be in history books for ever. “Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” that’s what he did and, more poignantly, when he refused to go to Vietnam, he said (among other things) “Nobody in Vietnam has ever called me a n*****.” RIP great man.

  2. June 6, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    He fought more great fighters in more great fights than any of the pretenders to his crown, Louis, Marciano, Tyson et al and in between just happened to jolt the consciousness of the most powerful nation on earth. Now, then, and forever The Greatest. Ma Salamm r.i.p

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