Rumble Young Man…Rumble!
So far 2016 is shaping up to be the death of my youth. Yes, Ali was 74 years of age. Yes he had long suffered in a battle with Parkinson’s. But we’re talking about Ali here, the greatest… Of all time. And I’m really tired of writing painful sentences about the greats being taken from us, while certain radio talk show host, TV “News” host and political “leaders” spouting hatred to inflame the worst in us five days a week, carry on living.
But I digress.
For five days a week, early mornings of my sophomore year were spent riding the bus to L.A. High School. At least twice a week when timed right, we would pass Ali’s gated home which was off Olympic ave, and the champ himself would be outside in robe and slippers, newspaper under his arm, waving to us kids as we passed by. The right side of the bus was always packed, the driver would slow a little, and all of us would be grinning ear to ear waving back.
One of the worst days of my youth, was watching a beaten, tired Ali, slouched in the corner starring across the ring at Larry Holmes, realizing it was over. I, along with the rest of the world felt the same amount of devastation he was feeling in that moment.
Ali was Superman, nobody beats Superman.
The fight game is no where near what it was in Ali’s day. The Heavyweight division was the true mark of excellence. Forman, Frazier, Norton, these guys and many more were Titans in the world of proffessional sports. The division hasn’t been near its glory since maybe the Holyfield/Lennox/Tyson era. And none of those guys would have stood a chance with the likes of Forman, Frazier or any of the 70’s champions that hoisted the belt. But Ali, Ali beat them all. Yes he lost to Holmes, but that was a fight he should have never been in. Larry Holmes wanted it to stop. He didn’t want to continue landing embarrassing punches to Ali’s historic frame, as Ali labored on, determined to stand strong against his former sparring partner. He was old, slow and out of shape. A warrior who hadn’t accepted that for him, the war was over. Yet even in that moment, and the immediate days that followed Ali was still the champ in the eyes of the world.
He was bigger than life. Few people in the history of human-kind actually deserve that sort of accolade.
In the modern age we have all manner of ways to hear, see and remember 20th century icons as they were. There isn’t an actor alive that could truly capture the magnitude of Ali (I have not nor will I ever watch the Will Smith movie). Some people don’t need their tales told through Hollywood’s lens. In fact it’s most often a complete cheapening of their stature. It minimalizes their character. Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Williams and Muhammad Ali were magical human beings on a short list of unparallelled personalities that cannot be immolated for the big screen by mere mortals pretending for our amusement. They’re bigger than the big screen and there is enough footage of their lives, in their own words to prove it.
In the world of popular music, Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Prince were the three kings on that short list. None were better, more universally loved, respected and gifted in what they did and gave us. But in the world as we know it, no one was greater than Muhammad Ali. He was gifted fighter, a gifted wordsmith, he was kind, he was compassionate, he was funny, and a man of his word. Beautifully violent in the ring yet beautifully humane outside of it. He was worthy of the admiration because he inspired greatness. Men of renown do not apologize, yet Ali apologized for any misstep he made. Bad jokes at the expense of opponents. He asked to be forgiven and he did it publically. He did it because it was right, and it is what a fellow human should do. What a real man does. Ali had no super powers, he didn’t wear a cape or tight briefs, but for me and millions and millions of fellow humans around the world, Ali was a hero. He was my hero.
If anyone younger than let’s say 30, is reading this; take a day off and watch YouTube clips of Ali’s fights, press conference’s, speeches and TV show interviews. It will be one of the most enlightening and entertaining days you will ever spend with a person you’ve never met, and you will quickly understand why he truly was, is and will always be, “The Greatest Of All Time”.
Rumble young man, rumble.