Muhammad Ali: The Greatest
“All of us boxing people realize evening is here and night will soon befall us.”—Muhammad Ali
There will never be another Muhammad Ali.
The former heavyweight champion of the world passed away Saturday after a long fight with Parkinson’s disease. “The Greatest” was 74.
Tributes are pouring in from around the world. Ali’s story has been told before and will be told again many times. He was a great champion, an evolutionary champion, a supersized Sugar Ray Robinson who played by his own rules and never ducked a soul. He tangled with the best of the best during a time when the heavyweight division was deep. He fought smart, even when his legs were gone, and he was as tough as they come.
Ali exemplified what it means to be a boxing legend. He traversed the worlds of sport, politics, and culture like few before him or since. He went from the most hated man in America to the most loved man in America in a single lifetime.
Muhammad Ali went the distance.
Despite his accomplishments in the ring, which include signature wins over Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, Ali remains a controversial figure. He challenged the status quo. He was an iconoclast.
Other heavyweight champions before Ali embodied the zeitgeist, John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey come to mind, but few led the charge. Like his pugilistic godfather Jack Johnson, Ali made his share of mistakes. Living large has consequences. But as he grew from outrageous youngster to esteemed man of the world, Ali’s heart, along with his ailments, grew as well. He was not a man without regret. There are things he would have done differently if given the chance. But he earned a shot at the greatest prize in all of sports and the world, no less than boxing, basks in his achievement.
As Marc Antony said of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, “This was a man.”