My dad was a big Muhammad Ali fan. Twice he saw The Greatest fight live and daddy wasn’t much on sports crowds. Ali was worth it to him – one of a kind – not just in the ring but also in speech and in society.
Ali beats Liston, Lewiston, ME, picture by Neil Leifer, 1965.
In the ring he was nearly untouchable. Outside the ring he could cut up anyone with his sharp wit (up to and including the President of the Philippines). He defied the mighty U.S. government, refusing to participate in the pointless war in Vietnam. His only true adversary, Parkinson’s disease, took decades and decades to chip away at him.
Ali, like most legends of the sweet science, would be out-of-place in today’s sport – four(?) governing bodies, dozens of divisions, an incomprehensible list of champions and contenders, Philistines masquerading as heavyweights. He belonged to another, better era. His like won’t be seen again for some time.
Ali is now gone. I assume dad is meeting with him in person, perhaps right now. Rest in peace, Cassius Clay.