Without any shadow of doubt, Muhammad Ali is indeed the “The Greatest” in many people’s opinion, but despite that, the world will never truly know just how great he could have been.
His recent death was the closing chapter of his long-standing battle with Parkinson’s disease, a bigger and more fearsome opponent than he ever faced in the ring. What’s more, the world missed out on witnessing Ali in his peak during the 3 ½ years suspension slapped down on him by the authorities when he dodged the draft.
Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War, resulting in the authorities stripping him of his titles and suspending him from professional boxing. Ali dominated the heavyweight division four years, and after his suspension, Joe Frazier reigned as the supreme heavyweight for the duration of Ali’s suspension.
So who coined the term “The Greatest?”
Indeed it was the man himself who modestly bestowed the title upon himself, and incredibly adoring fans, whether casual boxing fans, or even folk that never watched boxing took this charismatic young man into their hearts. Incredibly, most of this adoration resulted from his actions outside the ring.
Although Ali was a skilled pugilist, there were many other great boxers from the past that could be argued as being the greatest including Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Julio Caesar Chavez Sr, Henry Armstrong and the list just goes on. Ali came from an era that created legendary fighters. All had different qualities. Take Larry Holmes for instance. He earned the reputation for having the best left jab in heavyweight boxing history. How would he have fared with Ali?
But in all fairness, a lot of Ali’s greatness came from his actions outside the ring. The stand he took, the things he said, the examples he led by standing up for his principles quickly garnered adoration from the wider public.
Ali used to have a training camp in the Rocky Mountains of north-eastern Pennsylvania and that’s where he perfected his famous “rope a dope” tactic that George Foreman eventually came to realize.
Ali’s “Other” Side(s)
Ali was a multifaceted character. With kids he was the sweetest and the gentlest of beings. With interviewers, he was intuitive, spoke from the heart, and never shied away from his beliefs.
But then he had another, some would say crueler side. During the “Thrilla in Manila” camp, Ali showed glimpses of cruelty when he repeatedly labeled Joe Frazier as Uncle Tom. Many people believe that this was uncalled for because Joe Frazier backed Ali when he dodged the draft, and campaigned for Ali’s license to be reinstated.
Ali Was Ahead of the Times
From obscenely overpriced pay-per-view events, boxing eventually made it onto regular TV, giving it unprecedented accessibility in terms of audience. And this was right up Ali’s street. He embraced this new medium. He used it to his advantage and quickly became the People’s champ, despite not holding any titles.
Despite his debilitating illness, Ali continued with his philanthropy, taking part in charity events around the world. He even carried the Olympic torch in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
And this leads me back to “The Greatest” title. This title couldn’t be more appropriate when looking at his life in his later years, many years past his glory days, overwhelmed with Parkinson’s disease that most other people would find hard to cope with.
So the question must be asked, was Ali “The Greatest” inside the ring or outside?
Ali showed that he was the “The Greatest” in whatever he did. Inside the ring, he proclaimed his greatness, and he mixed it up with some of the biggest names in history.
Outside the ring, he showed great courage in the face of adversity both in terms of his principles and his ailing health. So it would be fair to say that in most people’s eyes, this man was “The Greatest” in the ring, as well is outside.
Rest in Peace: Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942- June 3 2016)