ALI: an appreciation

LOUISVILLE (Reuters) - He may no longer float like a butterfly or sting like a bee but memories of Muhammad Ali remain vivid more than a quarter-century after his last fight.

Holder of the self-proclaimed title, “The Greatest,” the former heavyweight champion turns 65 Wednesday, no longer fleet afoot but still revered by anyone who witnessed the magic he created in the ring.

“What makes him the greatest fighter is that he simply had skills that exceeded anyone’s expectations,” Sylvester Stallone, who created and starred in the epic “Rocky” films, told Reuters.

Stallone’s Rocky character was based on a 1975 opponent of Ali’s, journeyman Chuck Wepner, a liquor salesman who lost a technical knockout to the champion in the 15th round.

“He was the fastest, the best, the most positive and they’ll never see the likes of him ever again,” Stallone said of Ali. “Maybe the greatest athlete of all time.”

Ali was a remarkably gifted athlete during his years in the ring but Parkinson’s disease has slowed his gait considerably. Ironically, the most outspoken sports figure of his generation now has trouble talking.

“He still kind of echoes in the culture somehow, he’s still kind of out there,” said Stephen Brunt, award winning columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail who has written several books on boxing including best seller “Facing Ali.”

“In a lot of ways, for better or worse you see him in the modern athlete,” he said. “He was the first guy to go out there and tout his own horn to the degree that he did and of course now everyone does it, without the wit and the smile with Ali.”

What Ali did outside the ring is as memorable, to many, as his career inside of it.


At the height of his career, Ali refused to serve in the U.S. Army because of his Nation of Islam faith and in 1967, while the Vietnam war was raging, was stripped of his title.

“Well I think Muhammad Ali had the hearts and minds of most of the people in America with some of the issues he got involved in,” basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told Reuters.

"Especially the Vietnam war, he went against the grain very early on and in a way that did not make him popular but after a while they realized he was speaking the truth on those issues.

“I have a lot of respect for him for taking the courageous stand that he did.”

The Louisville-born Ali resumed his career in 1970 and recaptured the heavyweight crown. His brutal fights against Joe Frazier and George Foreman remain emblazoned on the minds of boxing fans throughout the world.

Bernard Hopkins, 41, regarded by many to be one of the best middleweight fighters of all time, calls Ali an “icon.”

“What Ali did was change the thinking of a lot of people back in the 60s,” he said.


"And in the ring he was so much of a poet. He started a new era of being able to speak boldly and loudly and come across cocky and arrogant.

“Here was a nice, tall handsome guy who knew how to talk, how to rhyme. He was first one in sports that came out with the raps and the soundbites.”

Ali’s career concluded in 1981 with a 56-5 record, including 37 knockouts. Like many boxers, he fought too long, losing three of his last four fights.

But most people remember the glory days.

Hopkins singled out Ali’s famed fight with Foreman in Zaire and his three epic clashes with Frazier as highlights of the champion’s ring career.

“Those three (Frazier) fights were like 80 fights in terms of the punishment, trauma and spirit,” he said.

There is no birthday celebration planned in Louisville, although he remains a hero in the city also known for bourbon, bluegrass and horse racing.

interesting to note the immense power of the ALI’s image, in 2006 he turned over $90million to be number 3 on the list of the world top sports earners.

He’s not struggling for a dollar at least. I’m old enough to have watched all his fights on grainy black and white TV. Right from the outset I was transfixed by him: his whimsical personality, his outrageous athleticism, his courage under fire - in and out of the ring!

Ranking Ali (the timeless debate)
by Alex Trickett - BBC Sport 16 January 2007

When Muhammad Ali hit 60, a biopic of his life was released starring Will Smith.

Now that he’s turned 65, it’s Rocky’s turn to hitch a ride on the Ali anniversary train with Sylvester Stallone - who is 60 himself - dusting off his gloves for a final hurrah in Rocky VI.

The Rocky plot is simple: computer simulates a bout between retired legend Rocky Balboa and the current champ; computer predicts Rocky would win; current champ is unhappy and issues a challenge; an unlikely match-up is born…

In real life, the “who would win” debate is rarely resolved in any satisfactory way. But it occupies boxing fanatics for hours.

And Ali (not Balboa) is always in the thick of it.

The “Louisville Lip” pulled off two of the biggest shocks in the history of the sport, first taunting and beating up Sonny Liston, a boxer as feared in his day as a prime Mike Tyson.

Then, after losing part one of an incredible trilogy with Joe Frazier, Ali headed off to Zaire to drop the “undroppable” George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle”.

The resolve he showed that day under a barrage of pulverising punches was as formidable as I’ve seen from any boxer at any weight and in any ring.

And Ali followed up by avenging his loss to the great Frazier twice.

So where does Ali stand in the timeless “who would win” debate?

As a heavyweight, he would probably be severely tested by Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Larry Holmes and Jack Johnson (as he was in real life by Frazier, Foreman and Ken Norton).

But his ultimate rival would be Joe Louis.

My best guess is that their computer-simulated dust-up would be brutal with Ali having to drag himself up off the canvas in round three, before using his speed, guile and heart to win by 13th-round KO (just like Rocky).

But don’t take my word for it. Ali said: “I’m the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots”.

Pound-for-pound, things would be a bit different.

After slipping past Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Willie Pep and Henry Armstrong, Ali would finally face the one man he couldn’t beat - the man he himself called “the greatest”.

That man, welter/middleweight legend Sugar Ray Robinson, was simply too good in all departments and has to be considered the number one in pure boxing terms.

But I place a caveat on that. Taking into account influence and “x-factor”, Ali is without equal in boxing or in any sport.

So, yes, I kind of end up on the fence.

But that’s my honest view on Ali, Sugar Ray and Rocky Balboa. Share yours by ranking the post-war greats or by joining this debate.

But before laying into my opinions, just remember… it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Or should I say tiger…

Muhammad Ali quotes

January 18 2007 at 10:52AM  


Famous quotes from Muhammad Ali, who turned 65 on Wednesday:

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Rumble young man, rumble.”

Before fighting George Foreman in 1974.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong. How can I kill somebody when five times a day I pray for peace? You want me to be so scared of the white man I’ll go and get two arms shot off and 10 medals so you can give me a small salary and pat my head and say, ‘Good boy, he fought for our country.’”

i> After refusing induction to the US Army in 1967 during the Vietnam War.

“I done wrestled with an alligator. I done tussled with a whale. Handcuffed lightning. Thrown thunder in jail. Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

Before fighting George Foreman in 1974.

“It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.”

Before his 1975 fight with Joe Frazier in Manilla.

“Now Clay swings with a right - what a beautiful swing - and raises the bear straight out of the ring; Liston is rising and the ref wears a frown, for he can’t start counting 'til Liston comes down.”

“Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic.”

“But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic. Who would have thought when they came to the fight, that they’d witness the launching of a human satellite?”

“Yes the crowd did not dream when they laid down their money, that they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.”

Before fighting Sonny Liston in 1964.

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark.”

Before fighting George Foreman in 1974.

“I’ll be the ghost that haunts boxing. People will say, ‘Ali is the real champ and everyone else is a fake.’”

In 1971 before fighting Joe Frazier.

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name. It means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me.”

Announcing his conversion to the Muslim faith after beating Liston in 1964.

“What’s my name fool? What’s my name?”

During 1967 fight with Ernie Terrell, who refused to call him Ali.

“Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”

Ali’s famous comment on an airplane.

“Superman don’t need no plane either.”

The flight attendant’s reply.

I also loved his ‘world’s shortest’ poem:

“You Me We.”