A couple years ago when Michael Jackson died I was wondering what towering figure would possibly cause more of a stir when they passed away. My immediate thought back then was Muhammad Ali. Unfortunately, the time has come and an inspiring figure from my life has now faded into memory.
It is debatable if Michael Jackson rose to the same level as Muhammad Ali. In my mind he was nowhere close. But, it was a different time and a different world when Ali, then Cassius Clay burst onto the scene. He was the first to be openly brash and the first to challenge the world with cockiness as the 'Mouth of the South' when he knocked out Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
The difference between then and now is simple; there was only one heavyweight champion of the world and nearly every living soul from Asia to Africa to America knew who it was. Boxing was a sport followed around the world and the heavyweight champ was king, not like now when there are about six different organizations who claim to have a heavyweight champ. Muhammad Ali defined a generation of fighters never before seen and perhaps, never to be seen again.
But unlike most who talk the talk, Ali walked the walk. Whether you liked him or not, believed in him or not, he followed his convictions which ultimately cost him the title. He wasn't perfect. Like all of us he knelt at times to his demons as we all do. But to his credit, he learned to rise above them and made a difference in the world and the lives of many. To me, so many of those who are called 'famous' or 'legends' of their genre never rose above what they did on stage or on the field.
Ali became someone who transcended the world of boxing and sport and became a true icon. The fact the he changed his name and religion never mattered to me. He used his name and his fame to become more than just a boxer. Now as I have said in this blog in the past, as a rule I have never been one to look up to famous people. They were not my heroes. However, I remember the days when boxing was on broadcast television. I was too young to go to venues to watch a fight. Hell, I was just a kid, but I remember vividly waiting for his fights on television. I remember the Frazier fights, the Foreman fight but I also remember the devastation I felt the night he lost to Leon Spinks. It was the fist time in my sporting life I can remember true heartbreak.
Muhammad Ali set the standard for the modern athlete who has become nothing more than a braggadocios sabre-rattler. Gone is the good-natured challenges between sportsmen. Their challenges are now nothing more than two bullies arguing in front of a camera just to be noticed in front of fans who are witless lemmings.
The Greatest is gone and I feel a little older because of it.