Paying tribute to 'The Greatest'

Boxing Monthly
05/06/2016 8:48am

The world is still in mourning after the news that 'The Greatest', Muhammad Ali is no longer with us after he passed away on Friday, 3 June at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.

Tributes have been pouring in from every corner of the world, his interviews and fights replayed to remind us how special he was and how much he meant to so many people.

The Boxing Monthly online team have taken some time to pay their own individual tributes to 'The Greatest'.

There will never be another human being like him, he is gone but he will never ever be forgotten.

My first boxing memory, never mind of Ali, was of his first fight against Leon Spinks fight in 1978. Watching Ali lose on the black and white television had me in tears. However, what he showed in the comeback encapsulated him as a consummate professional and flipped my emotion in a heartbeat.

The first ever book I bought was 'A Pictorial History of Boxing,' by Nat Fleischer and Sam Andre. Again, it featured Ali on the front cover. He was slowly, but surely engraving himself into my heart and soul.

One of my most memorable childhood memories was when my brother Lorence came home from school one day, and we all asked him, “How was school? What did you get up to?” My brother has learning disabilities, but went to a mainstream school called Acton Green. One thing about him, he never lied - never. However, when he replied, “Muhammad Ali came to see us today. He brought birthday cake and was really funny,” we did start to wonder what would put in such a far-fetched response into his head. We needn't have though, because the story was all over the television hours later.

Rumour has it that Ali had randomly picked a school to celebrate his 38th (I believe) birthday at a school, whilst in London. He called the headmaster and said, “I AM THE GREATEST - I WANT TO CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY AT YOUR SCHOOL.” The headmaster hung up. Same thing two minutes later. Headmaster hung up again. Two minutes later a representative confirmed it was indeed Ali on the phone, it was no prank and that he genuinely wanted to spend the birthday at Acton Green School. What a guy.

To sum Muhammad Ali up – He was probably the most famous person on the planet in the last 74 years. The stories I've shared reflect one sentiment from me - I'd prefer to remember how he lived than how he died. RIP #TheGreatestOfAllTime – Paul Zanon.

Supremely talented, extremely funny, phenomenally tough, smart, principled and unstintingly brave. Ali was all those things. But it was that special quality that you can't quite describe that made him so special. Rest in peace, champ. – John Evans.

Muhammad Ali cast a spell on the boxing world that will never be broken. He transcended the sport to become the most recognisable face on the planet - not just as a three-time lineal champion who reigned during heavyweight boxing's golden era, but for his stirring contribution to social change during the political turbulence of the Sixties and Seventies. He may have departed this mortal plane, but his mark on the human race is indelible. Through his legend, Muhammad Ali will live forever. - Mark Butcher.

Death is a part of life and it is something we become numb to. This year alone has seen us lose idols such as Prince and David Bowie, but with all due respect to those giants of the musical world, the loss of Muhammad Ali feels like something else entirely.

Ali was more than a boxer, more than a champion. He transcended not only the sport of boxing but all of sport, he was a man truly bigger than the sport of boxing when to say the same about any other boxer would rightly be deemed sacrilege.

Before the Sugarhill Gang had dance floors packed, he was a “Rappers Delight”, he told us “If you wanna lose your money, then bet on Sonny” and “After I get the bear, we will go after the hare”.

He was ahead of his time in so many ways, but the effect he had on the world itself almost speaks to divine intervention, like he was put here when someone knew we were ready for him. The film “When We Were Kings” shows this perfectly. The effect that he had on the people of Africa was something we haven’t seen since, he made generations of people the world over feel that, like him, they were worthy and could be great like him. To compare other boxers to him is not only unfair on those individuals, but is also to do him a great disservice.

He was a champion in the truest sense, he was a champion in the boxing ring, defeating giant after giant, great after great but he was also a champion of peace. He had no quarrel with the “Vietcong”.

He was Gandhi, Jack Johnson, Huey Newton and Nasir Jones all in one man. But he was bigger than all of them, than all of us.

Boxing has lost one of its greats, perhaps ’The Greatest’, the world has lost a great man. – Callum Rudge.

I wasn’t alive when Ali last boxed, let alone was in his prime years. Yet, ever since I first started watching boxing, he has been a constant. Mention you like boxing and, even for someone who has never watched, they’ll bring up Ali.

He transcended the whole of sport, not just a sport. Charismatic, funny, brave, tough, and supremely talented, he had everything.

Reading in detail about his life as I grew up taught me about social history in the western world. How the freedoms, be they religious, political or racial we now take for granted had to be fought for. And Ali was a huge part of that fight. He had his complexities and edges, and I hope they aren’t smoothed off. They add to his greatness, not subtract. He grew as a human being over time, not just as a sportsman.

Ultimately however, I go back to the fact he was one of the greatest boxers of all time. It’s what he spent his life doing, it’s what he loved, and what’s gave him the chance to make his voice heard. I have probably watched the Thriller in Manila more than any other fight. I felt awful when that other brilliant fighter, Joe Frazier, passed away, and I feel exactly the same today. To paraphrase Eddie Futch, no one will ever forget what they did that day.
RIP Champ. – James Oddy.

How do you put into words the life of not only a great boxer, not only a great sports icon, but one of the most iconic people of the 20th century?

I've been mentally preparing for Muhammad Ali's death since I was a young man who first picked up the pen to write about combat sports, yet somehow feel completely ill prepared to deal with this loss.

From his Olympic gold medal to his final fight against Trevor Berbick, the man was a fighter. He never backed down from a fight, whether it was in ring or in court.

Whatever words you want to use to describe Ali won't be enough. Iconic? Obviously. Transforming? Undoubtedly. Supremely talented? Clearly.

We knew this was coming and it's still too soon. There will never be another like him.

All that's left to say is thank you. Rumble, young man, rumble. – Shawn W. Smith.

It is very Ali-esque of Ali to die at a time when his former division is in good health and is being talked about again. It is also typical of Ali to pass at a time when the heavyweights of popular culture are leaving this world behind. So often a serial upstager in life, in death he has reminded the world one last time that there are legends, and there is The Legend.

Singers enchant us with songs, actors with their performances, and other artists with their skills and technique. I got hooked on Ali after seeing a single photograph in one of my grandfather's boxing books.

You could liken the image of a prime Ali to a Greek sculpture—a timeless work of art—but as a proud black man Ali would no doubt have preferred to think of himself as a wondrous African carving, an exemplar of beauty and poise.

Boxing is a form of art, if someone disputes that I point out that it takes place on canvas; the ring is the place where boxers carve out, paint or construct their masterpieces.

Some get one, others produce two or three, Ali produced many pieces of fine art: From the mercurial performances of his youth to the works he managed to chisel out as the years ticked on, still producing for the fans on nights when his skills had diminished and he had fewer tools to work with.

Even though his star was on the wane, Ali burned brightly when defeating George Foreman in eight memorable rounds. When the finish came, he held back one last punch, knowing the job was done and he had already added the final flourish to this particular masterpiece.

Prior to the fight, Ali received a letter from Archie Moore. The former great told Ali that he was stirring up a hornet’s nest by taking on Foreman. It prompted an inner monologue that showed the other side of the fighter, and led to some verbal prods that were pure Ali.

‘What are the signs?’ he wrote in his book The Greatest: My Own Story. ‘Does Archie see real signs, as I know he can? I’ve had defeats, but are defeats the end? A defeat can be an invaluable experience, but I want to go out a winner…I told everybody, ‘George don’t hit hard.’ But I admit, I’m nervous wondering how hard he does hit. Can I really take a blow from George?’

Ali saw Moore during an open workout the next day, introducing him to the crowd as the greatest of all time before embellishing the statement.

‘You won the World Light Heavyweight Championship when you were forty-three,’ wrote Ali, recollecting the exchange. ‘You had to wait so long because in those days they wouldn’t let a black man fight for the title so fast. You knocked out the champions of four nations when you were forty-five, forty-six and forty-seven…you whipped the best until the end.

‘Archie is looking at me, his smile still on. ‘Archie, am I too old at thirty-three?’ I see a soft, warm look in Archie’s eyes. ‘Am I too old?’ I ask again. He never answers. He and [Sandy] Sadler walk away.’

We all know what happened next; he wasn’t too old, he was too smart and defeated Foreman in eight extraordinary rounds. The dark night of the soul that was prompted by Moore’s letter had been overcome by his keen boxing mind.

In a year in which we have lost too many legends, the loss of Ali is the biggest of them all—he has stolen the limelight one last time. Even in death, he is still the greatest.

RIP the most wise. Now the most missed. – Terry Dooley.

I was 10 years old when I first saw an image of Muhammad Ali with no awareness of his significance. Although he had lit up the heavyweight division several decades before and, in many ways, the fire had already faded, the image was forever seared on my brain and on the boxing world. Ali's skill and magnetism radiated through the image and deeply affected a young girl and her burgeoning passion for boxing. I don't imagine that was his intention or expectation. But I expect Ali had an impact that even he wouldn't have expected.

At the foot of the image was a version of Ali's now famous quote, "To float like a butterfly and sting like a bee". Although Ali was undoubtedly referring to his efforts in the ring that, for all their grace and showmanship, did some serious damage, the quote stayed with me as powerful advice for life. It encouraged me that it was possible to remain completely calm and serene on the outside but to defend yourself when it counts. To appear at peace but to pack a powerful punch - whether in the ring or out of it.

I only hope that in the wake of this deeply sad news, Ali's image, fights and triumphs will become known to a new generation. I have no doubt that they will benefit from them as I once did, and will continue to do. Rest in peace, champ. – Jessica Sinyard.

I never knew or met Muhammad Ali but - like millions of others - I loved him. It was because of his supreme charisma that I - a middle-class Anglo-Australian white man - could be made to feel like I was a part of Ali and he was a part of me. Not that I am anything special - for Ali was a part of all of us and will remain so forever.

Over the next few days, millions, possibly billions, of words - both print and digital - will pour onto newsstands and into cyberspace about Ali, much of it by people far better qualified to talk about him than me, , and also, truth be told, a fair amount of it by people who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

But that's fine, because Ali long ago crossed the threshold from human being to icon. In doing so he became part of us all, but at the inevitable cost that what made him so special in the first place became obscured and buried under well-meaning but bland platitudes, mantras and sound-bites.

The sanctification of Ali, the unquestioning hero worship, the elevation of him into the realms of the untouchable, has come to dominate the media narrative around him. In doing so, to my mind, the true extent of Ali's greatness has been lost.

For me, Ali is most alive, most valuable and most great, when we linger on his humanity, and the inevitable by-product of this humanity, namely his frailties. I don't mean Parkinson's disease by the way - a cruel manifestation and example of the universal law of mortality. No, I mean his more obvious but too often skirted over or forgotten flaws - namely, his misjudged flirtation with the hate politics of the Nation of Islam, his frequent personal infidelities, his disturbing and distasteful goading of Joe Frazier and his vainglorious refusal to quit the ring before the embarrassing defeats to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.

I mention these things not to be churlish, but instead to illustrate what I believe to be the true nature of Ali's greatness, namely his exemplification of the most important human quality of all – the ability to change, develop and mature.
Ali's conversion to Sunni Islam in 1975 and his later embrace of Sufism, his renunciation of black separatism, his frequently expressed regret for his treatment of Frazier and his clear peace of mind and happiness in his fourth marriage to Lonnie, demonstrate that the man who was unquestionably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, never stinted in his quest for self-improvement.

By reducing Ali to an icon rather than a man, we miss this crucial point. Ali the human being is a far more valuable role model than Ali the superman for, as much as we wish they existed, supermen are merely the preserve of comic books and Hollywood fictions.

Ali, the breathtakingly brave boxer and the wonderfully gutsy anti-Vietnam war campaigner, achieved amazing things that are beyond the capacity of almost all human beings, but he was also gloriously flawed – and that is perhaps the one thing we all truly have in common with him.

So today, yes, I mourn him and I celebrate him, but most importantly, amid the hagiographies and the hero worship, I will try and hold on to the fact that I will learn more from Ali's defeats and mistakes than I will ever learn from his victories. – Luke G. Williams.