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Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali: Not a Leader, but a Warrior

When I think of Muhammad Ali, I think of a great fighter who fought the best of his era, and won most of the time.  Unusual for a heavyweight of his caliber, he lacked a knockout punch, but he had great quickness, endurance, defensive ability, and resilience.  No one took a punch better than Ali.

He was the best heavyweight boxer in an era with tremendous competition.  We have not seen the same level of competition since.

Ali was a big heavyweight for his time.  At 6' 3" and usually around 220 lbs, he often loomed over his competition.  Consider that in the 1950s, heavyweight champs were usually in the 200 lb range.  By the 1960s, it was getting harder to compete at that size.

Certainly he was one of the most charismatic athletes ever, and his fights were truly "main events."  The lead-up to Ali's first fight against Joe Frazier dominated the cover of Time magazine.

Here's a great column by Mushnick that debunks some of the popular Ali myths:  debunking-the-myths-that-have-glorified-muhammad-ali

A lot of Ali's appeal with liberals was his civil disobedience against the draft, which cost him three prime career years.   The great paradox is that he did this for the sake of black separatism, and of course the great liberal issue of the time (as it should have been) was black integration.  Liberals apparently can't decide which they like better.

If Ali had had better handlers, the draft never would have been an issue for his career, as there were plenty of ways to get a deferment.  But he had joined the Nation of Islam, a racist cult, and its leadership urged this political statement.  Ali's mentor was Elijah Muhammad, who most experts believe ordered the assassination of Malcolm X.  Ali joined this after white America passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

A big point is being made in the obits on how Ali taunted Ernie Terrell because Terrell still called him "Cassius Clay," his so-called "slave name."  But if you know anything about the era, many of his opponents wouldn't call him Muhammad Ali for a long time, including Joe Frazier.  Probably because they thought his conversion was just a pose.

Ali was a terrible sportsman, which was unusual for boxing at the time.  He not only mocked Terrell, but Floyd Paterson, and Joe Frazier (whom he called an Uncle Tom) and George Foreman, whom he likened to the "Belgians" before he fought him in Zaire.  How he turned fighting other black men into a racial thing still is perplexing, but this highlights his masterful self-promotion.

A few of Ali's fights were suspicious.  I still suspect he threw the first fight against Leon Spinks, a guy who shouldn't have been in the same ring with him, just so he could come back and beat him and be a third-time champion.   Many observers at the time thought Jimmy Young beat Ali, but Ali got the decision.

I'm not sure exactly what Ali "transcended," as some of the overwrought writers are claiming.  They seem to equate self-promotion with profundity.  Not sure what cause he was fighting for.  Other fighters mocked the idea he was fighting for black people.  Like the rest of them, he was a warrior, fighting for himself.

One Punch: How Ken Norton Became a Boxing Legend in a Single Night
In 1973 the little-regarded Ken Norton beat Ali and broke his jaw.
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