Remembering “The Greatest”
At the time of this writing, the Major League Baseball season is about a third of the way complete, and the Nats & O’s are in first place in their respective divisions. Dare we dream of a “Beltway Series”? What a storyline that would be: The team whose ownership tried to keep baseball out of The Nation’s Capital versus DC’s team! So far, so good…
Now, to today’s topic. There’s no way I can add to the millions of spoken and written words about the late Muhammad Ali. He was truly an original, a boxing legend who became a world ambassador. Think of how amazing it was that in a time without social media, the internet, etc., that Ali could travel to the most remote corner of the world and instantly be recognized.
He was also possibly the first real “trash-talker”. No one could out-talk Ali, with his witty poems and put-downs. But there was a method to his madness. Ali realized that these things put fannies in seats, and his boxing matches were “events” that transcended the world of sports. Ali understood the art of promotion.
Case in point: you may or may not remember when Ali “fought” the great Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1976. This was to settle the great debate of “boxer versus wrestler.” The bout turned out to be a farce, with Inoki on his back most of the fight kicking at the Champ. But I digress. Leading up to the fight, Ali made an appearance on a WWF (now WWE) TV card and taunted wrestler Gorilla Monsoon. Ali entered the ring, and was immediately put into an “airplane spin” by Monsoon, who later said “I could have done anything I wanted to him.” Ali made himself a villian (or in pro wrestling parlance, a “heel”) in order to build hype for his match with Inoki. He knew how to sell tickets.
My memories of Ali take me back to the classic Ali-Frazier fights. There was no pay-per-view, so I had to listen through the static of a far away AM radio station for round-by-round updates. If you wanted to see the fight, you had to watch Wide World of Sports a week or 2 later. There were “closed circuit” locations, but none near me.
Growing up in a conservative household, I rooted for “Smokin’ Joe” in these fights. A lot of folks on that side of the fence still called Ali by his former name Cassius Clay. Frazier represented conservative, blue-collar, pro Vietnam War America (not by his design), while Ali represented the liberal, anti-war faction of the country. These were polarizing fights that went beyond the ring.
Time, however, has a tendency to give things a milder hue, and with his passing, we remember Ali as a man who was larger than life, a man who, whether or not we shared his views, was willing to sacrifice his boxing career for his convictions. He was boisterous, brash, and loud, and backed it up, much to the dismay of a lot of us. He came from humble beginnings to become 3-time Heavyweight Champion of the World, and inspired millions to reach for their dreams.
He floated like a butterfly, and stung like a bee. Rest in Peace, Muhammad Ali.
That’s it from The Booth! GO HORNETS!