I find it difficult to believe that he has left us. From the very beginning of my existence, he has been there. His appearance on Different Strokes (the television show) captured my attention. He was in the discussions of grown men debating whether or not he was truly the greatest. I was only privy to his later fights although my mother and I had no cable TV at home. Then came the Mike Tyson era and everybody’s opinion changed. However, most of us didn’t really know who Muhammad Ali truly was. Through virtue of documentaries and the inception of the internet, I took it upon myself to research as much as I could of this truly remarkable individual.
I remember the Larry Holmes fight in 1980, I was all of nine years old, where he took a tremendous beating and looked like he should have never stepped into the ring with him. Some said he was too old and should stop fighting. Others pointed out what he had done to Leon Spinks in the Superdome of New Orleans back on September 15, 1978. I cried. With no father around, I invested heavily into whom I deemed my male role models back then (Ali, Dr. J, and Bruce Lee). I had no prior knowledge of who he was. Back then, it just seemed like everywhere you looked there was some kind of influence or reference to him. He was larger than life but I didn’t know exactly why.
He was an extraordinary boxer. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., he represented the United States of America in the 1960 Olympics bringing home the gold medal. He was lightning fast with ridiculously quick feet. He fought like a middleweight incased in a heavyweight’s body. He was revolutionary in his approach, unfundamental yet technically sound, dropping his hands to invite his opponent to strike him, all the while knowing his counter would be faster. He had more knowledge of the boxing craft than he was ever given credit for. The only thing he possessed that was faster than his hands were his wits. He was elusive while standing directly in front of you. He could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee but he knew that your hands could not hit what your eyes could not see. He was magnificent.
He was outspoken during a time where he was not allowed to be, battling racism and conservative views. He became a member of the Nation of Islam promulgating the attributes of the black man and fighting for his rights and the rights of others. He was now worthy of praise most high as he became Muhammad Ali. He would not go to fight and slay oppressed people of another country in the name of politics, so the powers that be took his belt, his license, and his right to the pursuit of happiness. Yet, he stood his ground in the face of adversity and financial hardships. He was still the champ in the hearts of the people.
The Supreme Court of the United States found him to be righteous and freed him to continue to be great but the damage was done. He was no longer the boxer he used to be. He would evolve. He brought with him a granite chin and an iron will. We would now be witness to his improbable come back and spectacular feats. He made boxing a global event fighting in Africa and Manila, as he was truly a World Champion.
The years can be unkind as what we are becoming battles with what we have left of who we used to be. He was slower in movement, reflexes, and, most unkindly, his speech. Parkinson’s syndrome was now evident but not crippling. He became a humanitarian and a champion of the people. He never shinned brighter.
Although our beloved Muhammad Ali has now left the mortal world, his legend will always be revered. He was not only a World Champion but also a champion of the world. He has transcended his sport and evolved into a symbol of the human spirit. No other athlete has ever given more of himself to the point that has left an indelible mark on several generations globally. It has been an honor and a privilege to have been moved and swayed by his profound words and erudite endeavors in and out of the arena. He was truly the greatest of all times. As I silently mourn and lament his passing, I can truly say that for millions around the world, he was truly the greatest of all times. I miss you Champ, you were and always will be my hero.