June 12, 2016
As a boy around the age of ten, Muhammad Ali was about to fight Joe Frazier and what was to be the first of their three fights. I didn’t really know much about him except for the fact that my dad disliked him and wanted Joe Frazier to knock him about. Well my dad got his wish when Frazier won the epic fight and put Ali on the canvass. I remember listening to the fight on the radio with my dad and brothers, except it wasn’t even blow by blow announcing. The listener only received an end of the round description of the action and who won the round. The days before closed circuit television and pay per view where harsh for the fans.
After that fight I started to learn about Ali and his past. At the age of ten it was hard for me to understand why my dad disliked him so. But I asked him anyway and he just said that Ali refused to serve his country. Again, I was too young to comprehend why Ali did that, but I did understand my dad’s feelings because he had to go fight in World War II and also had two boys eligible for the draft. It took me years to understand Ali’s motives for sitting in jail while others served. The sixties put every young person to the test with the war, the cultural changes and how to communicate with the older generation. Ali signified not just the cause of African Americans but all young people of that era who felt at odds with the war. He was a protesting based on his beliefs and he paid the price both professionally and personally.
My father was by far not the only person who didn’t understand Ali, the list was long it would take years for many to come around. Because of my early exposure to the hate machine for Ali, it took me a long time to find myself rooting for him. Even Ali’s sense of humor and mastery of his public persona took a long time wear down the most cynical minds. By my high school years Ali was at the peak of his career and had beaten Joe Frazier two times, George Forman, Ken Norton two out of three times and I rooted against him every time.
After I finished high school, Ali’s career was winding down and only fought a couple of more times. I finally found myself pulling for him against Larry Holmes which was worst fight of his career. It was money grab by many but deep down it was Ali going out on his own terms. Larry Holmes easily beat Ali which was difficult to watch. For the first time I felt his vulnerability and some his mighty powers diminished. It is one of the saddest things in sports when older athletes have to prove it to themselves that it is time to move on.
For me, the reason I didn’t like Ali in the seventies was what I perceived was brashness and over confidence. He appeared to never show humility and respect for opponents. Years later, I began to understand his story as a whole and able to put his behavior in context. Over the years the public learned more of his generosity, social activism and struggles with Parkinson’s disease. He will always be considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, but he transcended the ring and became a bigger force for inspiration to anybody wants to live their life true to their beliefs.