Muhammad Ali: The Greatest of All Time
I was not a Muhammad Ali fan so unlike much of what you might have heard and read over the weekend this will not be a tribute to one of my boyhood idols. In truth I became an Ali fan after he retired from boxing as I greatly admired how he lived his life during a 32 year battle with Parkinson’s disease which ultimately led to his death at the age of 74.
My two greatest Ali memories are fights he did not win in the ring. On March 8, 1971 he fought Joe Frazier for the heavyweight championship at Madison Square Garden in what was billed as the “Fight of the Century.”
Both fighters were undefeated and it was just the third bout for Ali following his 3 1/2-year exile from boxing for refusing to register for the military draft. I was 15-years old and a Frazier fan which clearly put me in the minority when it came to my schoolmates.
That Monday night I remember staying up and listening to round-by-round recaps on the all-news radio station and cheering when “Smokin Joe” won a unanimous decision. It had to be close to midnight before I finally fell asleep.
Flash forward to October of 1980 and I had already been working for over a year at WOBM. Ali ended a brief retirement and at 38 years old was trying to win the heavyweight title for a fourth time by fighting his former sparring partner Larry Holmes. I remember driving up to what is now the PNC Bank Arts Center with Bob Levy and Steve Paul to watch the fight on closed circuit TV.
Ali had fooled everyone into thinking he was in great shape and by fight time many believed him. It turned out that he had nothing left and took a brutal beating before his corner mercifully stopped it after the 10th round. I left that night feeling sad for him.
Ali was as big a celebrity as there’s ever been in the pre-social world and he used his fame for many worthwhile causes. He was Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Pele all rolled into one. He was outspoken, iconic, bombastic, polarizing, transcendent, unifying and yes pretty. He just might have been the greatest of all time.