By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest
|The Greatest is Gone But Not Forgotten|
On the Friday that devout Muslim Muhammad Ali died in the United
States of America, a ruthless Middle Eastern war was raging in Islamic
State held territory in Syria and Iraq. Western backed forces, along
with brave allies in the region, were fighting brutal ISIS jihadists to
liberate cities and towns from the genocidal terrorist organization. The
ultimate result of this global conflict continues to hang in the
balance. Only one certainty now exists in the decades long struggle
between the West and radical Islam. Things are going to get worse before
they get better.
The world is again inching towards total war.
could not possibly begin to imagine how Ali, an American Olympian from
Kentucky who took the name of Islam's holiest Prophet and joined the
Nation of Islam, regarded the often violent relationships between his
birth country and his spiritual Meccas ten thousand miles away. What I
can imagine, like John Lennon might have, is only that it could've
been very different had Ali been able to live up to his true potential
on Earth: peacemaking ambassador of goodwill for all mankind. As a
peaceful Muslim American of global fame and international respect, Ali
was in a unique position to serve as a much needed bridge between these
two increasingly disparate worlds. In fact, Ali did have some some
success in this regard, when in 1991 during the first Gulf War, he met
with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to arrange the return of American
held against their will by the dictator.
|The Louisville Lips |
Unfortunately, Parkinson's Syndrome, exacerbated by the sheer brutality of boxing, robbed Ali of his once unmatched powers of diplomatic
"People are bombing people because of religious
beliefs. We need somebody in the world to help make peace," Ali told a
captive audience in Newcastle, United Kingdom during a speaking
engagement there in 1977. "When I get out of boxing, I'm gonna use my
name and my popularity to help unite people," Ali told the fascinated
crowd. Nobody seemed to doubt his sincerity. "God is watching me and He wants to know how we're treating each other," Ali emphasized. Two years later
in Tehran, Iran, 52 of Ali's fellow American citizens were taken hostage
for 444 days by Muslim extremists who attacked the U.S. embassy. I'm
sorry Muhammad, nobody ever made world peace in the Middle East. Only
more war and more terrifying terror. Tragically,
Ali lived to see his religious faith hijacked by terrorists who then
rammed it into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The horror of it all continues to
rage to this day with no clear end in sight.
Imagine with me a different world then.
One in which Muhammad Ali
retires from boxing after winning the heavyweight championship of the
world for a third time against Leon Spinks in 1978. No more comebacks.
No terrible beating from a young Larry Holmes. Instead, imagine that Ali,
like Vitali Klitschko today in the troubled Ukraine, got out of boxing
and went immediately to work on the political problems that plagued his
people. Ali could surely have become a Mayor like Klitschko or even a People's
President. All doors were open to Ali, all possibilities within reach
for a man of his immense stature. Perhaps President Jimmy Carter might've asked
Ali to be involved in the historic Camp David Accords. In 1974, Carter's
predecessor Gerald Ford brought Ali to the White House as part of
his Presidential effort to heal the nation in the wake of Watergate.
The effect of Ali was
always to turn enemies into friends. To unite the divided.
Imagine Ali in a position to help negotiate peace between his Islamic
world and his Western world.
|Ali with his parents Odessa and Cassius Senior|
Odessa Clay's magnificent son was a
perfect reflection of both cultures.
Nobody but Ali in his duality could
have pulled it off. That it didn't happen without him is proof enough
of that. People are still bombing other people because of religious
beliefs. In life, Ali spoke often of his "getting ready"
to one day meet
Though I'm sure he was more than ready when the day finally came, nothing could've better
prepared Ali than unifying the world in peace before he died. The sad
truth is that Ali's boxing related health complications prevented him
from becoming any of these things. Author Joyce Carol Oates put it best
in her masterwork 'On Boxing'
when she wrote of the sport
"More than any other
human activity, it consumes the very excellence it displays."
Boxing afforded Muhammad Ali a great deal before demanding its heavy price be paid in full. That's pugilism's poetic justice.
What's So Civil About War Anyway?
— Bostonian Civil War soldier Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, writing home to his
mother during the war to end the institution of slavery in America: "We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written
but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any." One of those men was Muhammad Ali, the great American poet of pugilism. Shaw, along with thousands of other men who made the ultimate sacrifice, fell in battle on American soil so that Ali could one day live in freedom.
|Ali and Frazier are no more|
Greatest Goodbye — The only person who could possibly explain, eulogize, and
commemorate Muhammad Ali is gone. That person was Ali himself.
Ahead of his time and far beyond his Earthly peers in nearly every way
imaginable, there exists nobody out there today capable of putting into
words the true meaning of the man better than the man himself already
did. Still, many will try but all will fail. Don't take my word for it.
I'm as inadequate as the rest of these pretenders and wordsmiths. Go
back and listen to the great man. Ali said it all. He told you who he
was and why it mattered. If you didn't pay attention, I'm sorry for your loss.
The Week Muhammad Ali Died
Where There's Smoke There's Fire — There's been a lot of talk about
which of Muhammad Ali's 61 prizefights find him at his absolute best.
Many fans and media point to the 1966 destruction of Cleveland Williams
and say "The Greatest" never looked better. This may be so but if you
could still ask Ali, he'd say what he always said about the question.
He'd disagree with you. He'd tell you that Williams was really not all
that good of a fighter and that he (Ali) was young and fast and pretty
when he knocked him out. Ali points to the third Joe Frazier fight as
the truest example of when he was at his very best in the ring. Ali said
Joe was much better than Williams and that he (Ali) had to be even
better than his own younger self to whoop him. So who you gonna believe? Ali or your own lying eyes?
— In years past, it had become a familiar
routine on social media. News would break of Ali's latest trip to the
hospital and the online world would go crazy with worry, blowing the
truth of the matter way out of proportion. Nobody was "closer to death"
more often than Ali apparently was. When we first became aware early
last week that "The Greatest" was hospitalized, the reaction was
deliberately muted. Oh, this again?
Thoughts and prayers to Muhammad but I'm sure he's probably fine. In fact, the wolf was right outside the door, hungrier than ever.
As the week dragged, so did feet when it came to Ali. Nobody wanted to
believe it nor did they think they could, or should. Let's just wait and
see what happens we thought. By Friday, things went from here to there
faster than any Ali combination. Just like that, we'd been a
rope-a-doped and Muhammad Ali was gone. If you blinked, you missed it.
The little boy who cried wolf is really crying now.
"World Heavyweight Champions may come and go,
But in Muhammad Ali's case, this will never be so.
Because, forever, he will always be,
The People's Champion,
To you and to me."
|Goodbye Muhammad, we love you forever|
Poem from Ali's #1 fan,