June 6, 2016

Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee — Our World Without Muhammad Ali

The Greatest is Gone But Not Forgotten
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

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.

I 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 "guests" 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 communication.

"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 God.

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 in question:

"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.

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?

The Week Muhammad Ali Died — 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.

Goodbye Muhammad, we love you forever

"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."

Poem from Ali's #1 fan,

Paddy Monaghan