Sunday, June 5, 2016

The death of Muhammad Ali

I too mourn the passing of Ali, but in a decidedly different way from many others. While "notables" (and the ever-fawning talking heads) go on and on about his "greatness", yours truly considered him anything but.

To me, the death of any person (or even some beloved animals) is a sad thing. But it's going to happen eventually to all of us. Millions are born and die every day around the world. Should one life be considered more or less important than another? In the whole scheme of things, of course not.

But we're human, with all the flaws that go with it, so we value some people much more than others. As an example -- the loss of a loved one, be it family or friend, is much more emotionally devastating than reading about a stranger dying across town. We had no attachment to the latter, so we forget about it in 5 seconds like it never happened. But it did, and somebody somewhere grieves.

Muhammad Ali was such a stranger to me. I never knew the man nor was ever in close proximity to him. In fact, he was an anti-hero in my life. Ali did things my parents rightfully taught me not to as a little boy. Don't brag, but rather be humble when you have success. Respect authority. For the most part, it's there for a good reason. Never EVER taunt or belittle an inferior opponent. Last but not least, if you don't have something worthwhile to say -- shut up. Ali ran roughshod over such gentlemanly behavior, which gave rise to the big-mouths and show-offs that infest professional sports to this day.

His gold medal in the Olympics goes back too far for yours truly to remember. But I vaguely recall the Sonny Liston fight as a young boy. Liston was a bruiser that was supposed to clobber the mouthy kid. In hindsight, Ali had fought a bunch of bums leading up to that fight, and Liston was little more than a bar brawler -- hardly an accomplished boxer.

For that matter, consider Ali's total career record. 56-5. Of those 61 fights, at least 50 of them can be chalked up to getting in the ring with "stiffs". They either weren't ever any good, or far past their prime.

Though much is made of how MA claimed the heavyweight championship three times -- those 5 losses -- and even one win -- are quite telling.

Joe Frazier whupped him. Ken Norton flat out beat him up. Leon Spinks -- LEON SPINKS!! -- would drub him. Sure, MA would avenge those losses, but they were still losses. Leon Spinks? Really?

Then the rumble in the jungle, rope-a-dope thing with George Foreman came about. Ali was flapping his gums again when it was over. But you'll notice that while he always quickly got rematches against opponents that had defeated him -- no such chance was ever given to Foreman.

Later on Larry Holmes would absolutely demolish MA in the ring. Holmes was everything Ali used to be but much better in every way. MA was past his prime, you say? True enough, but it's not like he didn't do the same thing earlier in his career to others. Former champ Floyd Patterson was on his last legs at age 37 back in 1972 -- while MA was in his prime -- but Ali shamelessly took the fight. A couple go-rounds with Jerry Quarry? And who the hell was Rudy Lubbers?

Against top-tier competition, Ali could be considered average. He won a few and he lost a few. Nothing great about it. Never was. Just him telling everybody how great he was, and way too many people buying into it.

So yes, it's sad that he has passed on. But no more so than the guy across town who I didn't know either. In death, one will be paraded across his home town for his adoring masses to give their last respects to -- while the other will quietly be put to rest. Which was actually the better man during his time on earth?

Hard to say. God will sort it out.

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