During my childhood I was fairly regularly told about sporting greats. Today’s equivalents are never as good as the ones from the past, are they? They didn’t always need to be the best or most highly skilled; they could just be better. I think everyone knows this from their childhood days!
Today, one of the world’s greatest sportsmen died at the age of 74 – Muhammad Ali.
During his own childhood (at the age of 12), Cassius Clay had his bike stolen. Police Officer Joe Martin advised Clay to hone his boxing skills before pursuing the thief, and a legend was born.
As a kid, I remember my Dad showing us The Rumble In The Jungle which pitted the undefeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman against challenger Muhammad Ali, then a former heavyweight champion. Attendance was about 60,000 in Zaire. Ali won by knockout, putting Foreman down just before the end of the eighth round. It has been called “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century”.
However, as Mike Costello notes for the BBC:
And what must also be included in any debate about all-time rankings is the boxer’s impact within and beyond his sport. Again, Ali belongs at a table for one.
The Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla in Manila and the Fight of the Century were straplines for nights so big they spawned songs, books and documentaries.
“They weren’t fights, they were happenings,” Ali’s great friend Gene Kilroy told me in a BBC documentary in 2002.
Kilroy was luckier than most. He was there.
It’s not Ali’s fights that stick with me – it’s the soundbites. I think everyone knows the poetic “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.” Most will have heard “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
I’d just like to share two more. They don’t need explanation. They’re what separates the sportsman from the legend in my eyes. Ali consistently strived to be a great human being and was desperate to be remembered for other reasons than purely his boxing ability.
I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked above him. Who stood up for his beliefs… Who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.
The sport was mentioned first, but after it was a recognition of the standing he had and the ability he had to do things, summed up by:
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.
Impossible is nothing. If there’s one thing that everyone should be told in their childhood, it’s that impossible is nothing.
Just you and me
That true love
It was taken away from us so young
We’re summer kids
Without a song
We’re fading in to oblivion
But we’re still the one
We got our guard up
And we’re hung up on another loss
I need to summon all these demons keeping me on the floor
But now we’re here and I am giving everything to you
Just say you need this
Say you need me, say you want this too
Say you want this too
Say you need this too
We’re the greatest
Gets it like we do
Kills it like we do
We’re the greatest
No one does it like we do
The Greatest by Ellie Goulding