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All Hail The GOAT!

December 11, 1981 isn’t a date that resonates in the great annals of history, but it should.  On this day 27 years ago the greatest athlete in the history of sports faced the ultimate demise of his illustrious career in the idyllic paradise of the Bahamas.  An aged 39 year old Muhammad Ali fought for the last time against young heavyweight Trevor Berbick.  Ali left the bout on his feet and with his legacy firmly intact, but as he said “sometimes we all grow old.”

When mentioning the greatest athletes of all-time folks from generations x, y, and whatever other letter we’re on now seem to be clouded by the legend of Michael Jordan and to a lesser extent, Tiger Woods.  Older folks may still point to Babe Ruth, while some mention Ali.  While all are worthy candidates, the debate begins and ends with Muhammad Ali.  In the ring, no boxer in history matched the sheer combination of speed, power, strength of chin, ring generalship, and sheer charisma.  Outside of the ring, no athlete, even His Airness, possessed the ability to transcend sport, unite people, polarize people, catalyze social movements, simultaneously being considered a symbol of hope and a symbol of revolution, and an international ambassador.  Ali’s transformation from the “Louisville Lip” to the face of the black Muslims, to social activist to prodigal boxing son returning to glory, to aging warrior, to symbol of boxing’s ugliness, to international ambassador of peace and freedom took place on the world’s stage.

Might For Right
Might For Right

Ali’s craft was the art of war and through his trials and tribulations in the ring he defined the transforming world of his time.  The downtrodden, the unemancipated, and the legions of unrepresented around the world found their inspiration in Ali.  The hegemonic power structure feared Ali and his catalyzing capabilities.  Thus, when Ali stood up and refused to go to Vietnam he was stripped of his title and banished from his place of work and artisty; the ring.  Ali lost 3.5 years of his prime athleticism only to return reborn, reinvigorated, and determined to continue the fight.  Ask yourself, would Lebron James or Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or Jeff Gordon or Peyton Manning leave their respective sports in the prime on principle alone.  No way, no how.  Ali did, and because he did, no other athlete has ever felt that they should have to.

Upon his return, Ali coupled the skills of his youth a brazen maturity borne from the fire of  indomitable spirit.  In his absence, Joe Frazier ascended to the top of the boxing world.  Ali immediately set his sights on Frazier.  Their first fight at Madison Square Garden is the single greatest sporting event in history.  Not only was this a battle of styles, Frazier’s old-school Philadelphia slugging versus Ali’s combination of speed and power.  This was a battle of social proportions.  The reigning champ, Frazier, was seen as a pawn for the existing social structure, while Ali symbolized the determination and antiestablishment pathos of the civil rights movement and the hippies.  In the epic battle, Frazier emerged victorious and broke Ali’s jaw in the process.  However, they would meet two other time including the “Thrilla In Manilla.”

In the late 1970s Ali became a symbol of the evils of boxing and of the classic notion of “athletes” holding on too long.  Losses to Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick tarnished Ali’s image at the time and eventually led to his battle with Parkinson’s Disease.  However, even shaky and with muted speech, Ali still captivates people to this day.  His lighting of the Olympic torch in 1996 summed up his legacy.  Though battle-tested and slightly worse for wear, the fiery passion for life Ali always possessed still burned brightly.

In a time when athletes have become excessively self-absorbed, glorified for menial accomplishments, and put on pedestals because of their salaries, it’s important to look back at Muhammad Ali and see how the greatest conducted himself throughout his nearly 50 years on the world stage.  The sense of entitlement that exudes from most pro athletes leads them to the idea that they are invincible and above the law.  In the fight game, the MMA-ification of both boxing and MMA has reduced fighters to gladiators and beasts, and the fighter as an artist of war has all but become extinct.  So on this anniversary of the GOAT’s passing from athlete to icon the FlyMaster screams “All Hail the Goat and Long Live the Greatest.”

FlyMaster Signing Off…For Now!

December 11, 2008 - Posted by | Boxing, Features & Opinions, General, MMA | , , , , , ,

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