King of the World
I remember it well just as if it was yesterday although I was only ten years old back then. I felt it coming weeks in advance. My uncle, who I lived with at the time, talked about it almost daily. The adults in my neighborhood discussed it with passion and excitement in their voices. I didn’t know what to expect but like Alice in Wonderland, I grew curiouser and curiouser.
Muhammad Ali The Greatest was set to fight Foreman. That’s what all the hype was about, rightly so, as this Ali was going to fight four men! Well at least that what my naive mind thought as I had never heard anyone called ‘Foreman’ before and I knew nothing about boxing. And yes, I was a bit slow on the uptake.
The fight couldn’t come soon enough and when it did, it found my uncle and I sitting in front of a small black and white television. Back in those days, it was the biggest television I had ever seen, even though it was only a 13 inch. There were no pay-per view and we had just the one channel but I guess the fight was broadcast to all the networks as we were able to watch in on our one-channel television. Oh the good old days…
I didn’t know what to expect but the hype was contagious. I could feel something epic was about to happen but I had no clue what it was. I didn’t have to wait long. As I watched, a procession made its way to the ring. It was Ali! He was surrounded by policemen and his team. He smiled at the crowd and looked very relaxed. Ali entered the ring and immediately started bouncing and shadow boxing. He did the famed Ali shuffle as he waited for his opponent to show up.
Then a brute of man walked into the ring. The big brutish looking guy was announced as George Foreman. It didn’t take me long to make the connection and correction, although Foreman could have passed for four men. His arms were like black steel and he looked ready to inflict pain on whoever was brave enough to step into the square ropes with him. Foreman didn’t smile and I hated him right away as he reminded me of the bullies in my school. Ali bomaye!
My first fight was epic indeed. I had no idea what I was watching but my uncle and I wanted Ali to win. My uncle was in a frenzy. He kept jumping up and throwing punches in the air while yelling, “Hit him! Yes! Hit him! Knock him out!” It didn’t seem like a nice thing to say but as long as my guy Ali was doing the hitting I was alright with it. I doubted if there was a bigger fan of The Greatest that night. I was like a pre-teen girl at a Justin Bieber concert. For years after that night, I saw his round baby face dripping with sweat, pointing at me from the television and telling me ‘I am the Greatest! I am King Of The World!’ I never doubted him in the least.
The fight was not an easy win for Ali. My uncle and I thought he was done when he laid back onto the ropes and took punishing hooks to the body. We learned later that it was part of Ali’s plan and was called ‘The Rope-A-Dope’ and designed to wear the big bully out. It worked. Foreman was dead tired in the later rounds and wasn’t able to make the count after falling to a combination from Ali. The Greatest, The King came through once again. Beating the odds like he always did.
That night, I never knew that this Ali had also defied the odds prior to this fight and taken the boxing title away from a boxing legend named Sonny Liston. I never knew that this man had traded all that boxing had giving him, fame and fortune, to take a stand against something he didn’t believe in. The Vietnam war. His response to his being drafted, ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me Nigger.’ and “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” are forever etched in my memory. For his refusal to fight, he was subsequently arrested, stripped of his title and suspended.
After being away from boxing for three and a half years, Ali returned and soon reclaimed his throne as the King. The Rumble In The Jungle was the fight that gave him his crown back. The Greatest was still The Greatest.
After that fight, I was hooked on boxing as I wanted to see more of Ali. I wanted to see his flash, hear his taunting poems, his boasts, his predictions, I wanted more Ali. As I learned who he was beyond his pugilistic skills, I liked and respected him even more.
Although ravaged by Parkinson, Ali is still The King to me. His face no longer baby smooth and boyishly handsome but now aged and etched with visible signs of the disease. I do not look at him with sadness or pangs of pity. I still see before me, the man who made me believe. The man who defied odds. The man who I wanted to be like. The Greatest.
I hoped that one day, fate or destiny would have given me a chance to meet Ali but sadly, yesterday, Friday June 3rd, 2016, the man, the legend, the myth, the one they called The Greatest, floated away like a butterfly, he had lost his bee sting. Rest in peace, Ali. I will always remember you!
Edited from my original post written March 26th 2012