By Eddy Montilla.
Many people like watching boxing because they cannot fight or because of the internal streak of sadism of human beings that creates pleasure when they see a person hitting another, pleasure that becomes sweeter since they are not the one who is receiving the punches. Cassius Clay Jr, today known as Muhammad Ali, proclaimed himself “the greatest” in boxing. Despite his impressive record (56 wins and 5 losses) and his sensational victory over George Foreman, his loss against Joe Frazier in that historic and gladiatorial bout makes me question his self-proclamation. Sugar Ray Robinson, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and perhaps two more other boxers can be solid contenders for the title of “the greatest”.
Where I do not have the slightest doubt about Ali’s greatness is out of the ring. From the beginning, Muhammad Ali was fantastic and frequently praised for his boxing talents. He was an Olympic medalist in Rome with a genuine boxing style at 18. He won, lost and reclaimed the heavyweight title, but he had to wait, in my opinion, until the summer of 1996, when the world saw him trembling because of Parkinson’s disease, to receive the respect he really deserved. Ali suffered himself the ambiguity of being one of the USA’s great boxing figures and being a black person precluded from using the same public facilities as their white neighbours. Ali had to fight against racism too.
While many famous boxers ended up in prison for homicide (Carlos Monzón) or have ruined their lives in the world of drugs and alcohol (Julio César Chávez, Mike Tyson, etc.), Muhammad Ali fought for black people’s basic civil rights. He was a man committed to social causes, he devoted himself to humanitarian work, a United Nation Goodwill Ambassador who preferred to lose the best years of his career rather than fight in the absurd Vietnam War. As a boxer, Muhammad Ali will always be remembered for his “big mouth” before, during and after his bouts, for his speed and agility inside the ring and for his famous quote “…float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…”, but those who know all things that he did for many people around the world have more reasons to remember him for things that are truly important. These people can bestow the title of “the greatest boxer out of the ring” on him. Nothing better than that.
This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion with Eddy Montilla.
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