He was the warrior poet who stood by his beliefs.
As you can imagine, this would endear me to Muhammad Ali even if he hadn’t had an enormous part in shaping some of my most cherished childhood memories. Ali is the reason I’ve loved the sport of boxing for most of my life, as I’d spent Saturday afternoons in the 70’s bonding with my Dad while we watched boxing on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Ali celebrated the imagination, and I loved that. (The man who has no imagination has no wings.)
He was a conscientious objector who refused draft into the Vietnam War, and I admired that, too. As a combat veteran, I recognize that objecting the war was his right as an American citizen.
Later, he leveraged his fame to do service by participating in the release of American hostages in Iran. Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth… the first version I’d heard of this quote came from Ali.
For years, I had a poster of this iconic photo from Ali’s (then Clay’s) second fight with the great Sonny Liston:
Ali practically invented the sport of pre-fight trash-talking, and he literally made an art of it. He sometimes used his poetry guns to fire off his trash talk:
Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat,
If Liston goes back an inch farther he’ll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings with a left,
Clay swings with a right,
Just look at young Cassius carry the fight.
Liston keeps backing but there’s not enough room,
It’s a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom.
Then Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing,
And the punch raised the bear clear out of the ring.
Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown,
But he can’t start counting until Sonny comes down.
Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic
But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who on Earth thought, when they came to the fight,
That they would witness the launching of a human satellite.
Hence the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money,
That they would see a total eclipse of Sonny.
RIP Muhammad Ali.