Muhammad Ali and Me
My dad was a boxer.
Everything I know about my father’s boxing career comes from the stories, the trophies, and old photographs. I never saw him fight. He quit boxing before I was born. I can’t say I know the reasons, but I can guess it had something to do with supporting a wife and new family, namely me in 1960.
Born in 1936, his early childhood spanned a world war and it was in post war America, with Joe Louis as the boxing hero, that my father’s love for the sport was born. In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, boxing clubs were as common as convenience stores today. It was kind of a rite of passage for young men to try their hand in the ring and my dad was pretty good at it. He never lost a fight.
For me and boxing it was 1970 and a controversial figure named Muhammad Ali. I remember my dad talking about this fighter and calling him Cassius Clay and then explaining to me that he changed his name for his religion and that he refused to go fight in Viet Nam because of his religious beliefs. At age 10 those things weren’t all that interesting to me I just wanted to see if there was going to be a knock out, but it appeared to me even at that young age, that my dad respected Ali for that. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were Mormons and he understood what it meant to make choices that were very different from the world due to one’s faith. I don’t know. But I do know we never missed an Ali fight.
I can’t say I was an Ali fan. I think it had something to do with my mother’s teaching that it was wrong to be cocky, boastful, and arrogant, and Muhammad Ali was all of those things and then some. So, due to a mother’s strong influence, I always cheered for the other guy. History says I cheered for a lot of losers.
In that first fight of 1970, Ali’s return from exile after three years of being banned from the ring due to his decision not to go to Viet Nam, my guy Jerry Quarry, lost when a cut in the 3rd round forced an end to the fight and a TKO win for Ali.
Outwardly, I may not have been a fan, but inwardly I loved to watch Ali fight. He was light on his feet, quick, always moving, fast hands and feet, and when he struck it was hard and accurate. His style was truly elegant and graceful which is why the phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” was the perfect simile.
I don’t think my dad and I missed a single heavy weight bout by Ali. Boxing was on free TV then. We watched the majority of his fights on a little black and white set. I remember listening to Howard Cosell at ringside giving the call blow-by-blow.
By the late 70s and early 80s, as the Champ’s career was coming to a close, I was more fan than foe. Ali had been so good for so long, it was hard not to like him and impossible not to respect him. Though I never had the opportunity to meet Muhammad Ali he had become a friend. No longer the foe. No longer the recipient of my agitation. When he fought Leon Spinks, losing once then coming back to win the second time, and then Larry Holmes who exposed the declining Ali and handed him the worst defeat of his career, I… no all, could see the end was near. When it did end, it happened in a less than spectacular 10 round loss by decision to Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981. My heart ached for the man I loved to hate for so long who’s only real defeat in my mind came at the slow and methodical hands of father time. That irony isn’t lost.
The Greatest of all time had come to the end of his dominance in the ring and I was sad.
Now 25 years after his last defeat in the ring, The Greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali, has come to the end of his sojourn on this earth.
And I am sad.