Today, boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, will go home in a blaze of glory. The eyes of the world will be on him one more time – one last time – before he is committed to eternity at the Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky.
This time, he will be displayed in state. He will not be displaying his prodigious boxing talents nor dispensing to a mesmerised audience his gift of gab and poetry which combined euphonically with his pugilistic artistry to make him, indeed, “the greatest” in the boxing ring and one of the most outstanding personalities of the 20th Century.
It is very rare for nature to endow one man with so many sublime gifts. Ali was a spectacular piece of male specie to behold: tall, elegant and singularly comely. Yet, there was great power, speed and strategy in his punches. He was also quick with his tongue and spontaneously belted out poetic sound bites that left longer lasting impacts than his knockout punches.
Ali predicted when he would win fights, and often delivered as promised. He was more than just a boxer in so many ways. As a Black activist, he refused to fight for America in the Vietnam War. He refused to kill “Yellow people” when Blacks like him were treated like dogs at home. In fact, Ali (formerly named Cassius Clay) embraced Islam as part of his rebellion against a system that treated Black people with contempt.
So, when people went to watch Ali in the ring, it was not just the fights they went to see. It was a combination of all these outstanding attributes which drew millions of people to the noble game of boxing. Ali made boxing one of the most popular sports in the world, and when he retired, it was not until another great (Mike Tyson) came along that boxing became interesting again, especially in the heavyweight category.
Muhammad Ali was a three-time world champion, which means he was beaten three times though he came back to regain the titles. He was definitely not invincible, and eventually, was permanently victimised by the punishments he received from his opponents. For 32 years he lived with the Parkinson’s disease, which gradually took everything, except his legend, from him.
The 1960 Olympic Gold medalist was to confess that God gave him this massively wasting disease to let him know that he (Ali) “was not the greatest”. Only God is. Human greatness, in the end, is vanity. Always.
The entire world stands still with deep appreciation as Ali shrugs off the simplicity of Islamic burial in favour of the pageantry of a Hollywood-style celebrity exit.
We wish his soul eternal rest.