Thursday, January 19, 2012

Celebrating "The Greatest" on His 70th Birthday

By Rich Mancuso

To many he was “The Greatest Fighter of All-Time.” Muhammad Ali would say it that way, and we all believed because it was the truth. On his 70th birthday Tuesday, boxing once again received some deserved acclaim and a lot of that has to be attributed to Ali.

There was the unpredictability, the punch, and of course the foot- work, that “Floated like a Butterfly.” And while it can be open for debate, there is enough fact and evidence that Muhammad Ali was indeed and perhaps “The Greatest Fighter of All-Time.”

So when Ali reached a milestone, boxing was again in the spotlight. The sport always was in the headlines when the three-time heavyweight champion ruled a division that epitomized greatness. It was boxing, old school as we knew it, the sport of kings that had one legitimate heavyweight champion.

No alphabet soup champions. It was Muhammad Ali, a spokesperson for the sport when one champion was recognized as the best. Years later, it is a different and slower Ali. Not doing the shuffle, or much talking but still a great ambassador for the sport.

It was like yesterday when Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, would make an impact. Boxing then was a sport of kings. The late New York sports scribe, Dick Young informed this cub reporter in the 1980’s “Muhammad Ali was the easy story. You would ask the question and it was all about Ali.” In other words, there was no reason for a standard follow-up question.

And at a time when boxing was on the major networks, when pay-per-view and punch stats were never heard of, Ali was the theatre. The magnificent words of a champion that came with his punches lived up to expectations. We were never disappointed and he may be the most sought after former athlete of all-time.
You don’t want this to be a column in the memory of Muhammad Ali. That hopefully will not come for a long time, though those in his presence say his words are fewer, the walk much slower, and the shaking is more evident from the Parkinson Syndrome he has confronted the last decade.

A few years ago, this veteran reporter accompanied boxing author and historian Bert Sugar to see Ali at a hotel suite in New York City. Sugar recently published a book about Ali which was co-authored by Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee. It was about the exploits of Ali and how Dundee, giving a youngster Cassius Clay a chance at boxing fame.

Ali was gracious, as he was asked to rate the all-time heavyweights of his time. There was no conflict or memory loss regarding the same subject that he told Sugar for another book, “The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists.”
Here is how Ali organized his top ten heavyweights and noted without including himself:

Jack Johnson: “Defensive fighter”
Jack Dempsey: “Strong could take a punch”
Gene Tunney: “Great left jab. Straight punches”
Joe Louis: Knockout punching…Fast”
Ezzard Charles: “Scientific Boxer”
Jersey Joe Walcott: “Movement. He could come in, then move out.”
Rocky Marciano: “Rugged. He could take a punch and keep on coming.”
Joe Frazier: “Hit hard. Brawler.”
George Foreman: “Strong puncher. Hit hard. Dynamic.”
Larry Holmes: ‘Strong. He beat me, didn’t he?”

Very interesting as to how Ali put Marciano eighth, the only retired and undefeated heavyweight champion. And there has always been the debate and comparison, as to who was better, or who would win if they had ever traded fists in the ring.

And interesting as to how Ali rated Frazier, the late heavyweight champion who gave him his first defeat at Madison Square Garden in 1971 in the epic fight known as “The Fight of the Century.” Yes, it was an era of boxing that Ali knew and analyzed.

We hope that Muhammad Ali stays with us a long time more. Because he is a legend at the age of 70, and when we talk about the good era of boxing his name is at the top of the list.

A Happy Birthday to you Champ. Boxing needs you more now than ever!

This post is sponsored in part by Glen Cove Homes For Sale & Bay Club Bayside

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