Why the Greatest?


Like so many, I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Muhammad Ali.

I went to a Christian Brothers high school and the Brothers would stop classes so we could watch Muhammad Ali fights on TV. Bonus!

Perhaps it was the time, perhaps it was different back then.

But Muhammad Ali left a mark on our lives.

He was “The Greatest”. Still is. Always will be.

Sure, in different domains others carry that label. Bradman in cricket. Warne as a spin bowler. Lillee as a fast bowler. Brocky on Mt Panorama. The All Blacks. The Beatles. Elvis. Pharlap. You get my drift.

But in reality, when someone refers to “The Greatest” outside of a specific context, it comes back to Muhammad Ali. Well it does for my, anyway.

He wasn’t just a boxer. Although he was probably the best of all time.

He wasn’t just a young man from Kentucky who won the Golden Gloves, Olympic Gold, and the world title multiple times.

He was a leader.

He stood for things. And as a result, peopled followed him,

It wasn’t cool to change your name in the 1960’s in America from Cassius Clay  to Muhammad Ali. It wasn’t cool to change your Baptist faith to Islam. It wasn’t cool to say I’m not going to fight some people with whom I have no gripe.

It wasn’t cool. It wasn’t pantomime, though at times his delivery was very clever and very funny!

It was principle.

Imagine if more leaders in the world today stood for things so bravely? Elections in Australia and the USA right now could be changed by people who really stood for principles like Muhammad Ali.

I love some of his quotes.

On boxing:

“I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round. I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today.”

“When I’m gone, boxing will be nothing again. The fans with the cigars and the hats turned down’ll be there, but no more housewives and little men in the street and foreign presidents. It’s goin’ to be back to the fighter who comes to town, smells a flower, visits a hospital, blows a horn and says he’s in shape. Old hat. I was the onliest boxer in history people asked questions like a senator.”

“I done something new for this fight. I wrestled with an alligator. I tussled with a whale. I handcuffed lightning, I thrown thunder in jail. Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

And my favourite:

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark.”

And then there were quotes on life:

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.”

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me.”

“What I suffered physically was worth what I’ve accomplished in life. A man who is not courageous enough to take risks will never accomplish anything in life.”

“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If not pretend you are.”

“It’s the affirmations that lead to to beliefs. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

And the humour and poignancy was always there:

“Don’t count the days. Make the days count”

“Live every day like it’s your last, because someday you’re going to be right.”

Yesterday was Muhammad Ali’s last.

But The Greatest will live on. He impacted the world.

RIP great man.


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