Damn decrepitude that transformed the most beautiful picture of the perfect athlete into that of a stammering and trembling old man.
Horrible fate of dying 32 years before ceasing to exist feeling how the damned Parkinson's Evil took his emotions, his voice, his step and his presence.
But today, four years after his departure, I prefer to evoke him as the universe knew him; that is, the best world champion in history, the irredevant vindicator of the rights of his race, the sportsman symbol who united the Olympic dream with the professionalism of the greatest elite and the character treated in 15 books, 6 documentaries, 3 films and 2 Broadway musicals. In short, the greatest of all time.
They say that on June 3, 2016, at age 74, a septic shock caused his death in the city of Phoenix, Arizona. It is only part of the "truth", because after his penultimate match against the good of Larry Holmes, one of his sparring partners from 76 'to 79' ', I heard him complain: "I lost because my hand hurt a lot, I couldn't close right … ”. Osteoarthritis began to fatally deteriorate him, making his last fight against Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981 unnecessary, sad and painful.
The previous twenty years had been glorious. After obtaining the crown in front of the fearsome Sonny Liston (1962), his life was the most comprehensive of a necessary earthly world. This allowed him to alternate with American presidents like Jummy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – the three Democrats -, and social and religious leaders of the stature of Luther King and Malcom X without thereby distancing himself from popular culture. The day he married Veronica Porsche – the second of his four wives with whom he had eleven children – he invited Sharon Stone, Michael Jackson, John Travolta, Michele Pfeiffer, Sylvester to their wedding at their then-residence in Fremont, California. Stallone, Liza Minelli, Clint Eastwood, Tom Jones and Jane Fonda, among hundreds of huge figures, proud to be with Muhammad Ali.
Only he could get the weekly schedule to include a religious speech, boxing training, a social event, the filming of commercials, or interviews with businessmen like Donald Trump in his time as boxing organizer for his hotels in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.
He was the best boxer of all time due to his adaptation to the thousand forms of adversity, at the same time that it was happening and to the arthritic pain that tormented him in his last ten fights.
Fresh and bubbly Cassius Clay of 1964 who beat Sonny Liston by a knockout in the 7th round to become world champion at 22, only the genetic essence remained when humiliating George Foreman in the Congo 12 years later.
The agile and daring boxer had surpassed that challenging dancer to become a light-duty fighter with aggressive counterattack responses and brilliant closings of each round.
Before and after he would not give up his mental dominance over rivals, but I would leave a lot of health in exchange for every win.
The most paradigmatic example of this was his third fight against Jose Frazier in Manila. Until then they had met twice with a win for each. Joe took him unbeaten at Madison in a very controversial ruling (8-3-1971) and Ali won in the rematch (28-1-1974). The third confrontation (1-10-75) would end the discussions.
But before the match something unexpected and uncomfortable happened to him, that only someone like him could overcome. And this happened during the visit he made to the Government House to be received by the main contributor with 10 million dollars for the event to take place in the Philippines. They were President Ferdinando Marcos and his wife, First Lady Emielda Romualdez. Is that the crowd had taken to the streets to greet Muhammad who was traveling to the government palace in a convertible car accompanied by his girlfriend Veronica Porsche. His surprise would be great when once in the reception room attended by about 200 guests, he learned that Belinda Khalilahali Boyd, his first wife (already renamed Muslim), mother of his four oldest children: Maryum, the twins Jamillah and Rasheda and Muhammad Jr., had arrived in Manila without warning. By the way, by then Ali was already divorced from his first wife Sonji Roi, with whom he had no children as she never agreed to convert to the Muslim religion.
It was a very difficult moment that he lived there just two days after the fight and that Alí serenely resolved by announcing his next marriage with Verónica Khlalilah (new name) Porsche, who was already pregnant with Hana and two years later (1977) would have Laila, the second daughter of that third marriage.
The victory over Joe Frazier was agonizing and "pyrrhic" because Muhammad paid for it a very high cost of health. The temperature in the Araneta stadium in the neighboring city of Quezon City – at that time the capital of the Philippines – was exhausting, more than 30 °; they were also times of 15-round combat. It was devastating for both of them because throughout the 42 minutes of fighting they did not stop hitting each other, pushing each other, taking each other, attacking each other. Regarding the final segment, it was noted from the press ring side that movements and reactions were slowing down and that air was beginning to become scarce. Spectators dehydrated in their seats; Such is the drama and excitement generated by these two black athletes in hormonal fullness surrendering to the sensuality of glory.
At the end of the 14th round, exhausted, without salts or potassium; Neither reasonableness, nor conscience, nor strength nor knowledge, Muhammad arrived at his corner and asked his technician Angelo Dundee to cut the cord of his gloves because he was not going to continue; he couldn't really do it. Luis Sarría, one of the seconds threatened to take out the scissors and Angelo stopped him asking the other assistant Jul Brown to put all the available ice in two bags; one would be to support it on the nape of the neck and the other to throw the liquid and then rub it on the testicular area. Once this was done, he stood in front of Ali who was sitting and looking him in the eye said:
-Listen to me, are you listening to me, Muhammad? Are you listening to me!?, Can you understand what I am saying !!?, Can you understand it !!!? .-, Angelo asked raising more and more the voice in agreement with the murmur of the public.
Ali gave a slight shake of his head as a sign of weak assent, and then Angelo continued.
– OK, I am not going to allow you to get one more blow, is that ok? Muhammad, calm down, calm down … I'm just asking you for a favor, yes ?, a favor. – And he exhorted him – I want you to stand up now when I play the gong, only that, stand up, that's all.
"I can't Angelo," Ali replied sitting on his bench. And he added: "I have no strength, my legs do not respond to me …" whispered Ali's agonized voice as Drew "Bundini" Brown, the sorcerer of Muhammad – author of the phrase "sting like a bee and float like a butterfly ”- He performed a rite to the gods at the foot of the stairs and on the floor of the same corner.
-Seconds out, last round! Shouted the "time keeper" with 10 seconds left for the start of the 15th round.
It was at that moment that between Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Wally Mohammadad, Luis Sarría and Jul Brown they lifted Ali by taking his armpits while Angelo accompanied him, girdling him towards the center of the ring with the towel in hand, ready to be thrown . However, a miracle occurred that only Angelo's intuition could have imagined, since Eddie Fuch, Joe Frazier's second principal, as soon as the bell rang indicated to the Philippine referee Carlos Padilla that they were leaving the match because “Smoking” Joe did not he had reacted by sucking up the ammonia salts.
The exhaustion had reached both, but it was Angelo's experience that intuited what would be the most dramatic and agonizing triumph of his brilliant 61-fight career with just 5 losses: Joe Frazier, Ken Norton (the one who fractured his jaw and from whom he later took it out), León Spinks (who won the rematch recovering the world crown for the second time) and the last two when he was no longer him, in front Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.
By the way, that unforgettable fight entitled "Trhilla in Manila" (suspense in Manila) was much more difficult than the emblematic victory against George Foreman, when he regained the world championship of all weights after two years of suspension for refusing to enlist as a soldier during the war in Vietnam.
The fight against Foreman was masterful technically, strategically and psychologically. All the previous actions turned to the public of Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to offer their unrestricted support. From the ring Ali handled everything: the chants of the public and the submission of his rival, who as the laps passed denoted mental and physical weakness. And finally he ended up knocking him out in an unforgettable way: three rights to the face over the end of the 8th round. The first of those right to the cheekbone hurt him, the second to the jaw destabilized him and the third between the mouth and nose knocked him down until the knockout decreed by referee Zachary Clayton.
What a beautiful dawn that of The Rumble in the Jungle (“The fight in the jungle”, the 10-30-1974). I remember the invaded ring, the solitary arrival of Foreman to his dressing room crossing the playing field of the Kinshasa National stadium along with two unforgettable world champions who were a success in Argentina: Archie Moore and Sandy Sadler. Both were idols of General Perón on the immortal nights of Luna Park in the early 1950s. And the people who kept on singing what Muhammad had taught them: “Alí bomayé” (“Alí kill him”), while smiling, fresh and wide, the enormous champion greeted them leaving in the hearts of the suffering the hopeful cry of his brotherly blackness.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the death of this unforgettable man, whom his parents baptized with the name of Cassius Marcellus Clay the day of his birth, on January 17, 1942, and Elijah Muhammad leader of the nation of Islam called, since 1964, Muhammad Ali, "the beloved of God".
Where would Muhammad Ali be today?
He would be marching on the streets of Lousville, his hometown, or in Minesotta; in Los Angeles or Georgia; in Washington or New York …
Muhammad Ali would be protesting, honoring the memory of George Floyd, repeating once again the injustices, claiming for the rights of his brothers, shouting his cause.
Let us let a tear run down our cheeks in the name of the great moments we lived, because we all love Muhammad Ali, "the beloved of God."
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