“Joe has started smoking ; it should be pretty even just about now…”
- Announcer, Thrilla in Manila, before Round 7
This guy was pretty special. He was not only an athlete who was just better than his peers; he made that superiority into a confident fireworks unseen this side of Shakespeare.
What a man.
There’s a bunch of people who will write things about how he affected politics, and racial disparity, etc. All of that is true – he brought Americans a consciousness in a crucial moment, and sacrificed some of his salad years.
But he was a boxer, not a philosopher. And it all started with his prowess between the ropes.
And if you can see him beckon a wily Joe Frazier toward him in the Thrilla in Manila, knowing that the conflagration would decide both their fates, you can understand the best about us – as Americans.
When Frazier was “smoking” during the middle rounds of their third fight in the Philippines, called the Thrilla in Manilla, Ali stuck to his plan. He did not sway. The man was a man.
Put another way: Muhammad Ali was a badass. The best of America. Brash, boastful, energetic, crass, skilled, brilliant, innovative, indefatigable. The man will be one of the best athletes in the world’s annals – as long as world annals exist.
I’m honored to have shared a country, and half an era, with him.
Rest in peace.