Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Master of the Ring

I’m sure his opponents can attest that he stung like a bee. A bee, a bomb to the face, or a missile to the mid-section. For all the mouth that he was, for all the trash-talking that he did, and for all the teasing and in-your-face taunting that was part of his show – he backed it all up with the punch of silence which in return brought the response of a roar from the crowd.

It also brought roars and cheers and fist-pumping from couches, man caves and bars all over America. People would scorn all that talk, and begrudge all that bragging, but no one could deny that talent when Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali would put in his mouth piece, shrug off his robe, stand-up in his corner and pop his gloved-fists together – and smile - right before he skipped into the middle of the ring.

That bell would ding and the dance was on. Rope-a-dope had a whole new meaning; no one had ever seen the likes of a heavy-weight boxer who was as light on his feet, and could move around as gracefully as he did. Most heavy-weight boxers would stand in the middle, feet firmly planted on the ground, and the most they would do was shuffle their feet around, never really lifting them off the mat, and rotating their hips in place.

Muhammad Ali taught them all that a new cat was in town, and that he liked to move, to dance, to shuffle his feet, and to rumble in the jungle. He was intelligent and he was talented and it began way before he fought in the famous “Thrilla in Manila” fight – in 1960 he was an Olympic gold medalist and a National Golden Gloves champion.

His professional career took many twisted roads with sharp turns – as he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War in 1967 and stripped of his title and his license to box professionally was revoked.  He was also found guilty of violating Selective Service laws and was sentenced to five years in prison and $10,000.00. He never served a day of time and in 1971 the US Supreme Court overturned his violation in a unanimous decision.

He would go on to resume his fighting career which would make him millions but also in the end leave him with a debilitating disease called Parkinson’s. The human head can certainly only take so many hits before damage becomes permanent.

But he retired and continued his life works as a hostage negotiator in 1990 and in 2000 would be appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace and in 2005 presented with Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President George W Bush.

To me, he was always the masterful, male muscled ballerina with a powerful punch, who commanded the stage of any boxing ring, every time he stepped into it. He was a prime-time entertainment show everywhere he went – and in 1996 when he lit the torch at the opening Olympic ceremonies in Atlanta, Georgia – he was one of my all-time favorite sport personality’s still.

Fly on Butterfly, fly on.

copyright 2016 Michelle Mount Mims
Also previously published @ The Havana Herald

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