Friday, November 10, 2006

One Muhammad For Ten Of You Mothers Any Day

The newspapers today have photographs of my childhood hero Muhammad Ali arriving somewhere or other supporting himself with a zimmer frame. At least one paper attaches the word "sad" to Muhammad in the headline.

NO! You can't describe anybody's waning years as sad when they have lived their lives as gloriously as Muhammad Ali. He did more in a few short years than the rest of us achieve in decades, and he still glows like an immortal.

Muhammad said once that if he'd been a dustman he would have been the greatest dustman in the world. It just happened that he was a boxer. He had achieved his greatness because of will, pride, integrity. And his message to the world--to the black world particularly, but also to the rest of us--was that by finding the aforementioned qualities in yourself, you became master of your own fate.

Which, in the words of another Ali admirer Hunter S. Thompson, is "very high thinking."

But that's not really why I love Muhammad. I love him because he won the World Heavyweight Title three times. Because he beat George Foreman in Zaire when nobody thought he could. Because he lost his title in the first place for refusing to fight in Vietnam, saying "I ain't got no quarrel with the Viet Cong." Because he wouldn't wear a slave name. Because he was better looking than Elvis.

That's why I really love him. An ageing, flesh-hagged Muhammad Ali on a zimmer frame is more impressive by a damn sight than I will ever be, even while I can still stand up by myself.

Watch "When We Were Kings" or read Norman Mailer's sublime account of the Rumble in the Jungle, "The Fight," and you will see what I mean immediately.


Bobby said...

He was so quick. Amazing to watch - he kept his hands low and then he'd just zap people.

Bruce Hodder said...

Australian poet Glenn Cooper is doing a whole book of poems about Ali. I'll let you know when it's out.