The king of boxing is dead. Long live the king! There is no doubt that the 'Greatest' hit the world not only with his sublime skills in the ring and braggadocio out of it, but also with his homespun philosophy on the meaning of life, totally unexpected of an unlettered supposedly dumb jock.
As to his skill in his profession, my favourite story concerns his "Rumble in the Jungle" against George Foreman in what was then called Zaire now the Republic of the Congo. Foreman was the hardest hitter in boxing with a 40-0 record including 39 KOs. There were many sportswriters and boxing experts of the day who feared for Ali. Foreman himself told Yahoo Sports in 2014 that he thought he was "just going to go there and go boom, boom, boom and get him out of there and go home.
That was my mistake; this was Muhammad Ali. He was called the Greatest and he was, but he was also the smartest." Ali no longer had the foot speed or the elusiveness to dance away from Foreman like he did against Sonny Liston a decade earlier. Instead he figured out the 'rope-a-dope' strategy whereby he just leaned back against the ropes as far as he could and covered his face and his body as best he could with his arms.
Foreman waded in and kept on throwing crunching shots that would have felled an ox. Ali somehow absorbed that punishment till Foreman was so tired that he could hardly lift his arms. Ali then came on strong and floored Foreman in the eighth round. It was the most remarkable upset of Ali's career. "It was my honour to get beaten by that man," said Foreman. "I hated him at the time because I couldn't understand. But we grew to love each other. I love him like a brother".
A thinking man
His quality as a thinking man came to the fore at the age of 35 when he was asked at a function in the UK what he would do when he retired. His paraphrased response: "What I say is going to make you guys think. Life is short; in 30 years I'll be 65. In those 30 years if I add up the years of time I spend on sleeping, travelling, entertainment and such like, I figure I will have about 16 years to be productive. What am I going in those 16 years? I'm gonna get ready to meet God.
I want to do all I can to help people. God is watching me. I want to dedicate my life to using my name and popularity to help charities, unite people, bring peace in the world so that when I die, if there is a heaven I want to see it." One of his quotes will resonate with many. "The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth".
Michael Ferreira is a former world billiards champion