Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Happy 70th Birthday to Mohammad Ali

The boxing legend Mohammad Ali is 70 today so I thought I'd repeat this blog from a while ago.

The shortest poem in the english language is attributed to the boxing legend Mohammad Ali. 
At the height of his career he gave a speech at Harvard and was asked to recite one of his now famous poems. 
No "float like butterfly/sting like a bee" was offered; what he came up with was to become the subject of much debate. 
Was it: "Me, we."?
If so it could be seen as a kind of 'I am You', 'All of Us' inclusive statement; a recognition that his own popularity crossed all cultural and religious barriers and connected people, enabling folk to discuss what was previously unspeakable.
If it was "Me? Oui!", then that is as succinct and articulate an endorsement of ego as you could get (and boy what an ego.) 
I was in awe of Ali as a kid; he brought beauty, grace and humour to a brutal sport. I had a book on sports photography and remember that the centre spread was a full scale shot of the man's right hand. I'd sit and stare at that huge mitt for hours, wondering what it would be like to be clouted by the mammoth fist.  As well as one of the boxing greats (if not 'The Greatest'), Ali was a cultural icon who challenged and changed many lazy and ingrained prejudices. His questioning of the American presence in Vietnam ("I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me Nigger") and his conversion to Islam opened a dialogue on subjects that might have remained impenetrable or taboo.
There's been so much written and spoken about Ali, but I think that two of the finest recognitions of his presence and power are Norman Mailer's 'The Fight' and 'When We were Kings" a documentary, both are candid observations of the infamous 'Rumble in the Jungle' when, towards the end of a career in decline he fought and beat the strong favourite, George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. It's also got some great footage of musicians (James Brown and BB King in particular) who played a musical festival in support of the fight.  
Why not have a look at the man in action and decide for yourself.
What a man.
What a fighter.
The Greatest? 
For me, oui!

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