There are not that many people in history who are instantly recognised by one name or one word this man had the luxury of two; “Ali” meant only one man around the world and the word “greatest” meant the same thing. Both words in every corner of the world conjured up the site of arguably the greatest sportsman ever, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee; telling the assembled press in rhyme before the start of the fight which round his opponent would get beaten in; a truly outrageous and incredibly charismatic character and one off; we are not likely to see his like again in our life time; we were lucky to witness him.
Some boxers like Frazier would surely have been champions longer if they had not had the misfortune of being his contemporaries; Cooper was out of his depth but being beaten by him was the next best thing and it made Henry world famous, I remember my old man waking me and my brothers in the middle of the night to watch him live from America. His behaviour was such that America hated him with a vengeance at first because he was brash, confident brilliant and (whisper it) black; what they could not do which made them angrier was deny his greatness. His grace and power were awesome and he proved that not only could he dance and punch but he could take on the toughest customers toe to toe without flinching; tragically he demonstrated this courage sometimes when he didn’t really need to and it has resulted in heartbreak.
Last week he visited Ricky Hatton for a charity event in Manchester and the circus came to town with him; this time the press were not going to miss showing how the mighty had fallen their attention was merciless as they pounced on him arriving and it was painful. My last sighting of him was some time ago but here he was tragic, previously he could wave; strike a boxing pose and talk a little; not any more. His condition as he emerged from his vehicle brought gasps and made me look away he is now a shell of the “greatest” unable to walk unassisted and unable to use his hands or speak to the press, the ‘showboating’ was great at the time but he took many unnecessary punches and now he is paying the price.
He remains however a man of great dignity and is genuinely loved around the world; no one did more to earn the love and respect that he enjoys. This event reminded me that I am also getting on a bit but I am grateful for the memories he gave us my children have heard every story there is about him from me. He was a great champion; is a great human being and an inspiration to his race.