Friday night the King of Boxing, the most recognizable person to have walked the earth Muhammad Ali has passed at the age of 74 in a Phoenix, AZ, hospital. He set as good an example out of the ring as he did in the ring. Known as the “Greatest” and the Louisville Lip Ali was a 1960 Olympic Gold winner as a light heavyweight from Louisville.
This writer first met Ali in 1973 right after the first Ken Norton fight when Ali not only lost but suffered a broken jaw. It would take more than a broken jaw to keep Ali from talking. He had lived at 70th and Overbrook in the West Philadelphia section of the city prior to moving to Cherry Hill, NJ.
Across the street I saw a crowd and thought maybe someone jumped off one of the Philadelphia Center City buildings. Upon reaching the crowd I saw Ali in the middle of them. There was an elderly gentleman who reminded me of the lawyer Algonquin J. Calhoun from the Amos and Andy show. He said to Ali “next time you fight Norton be a man and not a boy!” Ali answered back instantly and said “did you call me Roy?” Everyone in the crowd was laughing but the elderly man. Again he said “I said be a man and not a boy!” Ali came right back with “play with him like a toy?” Now even the elderly man joined the crowd in laughter.
Several week later I saw in the Daily News Ali’s old house and his new house so off I went to Cherry Hill near the then Cherry Hill Arena. I knocked on the door and his second of four wives Belinda answered the door. I asked to see the champ. She left and came back letting me in. Here comes Ali I can see out of the corner of my eye. The rest is history. I shared this in an article entitled “Laughs with Ali!“
From the time Ali was 39 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He would eventually raise over a hundred million dollars against the fight of this silent killer. Ali’s training camp was in Deer Lake, PA, about half an hour above Reading, PA. He was always a showman, comic and master of majic tricks. You couldn’t be around the man but for a short time before laughing.
Ali was the first boxer to win the world title three times. At the end of his boxing career he was 56-5 with 37 knockouts only stopped once in the next to last fight of his career against the man he called “Peanut Head”, Larry Holmes. He would come back after over two years to meet Holmes, a former sparring partner of his. A year later in December of 1981 Ali would lose his final fight to Trevor Berbick in Nassau in the Bahamas where Berbick was from. Berbick would eventually go onto win the WBC heavyweight title.
One of the most forgotten things Ali did was go to Iran and bring back the hostages. Something President Jimmy Carter and our current President Barrack Obama failed to do. The heads of all the Muslim countries respected Ali.
Gone but never forgotten, a champion in and out of the ring Muhammad Ali will never be forgotten. The most colorful athlete in the history of sports dead at 74!