The champ would have been 77 years old today and his character is still a rarity.
Muhammad Ali would have been 77 years old today
Ali’s brilliance will always be celebrated for his in-ring exploits and out-of-ring defiance. As a result, it is impossible to disassociate the current crop of athletes from his measuring stick.
The “Louisville Lip” ethos began with his uncanny ability to generate interest around his fights. Ali always had the goods athletically, but he understood the importance of pre-fight showmanship.
More than smack talk, Ali was graceful. He never stepped out of character by cursing, especially once he became a devout Muslim.
Did he call Joe Frazier a gorilla? Yes.
It was a culturally internal mock during a tense period of racial unrest. Beyond that, Ali entertained the media and the masses with graceful instigation. Throw in Bundini Brown, and the cipher was complete like a jovial Chuck D and Flavor Flav routine.
“The way the world is now, everyone is in a rush or looking for the quick route!” said Johnny “Yahya” McClain, former boxing world champion and ex-husband of Laila Ali.
“Muhammad Ali would stay and sign autographs, hug and kiss babies, wink at their mothers and shake hands with the fathers until everyone in the crowd of thousands had their own personal experience with him! He would go out of his way to make a stranger smile! Truly the greatest man I’ve ever had the pleasure of having a real bond with! My former father-in-law. The Greatest of All Time! We miss you champ!”
Today’s combat athletes lack the verve. I’m sure Ali was born with undeniable charisma but he also understood sales strategy. Floyd Mayweather Jr famously shed his former moniker of “Pretty Boy” in exchange for “Money” and with it his tax bracket.
Being the heel is nothing new, but the sophistication of the delivery is something that Ali mastered.
Will we celebrate the sound bytes of a currency-hurling “Money” Mayweather 20 years from now?
But the strength of the Ali brand lies in his ability to sell a fight and himself with a cacophony of good character.
Today we have Adrien Broner and others unwilling to invest the time into the process of becoming someone to be admired for their out-of-ring persona.
There may never be someone like Muhammad Ali again.
As yet another year passes without the champ, that reality is ever more apparent.