What Muhammad Ali means to me.

What Muhammad Ali means to me.

When I woke up this morning, I reached for my smartphone and saw a news notification I feared was coming, “Muhammad Ali dead at 74”. I put my head back on the pillow and saw a message from an editor of The Retroist website asking if I would like to write something about Ali. I told him I would. He responded immediately telling me that he thought it was best that I write about the man since he did not know as much about the sport. What Vic Sage (the editor) is referring to is my background in boxing; I was an amateur boxer and USA Boxing coach. Then I thought, “Ali was more than a boxer, he was public figure that most of the world knew.” I have no more a right to write about him than anyone, but since I accepted the task, I decided to write about what Muhammad Ali means to me.

For the casual fan or people not interested in the sport, they must think of boxing as nothing more than two people beating each other senseless inside a square-shaped combat zone. That is completely understandable. The truth is that there is a lot more to boxing hence the nickname “the sweet science”. Muhammad Ali was the embodiment of that. While technically he did a lot of things incorrectly, his athleticism, size and height made up for that. More importantly his mind found ways to win. He can see a challenge and prepare for it as he did when he surprised everyone by laying on the ropes in his bout with George Foreman in Zaire.

[Via] Jeff Jackson

So while there is a technical side of boxing, there is something else that is required, a prerequisite: toughness. That is not something you can teach and frankly, you as a boxer don’t know if you have it until you start fighting. Muhammad Ali was tough. His toughness & skills made him the heavyweight champion of the world. The fans knew it, his opponents knew it, and the average person knew it. Yet, I find many fighters, world champions even, that feel they have to act tough all the time. Not Ali. Outside of the ring, he was a jovial person. Loving, caring, and downright silly at times. He didn’t need to prove his toughness except in the ring where he felt fighting belonged. Not on the streets.

He avoided violence at all cost. An example of this was when Ali & Joe Frazier were in a television studio with Howard Cosell discussing their first fight when Frazier stood in front of Ali clearly ready to fight, because he grew tired of Ali’s insults. Ali stayed in his chair, but his brother got on the studio stage and confronted Frazier. Ali, probably fearing that Frazier would fight get into an altercation with his brother, jumped up and pulled Frazier’s head down and wrestled him on the floor. Ali, a boxer, could have simply punched Joe while he was distracted, but he went the route of trying to defuse the situation without anyone getting hurt. Sure enough, no one did as enough people ran over and separated everyone.

[Via] Pbarry’s 191 Channel

That, more than anything, made an impression on me. I don’t have to go around acting tough, because I know what I am. I know who I am. I have nothing to prove, because I proved it by climbing through the ropes and fighting my heart out. If I walk away from a fight in a bar, on the street, anywhere outside of the ring, it doesn’t mean I am a coward, it simply means I am in control of my feelings, have nothing to prove, and frankly, do not want to cause harm to someone else. Muhammad Ali taught me that by the way he lived his life.

Justin M. Salvato

Seeker of 1980s nostalgia, rummager of vintage computers and player of retro video games. When not writing posts of The Retroist, I'm converting Retroist audio podcasts to Retroist video podcasts. My own videos can be found at www.YouTube.com/JustinSalvato.
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