Ali: boxer without a prime

Muhammad Ali’s standing as heavyweight, as boxer, as fighter, is unimpeachable.

For another time is a dissection of the hagiography, on whether he was as profound and in possession of as acute an intellect as is often purported (no), on whether there is a certain level of shame in the worst of the race-based bullying of certain opponents (yes), on whether either of those counterpoints to the hero worship significantly, or even marginally, diminish the immense and genuine good brought about for all kinds of people from all kinds of places by him just being him (no).

On that incorrigible conversation, that apparently immortal fantasy fight supposedly unsettled and up for intense debate, the question of whether Muhammad Ali would be beaten in the ring by Mike Tyson – the short answer? No. And the long? Also for another time.

Watch other heavyweights from any decade. Watch how they move their feet, their heads, watch how they punch, how they take punches. Then watch this:

Now remind yourself: these clips are from heavyweight bouts, he is a heavyweight. Re-watch those other heavyweights, re-watch how they move their feet, their heads, re-watch how they punch, how they take punches. And then re-watch this:

Try to make sense of it. If you’re appreciating it fully, you won’t be able to. Through clips of Ali’s fights, among the most powerful and highly regarded heavyweights since Jack Johnson are made to look clumsy, slow, awkward and amateur.

Trapped in that square circle with bull elephants, and there he is. Dancing unbridled across the canvas. Hands down, slipping a punch by moving the precise distance needed whilst firing one back at five times the speed. Hands up, absorbing unabsorbable punishment whilst talking back.

Banned from fighting, through the ages of twenty-five to twenty-nine, Ali, in his prime, at his best, did not box, fought no bouts. All the impossible technical skill and speed of hand and foot and head showcased prior to his prime, all the incredible endurance, tactics and brute strength demonstrated after – this was prelude and epilogue. Near zenith and past peak.

Just imagine what would have happened inbetween.

Without those prime years, without ever once unveiling his absolute best, Muhammad Ali proved the most unique, outstanding, the most innovative, inimitable, the most skilled, fastest, the greatest heavyweight and greatest boxer there has ever been, across weight-classes, across decades. If he had fought in his prime, we’d be in sore need of some new superlatives.

“There are technical dead ends in boxing and this is one of them. Although it didn’t stop a generation trying, nobody fights like this; not at 210 lbs. – not at 130 lbs.; not at any poundage.”(McGrain, 2014)

Nobody fights like this.


Credits for videos used:

  1. muslimer12
  2. Muhammad Ali Fan

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