Muhammad Ali: Seven Years Gone, Never To Be Forgotten

06/03/2023 - By James Slater - Comments

Was it really seven years ago when the one and only, the truly incomparable Muhammad Ali passed away? It was indeed. Maybe you remember, and will always remember, where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news? Much like big, shocking events such as the Kennedy Assassination, Ali’s passing had an impact on so many millions of people.

Ali wasn’t taken from us at a tragically young age, nor did he die suddenly; Ali’s long battle with Parkinson’s instead seeing the great man slide away slowly but surely, his enormous heart fighting on until the very end but his health in bad shape for many years before his death. Ali as we know, was silenced long before his time on this planet was up, his voice taken from us long before the man himself was gone.

But Ali was so huge, so iconic, so important, that it was always going to hit us hard when he died. And so it did. But Ali continues, and will always continue, to be celebrated. To be looked up to. He will always inspire us. Ali meant so much to the world, not just to the boxing arena. Ask any person of a certain age, and they will be unable to not have an opinion on Ali. Yes, the three-time heavyweight king had his critics, and he still has them. But Ali got absolutely everyone’s attention. There was no avoiding Ali, should you have wished to do so.

Ali in his prime (ironically, Ali’s best fighting years were robbed from him, and from us, this in 1967 when he refused so serve in Vietnam in any capacity due to his religious beliefs, his crown taken from him, his license to box gone for over three long years) was bigger than life. Ali at the height of his fame was even bigger still! It has been written (and it may be true) that 1 billion people watched Ali’s epic fight with George Foreman in October of 1974. That, fellow fight fan, is gigantic, it’s as big as it gets, or ever will get.

Ali at his best was unmissable entertainment. Ali at his most controversial was a truly polarising figure. It’s hard these days to shock the world with a religious view or belief, or with the taking of a stand. Yet what Ali did in waving a hand of dismissal at Uncle Sam was truly earth-shattering. You were either for Ali or you were dead against him. There was no middle ground. Ali paid dearly for his draft rejection, although he did stay out of jail.

It all made Ali even bigger, as much a man who had the front pages of newspapers devoted to him as the back pages. Whatever your view then, and now, of what Ali did in refusing to serve the military of his country (the country he was born in), it was, you must agree, a brave act. One we may never see again from an athlete at the absolute top of their game, with so many $millions up for grabs, with so much sporting glory out there for the taking.

Mention Ali’s name to some people today, and the first thing they think about is the draft issue; whether they applaud Ali for what he did or whether they vilify him for his actions. Other people, younger people, think about Ali’s super-special fights. We young (er) fans can only dream of seeing titanic heavyweight battles like Ali-Liston, Ali-Frazier, Ali-Foreman today.

As great writer Jerry Izenberg said, those days are not coming back. Those super fights are not coming back. We have our Ali DVDs and our YouTube footage, and we must be grateful for this. Ali’s position as THE greatest heavyweight of them all will never come under threat. No man will ever take that title from him. And Ali is not the greatest simply because he said he was. Ali proved it, he backed up all his boasts. Along with his uncommon boxing skill, Ali had tremendous bravery and an ability to take pain (in his later ring years especially was this proven).

How would any heavyweight from before his time or after his time have beaten Ali when he was at his best? And remember, we never got to see Ali at his very best (just imagine if you can, Ali in the ring in 1968/1969 – bigger, more muscular, yet still as fast, still as hard to hit, mentally as well as physically matured). No, Ali remains where he was and will always be: at the top of the heavyweight pile.

Ali made it into old age, passing at age 74, yet we cannot help but wish he had lived longer. More so, we wish Ali had been able to live a healthy life in his later years. But Ali gave all he had in the search of victory in the ring, even at a time when he had nothing else to prove. Ali paid for his actions – both in the ring and out of the ring – and for this we must, and we do, remain eternally grateful.

Muhammad Ali, seven years gone and never to be forgotten.