Man Made of Clay

    Yesterday was the 1-year anniversary of Ali's passing, and I happened to catch an old 1970 documentary on him a week ago, a.k.a. Cassius Clay. Not only did it bring home how little I knew or remembered of him, it brought home how modern he was - how he would have been perfect in our times, not just the convoluted 60's.

    Ali was articulate. That's usually a pseudo-insult when ascribed to black men, but when juxtaposing a young poor nearly illiterate southern black kid turned boxer vs. a New Yorker raised in riches and supposedly Wharton-educated, it's amazing to see the deftness with which Clay-then-Ali could run circles around his opponents and the press outside the ring as inside. He'd shout, he'd sing, he'd rhyme, he'd talk, God would he talk, making up stuff on the spot, or spouting stuff in tandem with his buddies in his entourage, and he'd get in your head till you couldn't get him out.

    He had that psychological thing worked out. He could have easily outplayed that cast of 16 loser Republicans on the stage last year, messing with them, out-bragging them, laying out in plain detail why he's the champ and they're all chumps, but without Trump's weird hand signals and slow repetition and unbelievable braggadocio.

    And Ali was a doer as well as a talker. He trained, he planned, he strategized, he predicted when and where and how he'd make his move. He was in amazing shape, dancing dancing dancing as many rounds as it took, wearing out heavier and stronger guys than him, keeping his arms down as if in surrender, just daring them to take him on. And then, there was his shuffle, that little leg flurry that let you know you were about to get a wailing. Boom, lights out.

    But after that, at his peak, he slid into religion, into politics, into the times and the movement of the times - the Beatles went to India, Clay went to Harlem - Elijah Muhammad's Harlem. Yes, he could articulate more than boxing - he could articulate the Quran and the Vietnam War and the place of blacks in and out of our society and all the intricacies involved in his famous statement that he didn't have nothing against no Viet Cong, no Viet Cong had ever called him nigger. This new Ali was threatening by being so calm, so easy, so natural, while being young, cocky, self-assured, beautiful, barbarous, dexterous. He wasn't an effete elite college type spewing existential philosophy - he was a fleet-footed bruiser who also fought with his mouth, not like a dock worker, but someone who could appeal across all sectors. He was something else.

    But in the end, the ban from boxing, the removal from his livelihood, his milieu, and the court case did succeed in defanging him as a threat. While he could appeal to all comers, his comfort zone was boxing - it's where he drew his energy, his confidence, where he new he wasn't just good - he was the best.

    The film has some great fight scenes and interviews and press conferences and public displays and analysis of other boxers and even provides his personal drawings he'd do to scope out the situation. But it stops largely where I got to know Ali, just before the Frazier and Foremen and Norton fights, before rope-a-dope, the embarrassing later fights and his retirement with head trauma. But the framing seems just right - Ali took them all on, not just in his unlikely chosen profession (someone stole his bike, and a white cop took him to the gym rather than see him go get mixed up in a fight), but in his private calling that for a moment overcame all his career ambitions, quest for riches, wrapped-in-ego existence, and instead he moved forward on principle and the greater good.

    The movie ends when he was down but not out - and perversely perhaps The Greatest he would ever be, without riches or a title but with a clear cause - a perfect combination for a fighter. Requiescat in pace.


    Beautifully written, Peracles.  Thanks for the pleasure.

    The Sgt Pepper album is 50 years old. JFK would have been 100. Saw PBS specials on the JFK inauguration and the engineering creativity began the 13 songs on the Beatles album. Ali, Lennon, Harrison, and Kennedy are dead. Trump is President. We are so screwed.


    Nope, just need to behave like champs. What was it Tyson said, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face"? I learned that first hand - suddenly seeing stars, out of the fight. Not this time - just keep coming, or dance 'em to death, or rope-a-dope, or whatever's needed. All he has is bullying.

    Peracles... Yes...

    I was 14 years old and I've never viewed him as any different than this.


    He was from another world.

    Yup... He was my Champ!


    Great tribute. 

    At YouTube... Here ya' go...




    Great piece, Peracles! My dad was a huge Reagan fan and the kind of sophisticated conservative who was always a bit too happy when he found some science that seemed to support some racist conclusion. But his biggest hero was Muhammad Ali. Reagan and Ali, his eyes always lit up when he talked about them.

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