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Commentary: Ali truly was The Greatest | TribLIVE.com
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Commentary: Ali truly was The Greatest

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, June 4, 2016 6:18 p.m

It was 1980, and Muhammad Ali had no business being in the ring against a younger, stronger Larry Holmes, no matter how much his entourage kept telling him how good he looked in training.

At age 38, he had lost nearly 40 pounds to get his body to a reasonable replication of its magnificent prime.

β€œI’m Dark Gable,” Ali said, much to the delight of the writers who could barely conceal their glee in having Ali in front of them once again.

It was my first Ali fight, and like most of the 25,000 in the crowd outdoors at Caesars Palace that night, I hoped against hope I would see the Ali of old in the ring. He had convinced me, just as he convinced others, there was one more fight left in him.

When Ali talked, we listened, even when his greatness had obviously faded and the words that electrified a generation didn’t flow as easily as they once did.

Surely he could beat Holmes, his former sparring partner. But the one opponent Ali couldn’t beat was Father Time. He barely laid a glove on Holmes, taking such a beating that Holmes begged the referee several times to stop the fight. It finally was after 10 rounds.

There weren’t many bad nights for Ali. Still, his willingness to take punches β€” he said at one point he had taken 29,000 blows to the head β€” soon doomed him to a life with Parkinson’s.

It wasn’t just the things he said about his opponents that were so memorable, though they were. Who else could come up with this line before meeting Liston for the heavyweight title in 1964 in the biggest fight of his young life?

β€œThe crowd did not dream when they lay down their money that they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny,” Ali said.

I first saw him in 1972, training at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas for a fight with Jerry Quarry.

I didn’t get an autograph from Ali that day, though most everyone did. Ali signed everything for everyone, making sure he took plenty of time with any children who came to watch.

I later became friends with his business manager, Gene Kilroy. Kilroy told of the time Ali was in training camp in Deer Lake, for the Foreman fight, and a father brought a boy suffering from leukemia and bald from chemotherapy to visit. A few weeks later, the boy’s father called Kilroy that the boy was dying, and Ali immediately left camp to go to Philadelphia to comfort him.

Ali told the boy that he would beat Foreman and the boy would beat leukemia. β€œNo,” the boy said. β€œI’m going to meet God. And I will tell him that I know you.”

For many it was hard to reconcile that side of Ali.

I last saw Ali in 2012 in the MGM Grand lobby. He had been feted at a brain research dinner the night before, and now was the chance for the average fan to take a picture or see him in person.

A few of his daughters hovered, and grandbabies were put in his lap. Then, with Evander Holyfield holding him by one arm and his wife by the other, Ali made a slow, trembling walk around the ring.

He was still The Greatest.

Tim Dahlberg is a columnist for the Associated Press.


20160604T043706Z515323697S1AETHXDZUADRTRMADP3BOXINGALI
REUTERS
U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali poses during the Crystal Award ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Jan. 28, 2006, in Davos, Switzerland.
AP6505250172
Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston.
AP6402250127
Cassius Clay's handlers hold him back as he reacts after he is announced the new heavyweight champion of the world on a seventh-round technical knockout against Sonny Liston at Convention Hall in Miami Beach
AP7208070131
Muhammad Ali, former world heavyweight boxing champion, toys with the finely combed hair of television sports commentator Howard Cosell before the start of the Olympic boxing trials, Aug. 7, 1972, in West Point, NY.
AP051109010127
ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Muhammad Ali.
AP96071903193
American swimmer Janet Evans looks on as Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic flame during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony in Atlanta.
AP13041511680
Muhammad Ali is seen training Oct. 9, 1974, for his world championship fight in Zaire.
20160604T043706Z515323697S1AETHXDZUADRTRMADP3BOXINGALI
REUTERS
U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali poses during the Crystal Award ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Jan. 28, 2006, in Davos, Switzerland.
AP6505250172
Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston.
AP6402250127
Cassius Clay's handlers hold him back as he reacts after he is announced the new heavyweight champion of the world on a seventh-round technical knockout against Sonny Liston at Convention Hall in Miami Beach
AP7208070131
Muhammad Ali, former world heavyweight boxing champion, toys with the finely combed hair of television sports commentator Howard Cosell before the start of the Olympic boxing trials, Aug. 7, 1972, in West Point, NY.
AP051109010127
ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Muhammad Ali.
AP96071903193
American swimmer Janet Evans looks on as Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic flame during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony in Atlanta.
AP13041511680
Muhammad Ali is seen training Oct. 9, 1974, for his world championship fight in Zaire.
AP6705110184
Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), the deposed world heavyweight boxing champion, told an anti-war rally at the University of Chicago on May 11, 1967, that there is a difference between fighting in the ring and fighting in Vietnam.
ObitMuhammadAliJPEGe42a5
n this Sept. 17, 1974, file photo, Muhammad Ali is greeted in downtown Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali is in Zaire to fight George Foreman.
ObitMuhammadAliJPEGb15e8
In this March 1, 1964, file photo, world heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali (right) is shown with Black Muslim leader, Malcolm X, outside the Trans-Lux Newsreel Theater in New York City after watching a screening of films on Ali's title fight with Sonny Liston in Miami Beach.
20160604T044609Z757281929S1AETHXEURAARTRMADP3PEOPLEALI
REUTERS
Muhammad Ali is seen cuddling his daughters Laila (left) and Hana (right) on Dec. 19, 1978, at a hotel in London.
20160604T044510Z2028181157S1AETHXESKAARTRMADP3PEOPLEALI
REUTERS
Boxing great Muhammad Ali (R) eats a piece of his birthday cake as boxer Mike Tyson looks on Jan., 17, 1999, at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas.
ObitMuhammadAliJPEGf23c8
In this Oct. 1, 1975, file photo, spray flies from the head of challenger Joe Frazier as heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali connects with a right in the ninth round of their title fight in Manila, Philippines.
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In this July 17, 1975, file photo, sports promoter Don King stands between Muhammad Ali (left) the heavyweight champion, and Joe Frazier in New York.
ObitMuhammadAliJPEGa9e84
In this Oct. 30, 1974, file photo, George Foreman takes a right to the head from challenger Muhammad Ali in the seventh round in a bout dubbed the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Kinshasa, Zaire.
MuhammadAliBoxingPhotoGalleryJPEG0d18a
In this Oct. 1, 1975 file photo, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali connects with a right against challenger Joe Frazier in the ninth round of their title fight in Manila, Philippines. Ali won the fight on a decision to retain the title.
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