We will never see another like Ali

The first thought that may have crossed some minds when they heard of the passing of the legendary Muhammad Ali was this:

Boxing takes another blow.

And they’re right.

The tributes and commentary keep on flowing. Ali stood for a lot of things during his heyday, and even after it, as a self-proclaimed man of peace who made his living in a violent sport.

Always colorful, always controversial, always noteworthy, always newsworthy. When Ali spoke we listened, often laughed, but when he spoke the last 10 years, many likely cried because he was a mere shell of his former self. Due to his illness, he may have floated like a butterfly, but the bee sting was long gone.

But Ali is legendary because in the sport of boxing he kept going down and coming back. He lived up to his words. As he said, "It’s not bragging if you can back it up."

Boxing hasn’t been the same since Ali left the fight game in the December of 1981. The Sugar Ray Leonards and Marvin Haglers tried to carry it a bit in the lower weights, and they certainly got great fanfare. But to these eyes, it always seemed like they were riding Ali’s coattails. He made the sport what it was back then.

There was Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, sure, for the heavyweights, as well as Evander Holyfield. But all we’re left with from Ali’s heavyweight era is George Foreman’s grill.

As Foreman told the New York Post over the weekend, "Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and myself thought if we won the heavyweight championship of the world, we’d become Muhammad Ali. But no one became Muhammad Ali."

So true. Ali had plenty of challengers, the stream seemed endless, and his banter with late ABC broadcaster and character Howard Cosell. But now? Really, can you name who the top heavyweights in boxing are today?

His fight against Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden in 1971, the first of three between the two, was probably the most hyped fight of all time. The most memorable is subjective, but many would say it was Frazier Fight No. 3, the Thrilla in Manila, perhaps the most memorable in boxing history. You be the judge.

You see, back in that era people really and truly cared about boxing. UFC was something undercooked at KFC. They loved watching Ali challenge and get challenged, loved watching him try to back up his words. He won, he lost, he won, but he never ceased to entertain.

Later on he was seen in a variety of ways.

"Part of Muhammad’s greatness was his ability to be different things to different people," basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in a tribute posted on Facebook. He said that Ali was a smart, fast champion to sports fans, an innovative businessman and physical specimen to athletes, a voice against the Vietnam War in the 1960s to the anti-establishment, and a pioneer to the Muslim community. And the man had his detractors, certainly.

"I may be 7-2, but I never felt taller when standing in his shadow," Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

Ali five years ago could barely move, but he had such respect for Frazier he came to his funeral in 2011. Tough to see if you’ve watched any footage of it.

To celebrate Ali’s life, in this humble scribe’s opininon, is to celebrate boxing’s most glorious moments. To mourn his passing is another way of mourning the perceived decline of a sport many feel will never see another Ali ever again.

And that’s a shame.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468, tking@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_TomK.