Muhammad Ali -- “The Greatest” -- was not only vastly overrated as a fighter but even more overrated as a rebel-activist-revolutionary-humanitarian.
Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Feb. 24, 2018
Far more myth than reality
From the 1960 Rome Olympics to being stripped of his boxing license in 1967, Muhammad Ali was an excellent and uniquely skilled boxer. Yet, outside of taking the title from Sonny Liston, he didn’t have another signature win over a semi-great fighter in that time period. (Archie Moore was a blown-up light-heavy well past his prime and Floyd Patterson was over-rated from day one.)
That said, the Ali that defeated Cleveland Williams on the night of Nov. 14, 1966 -- that precise Ali on that precise night -- just may have beaten any heavyweight fighter ever, on the best night of their career. In one brief, shining moment, he might have sorta-kinda been “The Greatest.” As for the rest of his “story,” it’s far more myth than reality.
Pariah and martyr
On April 28, 1967, Ali was in Houston to be inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces. If he refused, he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. He refused. He was arrested.
Within hours, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended Ali’s boxing license and stripped him of his title. The dominoes continued to fall until he could not get a boxing license anywhere in the United States for more than three years.
The state-based response was predictable and, of course, steeped in white supremacy. In short order, Muhammad Ali became both pariah and martyr. Hero and villain. Ultimately and ironically, the Black Power icon was seriously whitewashed, co-opted, and sold back to us as a one-dimensional and false image. Therefore, it’s long overdue to introduce some mostly ignored context.
Muhammad Ali did not take a radical anti-war stance. His actions were based solely on the fact that he’d joined and vehemently supported (with words and cash) the cultic Nation of Islam, a.k.a. Black Muslims.
This didn’t stop anyone and everyone (including Ali himself) from assigning whatever meaning they chose to his actions. For example, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has explained: “I remember the teachers at my high school didn't like Ali because he was so anti-establishment and he kind of thumbed his nose at authority and got away with it. The fact that he was proud to be a black man and that he had so much talent made some people think that he was dangerous. But for those very reasons, I enjoyed him.”
Indeed, Ali was a talented and proud Black man but he didn’t “get away with” refusing induction, he wasn’t “dangerous,” and he was not “anti-establishment.”
An avowed and open misogynist in word and deed
In order to embrace the accepted hagiography, we must conveniently omit oceans of evidence running counter to the brave revolutionary motif. You don’t have to believe me. Simply activate the google function on your internet machine and see for yourself.
To follow is an admittedly small taste, a sampling that must begin with Ali defending Elijah Muhammad even after Malcolm X told him that the Nation of Islam leader had multiple extramarital affairs (including statutory rape with underage girls) and fathered as many as 13 children with these women and girls.
Muhammad Ali supporting Elijah Muhammad should, however, come as no surprise. The Greatest [sic] was an avowed and open misogynist in word and deed. His time with the Nation of Islam helped shape his already-male supremacist mindset and the vast results are on the public record, e.g.
Those who choose to blithely dismiss such hate speech as a “performance” should perhaps first speak to his four wives, innumerable “mistresses,” and the countless other females he exploited.
“Tiger and Arnold didn't have nothing on Ali”
Ali met Sonji Roi in 1964 and proposed on their first date. She accepted and they were married within a month. Sonji, however, was not at all interested in adhering to any strict dress and behavior codes or heeding the word of Elijah Muhammad. "She wouldn't do what she was supposed to do,” Ali declared. “She wore lipstick; she went into bars; she dressed in clothes that were revealing and didn't look right.” They were divorced in 1966 upon which Ali sent this message in a note to Sonji: “You traded heaven for hell, baby.”
In 1974, at age 32, Ali began what is called “an illicit extramarital relationship” with a 16-year-old named Wanda Bolton who soon gave birth to Ali’s daughter, Khaliah. The Greatest [sic] was still married to second wife Belinda Boyd at the time but this didn’t stop him from also marrying Bolton (who changed her name to Aaisha Ali) in a non-legally binding Islamic ceremony. In a move that surely would’ve made the Honorable [sic] Elijah Muhammad proud, Ali promptly moved Aaisha and her baby into his training camp alongside Belinda and her children.
A year later, Ali was in the Philippines for his third fight against Joe Frazier -- a bout known as the “Thrilla in Manila.” He left his legal and illegal wives and kids home but instead traveled with an actress and model named Veronica Porché. Boyd saw her husband on TV, introducing his latest mistress to his new pal, dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Boyd took the first flight to Manila and confronted Ali, who later appeared in public with a noticeable scratch on his face.
Ali eventually divorced Boyd and married Porché. Afterwards, Belinda Boyd compared her marriage to Ali to a “roller coaster ride” and believed her ex-husband had “many more” illegitimate children than publicly known. Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, she said when asked about infidelities, “didn't have nothing on Muhammad Ali.”
“God made us different”
Ali’s, um… “anti-authority” approach to marriage also included perspectives like this:
“Reagan is keeping God in schools and that’s enough for me”
When Ali died, no memorials mentioned his endorsement of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 because “he’s keeping God in schools and that’s enough for me.” No one mentioned his support for George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor who ran for president in 1968. “I like what he says,” Ali stated at the time.
Uncle Tom and the gorilla
The Black Power advocate labeled Black opponent Ernie Terrell an “Uncle Tom.”
The global humanitarian labeled Black opponent Floyd Paterson an “Uncle Tom.”
The great anti-racism hero labeled Black opponent Joe Frazier an “Uncle Tom.”
Beyond that, he relentlessly mocked Frazier’s manner of speech and regularly called him a “gorilla” and the white man’s champion. The hard-working Frazier became seen as a foil, a dupe of the establishment. With progressing cruelty, Ali controlled the narrative and few questioned how such an anti-authority rebel could publicly declare that Frazier was “so ugly his face should be donated to the bureau of wildlife.” But Ali’s fans took it seriously enough to send regular death threats to Frazier and his family.
All this despite that fact that Frazier publicly supported Ali’s conscientious objector status and -- get this -- helped his rival financially during the exile. How many of his eulogizers talked at length about the betrayal of Ali using the ridiculing language of white supremacy against his Black “brothers” in order to further his career? (While rarely if ever calling out white fighters like Rocky Marciano for calling him “Clay.”)
Nope, people like Barack Obama were too busy calling Ali “a force for reconciliation and peace around the world.”
Reconciliation, peace… and the KKK
Ali vs. Frazier
Of course, Ali’s suspension was eventually overturned and he triumphantly re-entered the profession of prizefighting. More than ever in this second act, he delivered far more style than substance.
In 1971, he got his ass kicked by the aforementioned (and overrated) Joe Frazier -- although Ali whined and complained that he had won the bout. In their return bout, Ali clutched and grabbed and held his way to a close decision. By the time their rubber match happened in 1975, Ali had regained the title and Frazier had become a shell of his former self (like most fighters, he had only a small window of excellence).
The “greatest fighter of all time” should’ve made short work of a faded opponent with only partial vision in his left eye. Yet, it was a toe-to-toe war for 14 rounds which Ali won when Frazier’s trainer threw in the towel against his fighter’s wishes -- just as Ali himself was begging his own cornermen to cut off his gloves. Ali collapsed just seconds after Frazier’s trainer called off the fight. We will never know what might have happened had Frazier gotten off the stool for that final round but it’s not unreasonable to assume The Greatest [sic] would’ve been unable to continue.
It’s easy now to romanticize the third Ali-Frazier fight. But if it were slightly lesser known combatants involved, we’d call it what it was: a vastly overrated champion already past his prime being unable to handle a half-blind, very over-the-hill former champ in his last hurrah. Without the legendary names attached, it’s an even match that would’ve satisfied most boxing fans. Because it was Ali and Frazier, part three, it was and is perceived as grand opera.
Watch this movie and I promise you will weep for Smokin’ Joe and learn to justifiably despise The Greatest [sic]:
“The Greatest” in the 70’s
Ali fought Ken Norton (another “legend” who couldn’t get past a couple of rounds with Foreman) three times. Norton deservedly got the first decision -- breaking Ali’s jaw -- but was robbed in the other two bouts. A strong argument can be made that The Greatest [sic] was also gifted with a decision over Jimmy Young in 1975. He struggled mightily against pedestrian opponents like Earnie Shavers and Ron Lyle and eventually lost his title to a rank amateur, Leon Spinks, in 1978. In 1980, The Greatest [sic] was dismantled and embarrassed by a far superior Larry Holmes.
In between the above-mentioned fights, The Greatest [sic] padded his record with matches against the pathetic likes of Alfredo Evangelista, Richard Dunn, Joe Bugner, Jean-Pierre Coopman, Alvin Blue Lewis, Rudi Lubbers, and Chuck Wepner. Some of those alleged fights took place in nations run by authoritarian governments but the great humanitarian Ali never failed to buddy up to the dictators in charge.
In the decade of the 60s, Ali had one signature win: upsetting a fearsome heavy favorite name Sonny Liston. In the decade of the 70s, Ali had one signature win: upsetting a fearsome heavy favorite named George Foreman. For those two fights alone, yes, he belongs in the pantheon of heavyweights. But his bout with Foreman further demonstrated Ali’s utter disregard for human rights.
“Our best friend in Africa”
On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali fought heavyweight champion George Foreman in the African Republic of Zaire. Foreman had demolished two men who’d vanquished Ali -- Frazier and Norton -- and now stood between The Greatest [sic] and his lost throne. But why Zaire?
While you’re googling Ali and his numerous transgressions, take a side trip to learn about The Congo and Patrice Lumumba. In the meantime, here’s a very brief history lesson:
The Congo gained independence from Belgium in June 1960 and its first Prime Minister was Lumumba, a popular and legally elected socialist who tried to appease both the United States and the USSR. Within three months, he was overthrown by the CIA. After being held as prisoner and tortured for a month, he was killed and had his body dissolved in hydrochloric acid.
The United States eventually replaced Lumumba with the murderous, corrupt, but most importantly, anti-communist, Mobutu Sese Seko who ruled with “a level of corruption and cruelty that shocked even his CIA handlers.” As President Bush the Elder later put it, Mobutu was “our best friend in Africa.”
“The Rumble in the Jungle”
In the name of “authenticity,” Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaïre, after a local word for "river,” forced all his citizens to adopt African names, introduced a new currency, and renamed many cities.
Ali willingly bought into Mobutu and his façade of African-ness: "I wanted to establish a relationship between American blacks and Africans,” The Greatest [sic] said. “All the time I was there, I'd travel to the jungles, places where there was no radio or television, and people would come up to me, and I could touch them.”
Ali apparently had no comment about touching those housed in the secret detention cells under the stadium where the fight took place or the criminals who were rounded up and shot before the foreign press arrived.
"The Rumble in the Jungle was a fight that made the whole country more conscious," Ali wrote at the time. “The fight was about racial problems, Vietnam. All of that."
Not quite, Muhammad. Thanks to an acquiescent media, the general public’s knowledge of Zaire under Mobutu was limited to stories about African support for Ali and the rope-a-dope tactic the former champ employed to defeat Foreman.
Many years later, when the dictator Mobutu had outlived his usefulness to the United States, he was ousted. Muhammad Ali offered no further commentary about a whole country he touched and made more conscious.
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I could go on and on but perhaps you will actually heed my suggestion and take a much closer look at Ali (and all such “heroes”) for yourself.
This article began with a question in the title: Was Muhammad Ali over-rated? To which, I reply: Absolutely. The legend of Muhammad Ali is merely another perilous parable of patriarchal propaganda.
Name the problem.
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Mickey Z. is the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!
Was Muhammad Ali over-rated? (spoiler: yes, in every possible way) by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://worldnewstrust.com/was-muhammad-ali-over-rated-spoiler-yes-in-every-possible-way-mickey-z.