“Somebody told you all wrong, pretty boy.”
Today, Muhammad Ali turns 70 years old. My good friend Mac sent me a great Sports Illustrated story from 1975 by Mark Kram with a contemporaneous recap of the “Thrilla in Manila.” I commend a prompt reading to you, as Mac did to me (and as a key bonus, you’ll get to find out what a “Jeepney” is, unless of course you’re smarter than me and already know).
Ali draws a lot of emotion and commentary that veers all over the map, ranging from the adulatory to what verges on hatred, but it’s entirely beyond dispute that he has been a brilliant figure in the world (and certainly not only, or even primarily, the sports world) and that his impact will long endure. As I said to Mac, it’s amazing that he’s already 70, and perhaps equally amazing that he’s only 70.
Here’s a piece of the article on the final fight of the trilogy with Smokin’ Joe:
After the fight Futch said: “Ali fought a smart fight. He conserved his energy, turning it off when he had to. He can afford to do it because of his style. It was mainly a question of anatomy, that is all that separates these two men. Ali is now too big, and when you add those long arms, well … Joe has to use constant pressure, and that takes its toll on a man’s body and soul.” Dundee said: “My guy sucked it up and called on everything he had. We’ll never see another one like him.” Ali took a long time before coming down to be interviewed by the press, and then he could only say, “I’m tired of bein’ the whole game. Let other guys do the fightin’. You might never see Ali in the ring again.”
In his suite the next morning he talked quietly. “I heard somethin’ once,” he said. “When somebody asked a marathon runner what goes through his mind in the last mile or two, he said that you ask yourself why am I doin’ this. You get so tired. It takes so much out of you mentally. It changes you. It makes you go a little insane. I was thinkin’ that at the end. Why am I doin’ this? What am I doin’ here in against this beast of a man? It’s so painful. I must be crazy. I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I’ll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I’m gonna tell ya, that’s one helluva man, and God bless him.”