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In Memoriam

June 6, 2016

Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat,
If Liston goes back an inch farther he’ll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings with a left,
Clay swings with a right,
Just look at young Cassius carry the fight.
Liston keeps backing but there’s not enough room,
It’s a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom.
Then Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing,
And the punch raised the bear clear out of the ring.
Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown,
But he can’t start counting until Sonny comes down.
Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic
But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who on Earth thought, when they came to the fight,
That they would witness the launching of a human satellite.
Hence the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money,
That they would see a total eclipse of Sonny.

Muhammad Ali, 1964

COMMENTARY: There are lots of examples of great speeches in sports (Lou Gherrig, Jim Valvano, etc.) but I’m hard pressed to think of a sports icon, other than Muhammad Ali, whose impact on cultural consciousness had as much to do with the power of his words as the grace of his body. Provocative, boastful, artful, whimsical, and brilliant, he danced on a sprung floor and was the troubadour of the carbon mic interview, the talkshow quip, and the locker room flyting. Beyond his showmanship, however, was a dignity, a depth of character and an idealism that are rarely glamorized in the world of sport. I don’t think you can separate Ali from his poetry (or from ‘Poetry’)  You’d have the fights, but you wouldn’t have the mythology.
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