Muhammed Ali has died at age 74. I am 74. He loomed large when I came to adulthood. He was the most famous athlete on earth after he beat Sonny Liston in 1964.
He was the greatest fighter of my generation, as he never tired of reminding us. He was also the greatest self-promoter in sports of any generation.
Most men of my era had an opinion about Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali. I was a fan, although I never cared much for boxing.
I liked his style. I liked it for a reason: it was all about marketing.
In November 1962, he was fighting Archie Moore, who was one month shy of age 46. Moore had knocked out 131 men — a record that still stands. He had been boxing professionally since 1935. He had been boxing longer than Clay had been alive. Moore had even trained Clay at one time. He had just come off of a near-decade reign as light heavyweight champion, the longest that any fighter had held the title, then or now.
Clay was his brash self. “Moore will fall in four.” He was generally dismissive of Moore. The fight is on YouTube. It is clear by the first half of round three that Clay was just playing with Moore. In the second half, he took over. He knocked Moore out in round four, just as he had predicted.
I recall this vividly, although I cannot find a reference to it on the Web. After the fight, Clay told the press that he had meant no disrespect of Moore. He said he had just been trying to build interest in the fight, to build the gate. In short, it was just business. From that time on, I was a fan of Cassius Clay.
He really was the greatest.