Within the world of boxing there is an ever-present argument raging amongst the various boxing associations, fans, and even those courageous to step inside of the four-corners and display their mastery of ‘the sweet science’. That argument surrounds the title of who is “pound-for-pound” the best at this present moment.
Boxing fans will tell you that they have seen that crown of the best “pound-for-pound” bestowed upon the heads of a litany of fighters. Joe Louis wore it for a period of time. Sugar Ray Robinson wore it as well. Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, and most recently Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather have all had the crown placed upon their head.
Clearly, the crown of the best ‘pound-for-pound’ fighter has adorned the head of many a pugilist. Muhammad Ali wore that crown for longer than any others; however, it was Ali, and Ali alone, whose sturdy shoulders carried an even heavier and eternal title that no other fighter will ever have a legitimate claim to. The honor that I allude to is being called ‘The Greatest of All-Time’.
Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr., is the most recent fighter to stake a claim to the honor of being considered ‘The Greatest of All-Time’. However, what figures such as Mayweather, Jr., and his supporters, fail to understand is that although Ali was extremely impressive inside of the ring, it was his contributions beyond boxing that makes him ‘The Greatest of All Time’.
Whether it was his transformation from a young, brash, loud-mouth Cassius Clay to his transformation into Muhammad Ali or his unrivaled ability to speak a powerful truth to whites’ who considered their political viewpoint the only perspective worth considering. Make no mistake about it; Muhammad Ali was our greatest ambassador and political commentator in an era of political heavyweights such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael. Even more impressive is that Ali’s leadership spanned in excess of half-of-a-century, not decade, but a century.
Black America has always loved its fighters. In many ways, the physicality of our greatest fighters was analogous of the dogged determination that our ancestors had undertaken to ensure our collective survival from ‘chattel slavery’ to the present day.
Most African-American athletes understand, yet are woefully incapable of acting upon Black America’s collective demand that they uplift the Race not only inside of the boxing ring, but also away from it. Boxing Connoisseur Dr. Anthony Quinn remarks that “one of the most shocking things about Muhammad Ali was that although it was a bit inconceivable, he was actually more impressive away from the ring…We must always remember that the title the ‘Greatest of All-Time’ is not bestowed upon Ali solely because of his prodigious boxing skills, rather it was a combination of his political astuteness, steadfast determination to stand on the side of right even when he was in the minority — Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War and the exploitation of African-Americans by whites are just two examples of Ali’s ability to confront racial oppression where ever it reared its ugly head — not to mention Ali’s consistent representation of the Race while speaking truth to a powerful white majority.”
Today’s Black Athlete appears to be incapable of matching their athletic performance with similar non-athletic political acumen or feats like figures such as: Arthur Ashe, Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Bill Russell, Satchel Paige and Walter Payton.
As we mourn the passing of Muhammad Ali, let us honor this man by increasing our political acumen, our courage to ‘speak truth to power’, and display a love for our people that would make the ‘Greatest of All Time’ smile and please people let’s do it for longer than the 3 minutes that marks a single round of boxing.
We owe him that much for representing us in a manner that few athletes would even consider, let alone be capable of. My condolences to us all because we have all lost something that is irreplaceable, that being “The Greatest of All-Time”.
James Thomas Jones III, Ph.D.
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016
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Author, Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
Author, ‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian
Author, O’Bruni: An African-American Odyssey Home?