A tear for Ali

by
A tear for Ali
Two years after Ali’s farewell.

A tear for Ali

by
A tear for Ali
Two years after Ali’s farewell.

A tear for Ali.
A tear for Ali.

The bee no longer stings/ The butterfly no longer flies

This article was published on Monday the 24th of December of 1984 in the venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, of Caracas. The author is the sports journalist Jesús Cova, who has also been a World Boxing Association (WBA) official for over 20 years. Former professor of Information and Opinion Journalism of the School of Communications of the Universidad Central de Venezuela and current columnist of the sports journal Líder.

The chronicler had the idea or the inspiration for the article after seeing ¨The Greatest¨ seating in the lobby of a hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, surrounded by a group of fans only a few weeks after being diagnosed with Parkinson´s disease.  

This work is reproduced as homage and praise from our organization to one of the greatest and most charismatic fighters of all time, on the eve of the first anniversary of his passing, on June 3rd of 2017. Born in Louisville, Kentucky in January 17, 1942, died in Scottsdale, Arizona.

****************

 

Would I be able, one among the many people hovering around the man who stuttered in an almost inaudible voice, to recognize in that huge mass of now flabby muscles, the man who had been quasi physically perfect?

Was that man sitting there, the one that 24 years before, a then 18 years old youngster named Cassius Marcellus Clay (his birth name), the same that carved his name on the list of great olympic champions in Rome as a semi heavyweight, who since then and with the passing years became known as Muhammad Ali in the world of sports?

Was he in reality that man that with the usual rebellion embedded in youths, the same one who walked one day to a small bridge after being expelled from an exclusive white only restaurant? The one that with tears clouding his eyes had thrown his gold medal into the bubbling waters of the river? The medal that he thought, quite naively, would give him the credentials to access any place he chose for dining, dancing or shopping   that were for whites only?

Was that the man with dim eyes, without the shine of days gone by, the one who was repeating the old and worn words he spread around the boxing world and that are known almost by anyone not even drawn to the sport “I am the greatest, I am the most beautiful”?

Could it be he, the man now watched with commiseration by his friend of decades reverend Jesse Jackson, the one telling everybody (nobody believed it) “I will beat this thing”? “I will win once more”, while he swayed in his seat and eyed every face with an almost lost stare, just to see if they were listening?

Could it be he the enormous man impeccably dressed with a striped tie gripping his neck the same man that once entered a room in a hotel to tell Angelo Dundee, that he was talking with the “next world champion of all weights? Even though he didn’t even have in his pockets a professional boxer license?. A conversation witnessed by Willy Pastrano, the semi heavyweight monarch of the time who would later ask Dundee, who was “that crazy little negro who blabbered so much?

¡Damn! But was this really that zombie figure, a living dead man, the same who had left the world of sports dumbfounded (on February 25 of 1964 to be exact) when he was crowned world king of the heavyweights, at the same moment when on a stool on the other corner “The Ugly Bear” lowered his head and neck, humiliated by this cocky lad who only 8 days prior had turned 22?

Was it possible, by God! that he was the man who now spoke in a soft voice the same man that appeared on all the front pages of the newspapers of the world resembling the archangel Gabriel killing the dragon with a closed fist, with a contorted face asking the dormant rival on the floor to stand up, so he could keep on with the punishment?

Was he the stinging bee , the bothersome sting, the butterfly that flew restlessly , the man sitting there? The one the doctors of New York’s Presbyterian Hospital were waiting for to deepen on the tests that neurologist Stanley Frank had started months before to determine whether or not it was the lethal Parkinson´s disease the illness that was eroding the body that only yesterday was full of life, vitality and energy?

Could just one of the many who listened with pity believe he was Muhammad Ali, the athlete who had the audacity to defy his country´s government by refusing to report for duty because he “has nothing against the vietcong and they have nothing against me. I am not going to kill any human being”?

No. It couldn’t be him, that sort of inanimated puppet the same man who arrived in 1971 in Maiquetía Airport, Venezuela as a special guest for an exhibition, the one who ratified “my religion is Peace”. It was impossible that it was him, who after 3 years into retirement, came back to the ropes to massacre Jerry Quarry in 3 rounds. It couldn’t be him, the man who fell after a battle of spartan warriors against the fists of Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971 and rose from the ashes like a phoenix to reclaim his status that “was always mine”.

In what corner of time that smashing personality had disappeared? What upset everything that until now existed on the subject of self-promotion, image and branding? Where was the one who to virtually had all the world´s promoters on their knees, at his feet? Where was the one that with his magic mutated all existing relations among boxers, agents and “match makers” that ended the practice of throwing bread crumbs to the ones who risked their necks? Where was the mythical character that made fun of George Foreman in Zaire; he had recuperated from a broken jaw from a savage fight with Ken Norton; the one that surely has a niche among boxing immortals? the one who fainted and fell in the arms of Bundini Brown and Dundee in Manila, only a fraction of a second after his archenemy Frazier had raised the flag of surrender in one of the most remembered brawls in modern boxing memory, there in Manila in 1975?

Probably that man who was there, like a circus animal, saciated the curiosity of those who listened, had begun to dissipate since the same day he wore his first pair of gloves as weapons in his hands. Probably he started to volatilize as a thinking being since the first blow he received on his protected head during his amateur years. Probably his lucidity had opened the gates of lethargy with the punches received from Tunney Hunsaker in Louisville in 1960; with the blows from Alex Miteff, George Logan, jimmy Ellism Charlie Powell, Floyd Patterson, Zora Folley and Buster Mathis, with the punches, hundreds, thousands of punches, as many as a million and a half punches, if we count as valid the exaggerated calculations of Ali himself, who declared having fought over 150.000 rounds in 25 years in action, at about ten blows per round.

A million and a half punches are a lot of punches. Even if there were half of them or a quarter of them, they are too many blows for one head, for one body, even more so considering that millions and millions of neurons die with each blow to the brain. Scientific journalist Arístides Bastidas told us once how many, but we forget.

That is why, because much water has flowed under the bridge. Because the river has overflowed and has flooded its banks. Because too many hurricanes have pounded. Because his wings have been clipped. Because his sting has been cut off. Because all of that, the butterfly no longer flies, the bee no longer stings. Because of that, let this tear fall for Ali.


The man who dedicated himself to poetry 



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