For I am the man this poem’s about,
The next champ of the world,
there isn’t a doubt.
For Muhammad Ali language was another way of boxing, to face his opponent or anyone who tried to challenge him, This was his strategy for a fight: he launched words as jabs, waited for a response to that attack, docked it and then he counterattacked. He threw words combinations to the chin, the liver and the head. Especially to the head, trying to cloud his opponent, to leave him out of combat before he began to fight; once in the ring, little or nothing could do that adversary, who was already badly hurt without even sensing it. And when the first jab was received from Ali’s hands, that sharp, venomous word came back to his mind, disguised as a blow that made him realize the problem he was in. However all that wording Ali displayed was not it in prose, but in verse.
In his first fight against Sonny Liston, young Cassius Clay was already gifted and wrote a long poem predicting what would happen in the fight. In the poem he recited:
This is the legend of Cassius Clay,
the most beautiful fighter in the world today.
The first two verses would be to introduce himself to the World. But this poem would have passed inadvertently, or would have been a simple humorous and arrogan poem if he did not predict what would happen that night in a fight against the most violent heavyweight champion in history so far: Sonny Liston.
The next champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
This I predict and I know the score,
I’ll be champ of the world in ’64.
When I say three, they’ll go in the third, 10 months ago.
And so it was. In February 1964 he became the heavyweight champion when he defeated Liston overwhelmingly. Ali accumulated victories and poems and dedicating them with such an ease worthy of those who knows where to get more, without fear of going blank should the words decide to leave. Norman Mailer, in his book “The Fight” tells us that during his training for his first fight against George Foreman, Ali asked the press and friends if the wanted to hear one of his poems. The public went silence and he took the opportunity. There was nothing to do, another poem came on the way,
I have a great one–two punch;
the one hits a lot but the two hits a bunch.
The poem went on for another five pages and people laughed stupidly at the end. He thanked them for the gesture. Then he said that he was devoting himself to “serious poetry,” aware that this was all fun. The voice of a poet over the years becomes more intimate, seeking to give the right weight to each verse to turn it into a luminous labyrinth where a reader decides to get lost enthusiastically.
The words of Truth are touching
The voice of Truth is deep
The law of Truth is simple:
All you sow, you reap
It is 1974, ten years have passed since Liston. This is a lifetime in a boxer’s career. Also in the life of a poet. Each verse that we read there seems to have taken its time to get there: The words of truth are touching. Ali was not favorite, but he had more patience at the time of hitting, dosed his forces better than his opponent and won. He won from the experience, and every hit had the right weight. Every stroke like a verse that takes ten years to be achieved.
But possibly the person who gave him his cursed verses and unleashed the storm in the other’s head was Joe Frazier. Their endless rivalry made them fight three times, their last fight was called the “fight of the century”. And it was.
It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller
when I get the gorilla in Manila.
Joe’s going to come out smokin
But I ain’t gonna be jokin’
I’ll be pickin’ and pokin’
Pouring water on his smokin’
This might shock and amaze ya
But I’m gonna destroy Joe Frazier.
The strategy was to denigrate him to such an extent that Frazier felt resentful until the end of his days for this attitude. Ali’s words stuck not only in his head, but in his heart. Ali won the third fight, their hardest one, however, it cost him more than his health. It cost him his words, because from that moment on, when Muhammad spoke of Joe “Smokin” Frazier did it with respect.
I’m sorry Joe Frazier is mad at me.
Joe Frazier is a good man.
If God ever calls me to a holy war,
I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me.
Muhammad Ali never thought of pondering his poems or his words toward his opponents. That cost him many fights that made him to tighten his rope more than he should, but looking back in perspective, we are undoubtedly facing one of the most interesting strategists and thinker of his time, a true poet and the best boxer of the history. Words are like boomerang that sooner or later return to one.