Farewell to the Greatest – 12th June 2016


Muhammad_Ali_NYWTSFarewell to the Greatest – but for God’s sake let’s keep a sense of proportion…

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston, Maine.
Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston, Maine.

Mohammed Ali was a man of my generation. I was eighteen when he floored Sonny Liston and the world of boxing found a new hero. But he wasn’t an instant hero – many thought the fight was a ‘fix’ and even today, some people still question that punch.

At first, nobody liked this brash, outspoken, vain young man. This was a time when everybody – especially young black American boxers – spoke in polite, respectful tones when interviewed. It was unheard of for any sportsman to speak how this arrogant young boxer was doing. And we liked it even less when he changed his name and his religion. It was as though he was denying his American cultural roots – which of course he was…

I can’t recall exactly when the hate turned firstly to respect and then to love and finally to adoration.

It was partly due to his actions in the ring – where he continually backed up his amazing predictions of which round he would win – and partly due to the twinkle that we spotted in his eyes. Whenever  he went on one of his infamous rants, you could see the humor in his eyes. He was enjoying himself and having a great time – at our uncomfortable expense. The world saw it and loved what they saw.

But we still we deplored his stance on the Vietnam War – but it turned out he was right, and we were all wrong. What a fiasco that war turned out to be – over 58,000 young American soldiers lost – and for what?

Then we had the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manilla – fights that will go down in the Muhammad-Ali-v-George-For-012pantheons of boxing as two of the greatest fights of all time.

I could go on and on… but you all know the story.

It was a very sad day when we heard that Ali had died, and his death deservedly received worldwide blanket news coverage.

But I do have a problem with this media coverage, particularly by TV news broadcasters such as the BBC.

On the day Ali died, if I was reading the news in a newspaper – either a traditional paper edition or a one of the new-style newspaper online – I could as much as I wanted to  about the great man and I could also read a lot of tributes. Indeed, I could have immersed myself in the life of the Ali.

But when I was satiated with news of Ali’s life and his sad death I could have also read about other events happening in this crazy world of ours – some of them pretty important, like the ongoing slaughter in Syria, the British referendum, Trump’s latest pronouncements and so much more. All the news was there in the newspapers – in paper form or online – if I wanted to read it. 

I honestly think that somebody at the BBC rings his hands in glee when someone of the stature of a Bowie or an Ali  passes on.

“Okay chaps, down tools, we can all have a 3-day break from normal news while we feast ourselves on the the Mohammed Ali story.”

Every day the BBC world news service which broadcasts to hundreds of countries across the world, and the BBC domestic news service which caters for people in the UK.  Both have  30-minute news bulletins – every hour, on the hour. For the domestic news, the news often lasts the full hour. But there is always at least  30 minutes of solid news..not fifteen…not ten…not five but a full 30 minutes of commercial-free news, 24 hours per day.

So when Ali died, nobody would be surprised or put out if the BBC devoted half of their bulletins to Muhammed Ali, or even twenty minutes or, in the extreme… twenty-five. But surely not the entire thirty minutes? Surely they could have allocated 5 or 10 minutes of that 30-minute news bulletin to other news?

I just don’t get it. Why do they do it? If your main source of daily news is BBC TV, then you would have been completely cut off from world events for three days. Hour after hour, day after day, the only news on BBC World and domestic TV was about Ali’s death.

On Friday – the day of Ali’s funeral – I turned on BBC domestic news and the only thing I could see was endless shots of Ali’s final journey through Louisville. I felt for the poor  commentators who had long since had run out of things to say. For what seemed an eternity, we watched a black limo going along the road with a thin scattering of people shouting “Ali” from the road side. It was almost an insult to the great man’s memory.

To me, the pinnacle of BBC’s farce was when they interviewed the ex-world heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis after it was announced that he would be one of the pallbearers.

“Lennox, what does it feel like to be one of Ali’s pallbearers?”


RIP Muhammed Ali, there will never be another like you…..

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