The name of the opponent synonymous to Muhammed Ali is George Foreman, a name as commonly used as the grill he’s famous for promoting. But let’s not forget that Ali had opponents more formidable than the soundly defeated Foreman.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’m English and back in the days when I was growing up in a pretty poor town in the Midlands, TV’s were not at all common. We had the first one in our street and one of my earliest memories is being squeezed out of our living room because all the neighbors had dropped by to watch Neil Armstrong take those first famous steps onto the surface of the moon. But my dad hadn’t scrimped and saved his shillings, watched them turn into pounds over the years to buy a TV for such frivolous things as moon landings…our TV was bought so we could watch sport. The weekends were for football, rugby and cricket, and watching good old Lester Piggott bring the winner past the finishing line. For my nan it was the wrestling on a Saturday afternoon at 4 when her favorites Giant Haystacks and Mick McManus would crush the opposition inside, and sometimes outsides, the ropes. As much as my dad loved Match of the Day and sitting there with his piece of paper and pen waiting to check the results and see if he’d won The Pools, nothing compared to watching the boxing and my place was on his knee while I was small enough to fit and by his side when I wasn’t. The first thing my dad said he’d watched on our first little brown Bakelite set was Henry Cooper vs Cassius Clay in 1963, Cooper knocked down the young Clay, sent him crashing to the ring floor and whenever my dad recalled the moment it would always be with a smile and a chuckle. He never did say whether or not he had a couple of shilling riding on the outcome but I know we had a rare week in Morcombe Bay for our holidays that summer. The fight I remember is when my hero Joe Bugner went the distance with Ali, I sat glued to the set for what seemed like a lifetime, my heart regularly jumping into my throat…and boy was it close when they called out the numbers at the end, closer than anyone would have ever imagined. There was no trip to Morcombe that year, we had to make do with a weekend in Blackpool .
So, we can celebrate the life of a great fighter but let’s not forget the men who were his opponents and made him a legend.