et us now praise famous men. Muhammad Ali is often touted for his courage outside the ring, for being a champion of justice, even when it cost him his livelihood. But let us not forget his matchless mettle in the ring. It could, after all, be argued that there is a relationship between physical and moral courage, that Ali’s ability to endure punishing fights bulked up his capacity to take blows of a different kind for justice.
Heavyweight championship boxing is nuclear war in a twenty-foot ring. When Ali was coming up as a young fighter, the cynical cigar-chomping boxing scribes were sure that one good lick from Sonny Liston would button the “Louisville Lip.” Ironically—and much to the detriment of his long-term health—no one could absorb punches better than Ali. Take, for a prime example, the ferocious back-and-forth between Ali and his archrival Joe Frazier in their 1975 “Thrilla in Manila.” It was an oven-like 107 degrees, and considerably hotter under the klieg lights when the fighters toed the line. The battle, which ended with an Ali victory after the fourteenth round, was mind-boggling—first because of the sheer superhuman grit of the combatants but also because Ali and Frazier, by dint of their prowess and infinite resolve, managed to transform an event so brutal it almost made you feel guilty to watch, into an exotic form of beauty.
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