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The Greatest: How Muhammad Ali Won Me Over

Let 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...


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