By Jackie Kallen
To those of us in boxing, Muhammad Ali has simply set the bar to which every boxer strives to reach. From his days in Louisville as a top amateur to his gold medal win in the 1960 Olympics, he has been everyone’s favorite boxer. He won the title against Sonny Liston when he was 22 and quickly became a legend.
I first met Ali in the late 1970s when he fought Leon Spinks in Vegas and lost a split decision. It shocked everyone, but he redeemed himself seven months later with a win in New Orleans. He went on to fight all the great heavyweights of his era and he was never at a loss for words or boring during an interview.
I remember sitting in the crowd at Caesear’s Palace on October 2, 1980 when Ali gamely fought Larry Holmes. I watched in stunned silence as Ali took a brutal beating. Thankfully in the 11th round, Angelo Dundee stopped the onslaught. But Ali was never the same.
When Thomas Hearns was preparing for his 1981 fight against Sugar Ray Leonard, training camp was set up at Ali’s farmhouse in Berrien Springs, MI. It was a great place with good vibes in a relaxed setting. You could feel Ali’s spirit in every room.
In August 1992, when three of my top prospects at the time (Tarick Salmaci, Warren Jackson and Leo Nolan) turned pro, Ali stopped by the Palace of Auburn Hills to watch the fights. He came back into the locker room to wish the guys luck and showed them his famous levitating trick. He posed for photos with each of them and gave them each an encouraging pat on the back. All three were thrilled and each won their fights by KO.
His magic follows him wherever he goes. When he walks into a crowded stadium or arena, the entire throng of people erupts in cheers and a standing ovation. He is a national treasure.
The years have been increasingly hard for Ali. His advanced Parkinson’s Disease has robbed him of his quick wit and his ability to verbalize with his once razor-sharp quips. He is a shadow if his old self, but is more beloved than ever.
Though he was unable to carry the Olympic torch into the stadium for the 2012 games, his wife Lonnie helped him to stand up before the flag. That was all the crowd needed. They screamed out their love and devotion.
Having been married four times and being the father of nine children Ali has lived a dream life. He has accomplished all his goals and is at peace and seemingly happy. He doesn’t seem to care whether or not his Parkinson’s was caused by boxing. He just lives one day at a time and is truly one of the greatest men I have had the pleasure of knowing.
Happy Birthday, Champ.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen