When Great met Great for Charity in Cleveland
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
The world lost its most famous crusader for peace. America is void of its most polarizing sportsman and civil rights ambassador. Cleveland lost its great benefactor.
Muhammad Ali was the boastful and colorful champion boxer when he met Don King in 1972, but it was that by chance encounter that catapulted both men beyond the stratosphere of the sport of boxing and throughout the globe.
It was an ironic twist of fate when Ali, who had just lost three years of his career after refusing to join the Army, met King, who had just been released from serving four years in prison.
Ali was charismatic, fleet of foot with wickedly fast fist and a razor sharp beak, he had recently lost to Joe Frazier when the flamboyant King called and persuaded him to come to Cleveland to raise funds for Forest City Hospital.
Ali knew King’s longtime friend and singer Lloyd Price, but when King got on the phone with Ali, the fighter and promoter hit it off.
Ali boxed 10 exhibition rounds at the fundraiser and the champ encouraged King to promote boxing.
Thus, an unlikely and formidable bond between Muslim pugilist and the former street numbers runner from the ghetto of Cleveland was formed. That is where ‘The Greatest’ boxer and ‘The Greatest’ promoter began and the two will be indelibly be link forever in the annals of time.
Together they raised $89,000 to stave off creditors from closing the hospital that serviced the Black community.
King knew the hospital served a vital function to a poor, working-class community. The two men hit it off, and a new era began in boxing.
King inked a fight between Ali and George Foreman in 1974 that promised both fighters more than $5 million each, which was unheard of at the time. When his financial backers lost faith and pulled out and everyone else turned their backs on King, he held the fight together on his own and took it to Zaire. He proved the doubters and critics wrong by staging one of the greatest fights in history with The ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’
Ali died June 3 in a Phoenix hospital from complications due to Parkinson disease; the official cause was septic shock, according to a family statement. He was 74.
Ali’s death was greeted like that of royalty he was.
Because of his classic fights in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), the Philippines, Japan, England, Malaysia and Germany were global events in the days before the Internet made everything a global event.
He is considered among the most famous people in the world, as a public figure who transcended the boundaries of sport and country, he may have been the greatest ambassador the United States ever employed.
"It's a sad day for life, man. I loved Muhammad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die," Don King, "Like Martin Luther King his spirit will live on, he stood for the world."
King promoted Ali’s most memorable fights, "Rumble in the Jungle" and "Thrilla in Manila." Ali toppled the mighty George Foreman with the rope-a-dope in Zaire in the "Rumble in the Jungle", and nearly fought to the death with Joe Frazier in the Philippines in the "Thrilla in Manila."
Ali was more than just a colorful boxer who advocated for justice on behalf of Black people, and he was more than a man who defended his religious beliefs by refusing to be drafted by the Army during the Vietnam War.
He was only convinced to take up boxing after his bike was stolen from him at the age of 12 when he wanted to beat-up the boy who did it.
He went on to capture Olympic Gold in 1960, became the first three-time heavyweight champion and finished with ring record of 56-5 with 37 knockouts.
When asked why he fights;
“It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”
He was most revered because he refused to allow for anyone to tell him how he should live his life. He steadfast stood on the right side of humanity.
Unyielding in his commitment to his faith and unconditional in his love for all people, especially children who were sick or improvised.
His boxing career was over after he lost three of his last four fights in 1981, but as he would attest his real life was just beginning.
So, after acknowledging he had Parkinson in 1984, a residue of his many brutal ring wars, he would embark on his final journey, mission of peace for humanity.
A Journey that was more inspirational than confrontational.
A journey that was more transforming, than condescending.
A journey that did not count wins, but fought against sins.
It was not one that wanted any sympathy for his suffering.
His voice that long since had been silenced, but it was his heart that mattered most.
So much so that when all of Ali’s vital organs shut down during his final moments on earth, remarkably his heart didn’t skip a beat for the next 30 minutes.
Yet, another vivid reminder that ‘The Greatest’ has never left us and will live among us on earth as he will in heaven, for ever and ever…Amen.