||Issue No. 128||15 March 2002|
Why I'm Marching
Interview: The Wedge Buster
History: Fighting for Peace
Unions: Rattling the Gates
International: Facing Retribution
Technology: How Korean Workers Used The Web
Industrial: Working Futures
Review: Rumble, Young Man, Rumble
Satire: GG Survival Doomed: Fox-Lew In Charge Of Rescue Bid
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Rumble, Young Man, Rumble
Muhammad Ali first entered my consciousness when I was nine years old. Sent down to get the Sunday papers from the corner shop I was faced with the news banner 'Draft Dodger Ali Stripped Of World Title'. For a young Kiwi kid deeply imbued with the ideology of sport it was a serious challenge to understand why this supreme athlete at the peak of his powers would sacrifice the prime years of his fighting life in a political stand against war.
Grappling with this confronting thought lead to another. Did Ali's pronouncements about the plight of black people have relevance in my own country. White New Zealand in the 1960s and 70s, smug and content in its fragile economic prosperity, was deeply deluded by its own Orwellian propaganda as a happy little multiracial society. The reality - that beneath the wafer thin surface was a seething racial tension borne of oppression - wasn't hard to fathom once the idea was put.
That Ali could sow the seeds of a political consciousness in a skinny little white boy in far off, isolated New Zealand is a small example of the extraordinary global and political impact of this human phenomenon.
Of course his real impact and his substantial political significance has always been as a symbol and warrior of black consciousness. This film, makes an admirable attempt to explain Ali's life in this context - that he was part of the vanguard of black leaders that tried to liberate their people from the self-hatred that underpins racism and makes it effective. It's all here - Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and their murders. Birmingham, the state surveillance, the whole racial cocktail that characterised America's brand of apartheid in the 1960s. For many people, especially the young, Ali is seen in his present state - as a physically debilitated, genial old man revered for reasons hazy and sports obscure. This bio will do something to introduce Ali, the political activist to new generations still living in a world populated with racist demons. And what style, courage and wit he brought to that role! Ali had an almost incomprehensible political impact but he was also so much fun.
Ali as the ultimate boxer is sketched thinly but this bio highlights the two milestone bouts against the two badass braulers Sonny Liston and George Foreman that bookended his career. There were always an Ali the Fighter Mark 1 and Mark 2 and these fights reasonably represent each. Ali Mark 1, before his suspension, was the perfect boxer - super quick to be almost untouchable, an arrogant style with hands held low and a mobility that defied his bulk. The young Ali was pure boxing brilliance, backing up his bravado with breathtaking speed of hand and foot and sublime skills. The bravery that Ali the Elder later depended on was also there in abundance in that fight against Liston when he first won the crown aged 21. The Foreman bout saw Ali, slower but nail-hard and with the bagful of fight tricks employ the biggest gamble in sporting history, the rope-a-dope, to cement his sporting greatness. Raw courage, strength of will and ring cunning combined to topple the goliath.
What I've always loved about Ali is that he showed what you can do with a life. 'I'm not afraid to be what I want to be,' he said with pride. Martin Luther King's maxim that the arc of history tends towards justice should resonate personally with The Greatest seeing his transformation from public enemy to Hollywood hero.
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