I am not old enough to remember Cassius Clay. The Olympic gold medalist, world heavyweight boxing champion. I only knew Muhammad Ali. Boxer, advocate, trend setter. Most importantly, he is best known for what we know today as trash talking.
The way he spoke right to you, got into your head, and backed things up. Ali did it all to perfection. He is the original trash talker. Ali wouldn’t need to say much to make people think. His use of the English vocabulary combined with anger and intimidation resonated with millions of people around the world even if you didn’t understand the English language. Ali became an imposing figure largely for what he said than for what he did in the ring and his words have stood the test of time.
No better example of Ali’s ability to talk the talk and walk the walk than the famous 1964 fight against Sonny Liston in Miami. There were heated words between Ali and Liston. Ali berated Liston at every opportunity he had and worked it to his advantage. Ali proclaimed that he would win the fight in 8 rounds, it only took him 6 to become heavyweight champion. It was after beating Liston in that fight did we hear Ali utter the words: “I am the greatest.” It was also after that fight that it would be the last as Cassius Clay.
There are many people who are disgusted by today’s athletes who spew nothing but empty words. At the same time they would claim they were inspired by Ali’s actions. That may seem contradictory but I can tell you that is not the case. The likes of Floyd Mayweather, Chad Johnson, Stephen A. Smith and others, who claim they too look up to Ali, can’t hold a candle to the former heavyweight champ. As I explained earlier, Ali would never say anything empty. His words had meaning. He was poignant, articulate, and passionate, and always believed what he said.
Ali also never had tools like Twitter and the Internet to throw out his famous quotes. People today can now easily brag about their sports teams or athletes. But back then, everything was written with pen and paper, photos from cameras with big flashbulbs that took two hands to operate, and sound recorded onto magnetic tape.
Perhaps it is Ali’s fault that he set the bar way too high. Because no one else in the sporting world has been able to reach that level. The first and best trash talker in sport has been silenced.
RIP, Muhammad Ali (1942-2016).