It is a discussion that will lead to no definite answers: whether one athlete from an older era, was as good as an athlete from another era. It is easy to discuss whether or not Muhammad Ali was the best boxer of his time.
He proved this in the ring as he defended his title against the fighters of his day; from Sonny Liston to George Foreman and Joe Frazier, who he beat twice.What is a harder discussion to portray is whether or not Ali was the greatest boxer in the history of the game. In this discussion, two boxers will need to be discussed; both the best boxers of their day and both of their careers having one great “what if” within their time on the canvas which only left unanswered questions on the table.When talking about whether or not Ali was the greatest boxer, he only needs to be compared to a single boxer: Mike Tyson. If the two were able to meet, both in their prime, the winner would not only be crowned the heavyweight champ of that time but the greatest of all time as there never were two boxers with the talent than the two aforementioned boxers.Only with a discussion of the winner of these two men, will the question of the greatest boxer of all time be answered.
In defining who was the greatest boxer of all time, it first must be agreed upon, the attributes that would give somebody the claim of being the greatest boxer of all time. Not only must the boxer be great in his own time, but needs to be measured among those who had come before and those who had come after.Joe Louis held onto his title longer than any other boxer, 1937-1949, but besides his fight with max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938, though terribly important fights, both in the field of sports and historically, was among a very short list of important fights that Louis participated in. Also, much more coverage is available concerning Ali, and whether fair or not, an expert’s opinion is judged upon the amount of material that is available in order to make the decision regarding the greatest boxer of all time.“Ali was the greatest of his generation, there is no question.” He defended his title nine times from 1965-1967, a steady clip for boxers of that generation or any generation.
He defeated Foreman, Frazier two out of the three times that they met, having only having lost that first fight, due mostly to the three year lay off that he had incurred as a result of his refusal to fight in Vietnam.If one is talking about a boxer being “good” in order to be considered great, Ali flunks that test with flying colors. His sportsmanship skills were the worst of any boxer who had ever lived.He demeaned his opponent in new and more awful ways, including Joe Frazier who had helped him survive and aided his return into the ring after the U.S.
government took his license, only to have the favor returned by demeaning Frazier in such a brutal way, thirty five years later, Frazier is still not talking to Ali, his former friend and has been known to mock Ali’s physical impairment, brought on by his Parkinson’s Disease.So if one’s definition of the greatest athlete also requires that he be a person who conducts himself to a strict moral code within the field of play, Ali is not to be even considered. Off the field, a man who is willing to sacrifice as much as Ali did for the sake of his beliefs, even if one does not agree with those beliefs, and brings no harm to his fellow man, cannot help but be a source of respect.In this, Ali was much more than a simple athlete to the millions of fans, then as well as now, who admire him and who cried as they saw their hero do, as many athletes fall prey to; staying in the game beyond the shelf life of their own ability.
However, it does not seem to be important to a contemporary society, what an athlete does outside of the field of play but that it is solely his athletic skill that is to be deemed appropriate to be studied.In this case, Ali, with a professional record of 58-5, is one of the greatest boxers of all time and had he not lost three of his prime years to the suspension, his record might have been much greater. The fight that would count the most would be that between Ali and Tyson. Ali could not compete with the punching power of Mike Tyson.
Tyson at his prime would be able to take apart, a mentally inferior Ali, had that been the case. However, Ali’s mental ability was far superior to that of Tyson’s or most of the boxers who had ever climbed into the ring to fight anybody. Also, it is widely known that Tyson, when fighting somebody who would not submit to his bullying tactics, like Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield, would resort to unconventional tactics and the will and means towards victory would elude him.In this respect, the tactics of Ali; the mind games and “Rope-a-Dope,” if used successfully, would yield Ali the victor on points, rather than through a knock out.
Muhammad Ali was much more relevant to the game of boxing as well as the generation of which he was a product of than Mike Tyson. Also, had Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali gone their entire careers, living up to their full potential and physical and mental capabilities, the decision as to who was greater, and thus, the greatest of all time, might yield a different result.However, as the historical facts and professional careers of the two fighters go, it would be more likely that if Ali and Tyson were to fight three times, Ali would win two of them, all on points whereas Tyson would win his single fight as did Frazier did: with a crippling single punch that would catch Ali by surprise and bring him to the canvas.History would then judge Ali the greater fighter and thus, the greatest of all time. Sports Century. Muhammad Ali.
New York: ESPN Productions March 21, 2005 Gast, Leon. When We Were Kings. Universal. 1996 Ibid. Battle Lines: Ali vs.
Foreman: Rumble in the Jungle. New York: ESPN Productions. February 13, 2003 Gast, Leon. When We Were Kings. Universal.
1996 Remmick, David. King of the World. New York: Scribners. 2004 p. 47 Gast, Leon. When We Were Kings.
Universal. 1996 Sports Century. Muhammad Ali. New York: ESPN Productions March 21, 2005