So who was the Greatest? I would have said Ali, right up to watching this documentary.
Ali was the most entertaining sports personality ever?
I used to agree with that, even though I've hated boxing for many years. But Ali was bigger than boxing? Ali was an artist?
In his first fight with Ali, Joe Frazier pummelled him and won on points.
In their second fight Ali held Frazier by the neck and won on points.
Joe Frazier was almost blind in one eye from the early sixties. In spite of this massive disadvantage, he became world champion. In Manila, with a few rounds to go, with Joe on top, his other eye became closed up. The penultimate round saw Ali half-murder the blind man. Now both Ali and Frazier were exhausted from the heat and the punishment they had meted out to each other. If Joe had come out for the final round, punching into darkness, Ali would have killed him. The man in Joe's corner was certain of that. He'd seen six deaths in the ring in his lifetime. He didn't want Joe to be the seventh.
They stopped the fight. Joe was furious. He hated Ali so much...
In the run-up to the fight, Ali had called Frazier ugly and stupid. He had called him an Uncle Tom, a gorilla. Frazier was sponsored and supported by white people. Pro-Vietnam War, anti-civil rights Republicans. He had a white girlfriend.
Ali was the darling of the rest of us.
But were there thinking grown ups around then who felt distaste at the gorilla comments? Who knew all about Ali's beloved Nation Of Islam's thoughts on integration, about Ali speaking at a Ku Klux Klan rally because of a shared ideology?
I was not a grown up at the time. I did not think about things. Ali goofing around with Parkinson and Carpenter was entertaining and made me laugh. I really wanted that beautiful, funny, light skinned black man to kill that ugly, stupid, dark black Uncle Tom gorilla.
Joe now thinks the beating he gave Ali in their fights contributed in some way to Ali's Parkinson's. He's glad. He thinks Ali is paying for the way he was when he was younger.
Christ, boxing is disturbing enough as it is without all this on top! Suffice to say if someone asks me who is the greatest sports personality of all time, I won't be plumping for Muhammad Ali.
Princess Anne gets it from me.