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Cybulski: Happy 70th birthday to 'The Greatest'

James Cybulski
1/17/2012 11:07:15 AM
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I wasn't old enough to see Muhammad Ali in his prime.

As a kid, I remember reading how he was soundly beaten by Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick in the twilight of his career.  

It's been over 30 years since he last fought and yet, he's still The Champ.

I was first introduced to Ali's personality, through an episode of Diff'rent Strokes, when Ali visited with Arnold Jackson to help him in his feud with The Gooch.

There was also the time he had the crowd roaring at Madison Square Garden chanting, "Ali! Ali! Ali!," when he made an appearance at the first WrestleMania in 1985. It would take me a few more years to fully appreciate Ali as 'The Greatest.'

As a teen, I started watching some of his old fights on VHS tapes (anyone remember those now?) and I was amazed by his brilliance.

So fast and so powerful. And when he spoke? Look out!

And I was 16 when I read Ali's biography written by Thomas Hauser. I remember thinking at so many points during the book, 'This can't be real! It was only 20 years ago that some of this stuff happened!' 
 
He was a man, who in the 1960's walked the walk and talked the talk. Not a single athlete around could touch him when it came to the sound bite. Imagine the Heat boasting like they did in 2010, and backing it up - time after time after time.

He changed his name and his religious beliefs. Think how polarizing Tim Tebow is these days. Now imagine him changing his tune about how he feels about Jesus Christ. 

He refused to listen to the government and went to trial for it. He stood by his principals - opposing to fight in a war many didn't believe in - and was stripped of his heavyweight title for it.

Many drug cheats in professional sports in this day and age aren't even stripped of their titles, yet Ali was for simply sticking to his beliefs.

And this is why he is The Greatest.

Too many books and films have been made for us to ever forget his legacy and what The Champ did along the way. As determined as he was inside the ring, his fight was just as impressive, if not more outside. Not only did he take on greats like Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sonny Liston, he also fought for equal rights and independence. His efforts away from boxing paved the way for many.

To sell an event, he was T.O., OchoCinco, Floyd Mayweather, Sean Avery and Ric Flair all in one. When it came to backing it up, he was part Jordan, Brady, Jeter and Gretzky.

On this day - Jan. 17 - Ali turns 70. His health has deteriorated significantly due to Parkinson's - an ailment helped facilitated by a realization during his fighting days that he had one of the greatest jaws in the game. Its unfortunate seeing a once mighty figure battle now, but he continues to fight because that's what he knows. Each day he reminds his illness, 'The Champ is here!'

I've only ever seen him once from a distance and that was at the NBA All-Star Game in 2009. I stood in awe at the sight of a man larger than life when he was introduced. 

If you're at all a sports fan or a history buff and aren't quite familiar with Ali's legacy - or simply his exploits in the ring - take a moment and do so. He is the most compelling figure still living today.

He is an inspiration on how to fight for what you believe in.

Happy Birthday, Champ. This world is better off having you in it.

Twitter.com/jamescybulski



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