Muhammed Ali was seventy yesterday! All of my life (he is five months older than me) I have been privileged to share the same history as the great man. Many of my family memories have been shared with Mohammed Ali.
My dad and I watched his win at the Olympic Games. We watched in astonishment as this kid from America destroyed the Polish European Champion. I then watched his rise to fame from afar until the night that he was dropped by Henry Cooper and I was there on that night live at the old Wembley arena. Henry caught Ali with a huge punch but the champ recovered because he always did.
Then he had his problem with the American public because this particular black man had no intention of propping up an American administration by volunteering to fight in Vietnam. In hindsight he was so right!
So they binned him for three years and when I was in Berlin we saw the first of his comeback fights. My wife and I got up at 2am to watch the first Ali/Frazier fight and to my chagrin Mohammed Ali lost. He was almost thirty and so was I and when he lost I almost believed that I too had lost my youth.
Later I watched his many fights and his occasional losses most of which he avenged. The 'Rumble in the Jungle' and the 'Thriller in Manila' have become legendary. We just don't seem to see fights like that any more. These guys should receive the equivalent of the Victoria Cross for the effort that they delivered. They were close to death because physically they gave everything.
It is so sad to see this supreme physical being shambling around today but nothing will dim the memory of his boxing ability and his charisma. He had a unique charm which he used to promote himself and entertain the rest of us. Happy Birthday Ali!