A long time ago, I once met Henry Cooper, shaking his great meat-cleaver of a hand. He was larger than I expected, amiable, with a warm, friendly smile. Lighter by over twenty pounds, he was the man whose famous left hook left a young Cassius Clay sprawled on the canvas in 1963 and whose Achilles heel of a cut eye robbed him of the fight in the next round. Many have suggested that Clay had been illegally revived in his corner with the use of smelling salts and had he not been, the outcome might well have been different.
After a legendary career and having finally lost his battle with Parkinson’s Disease, the Louisville Lip is finally being laid to rest in his home town. Much is being made of the greatness of Ali – the world’s first high profile sportsman who converted to Islam and a lavish, multi-faith memorial is planned for a man whose hands were so fast that he could punish slower opponents at will and almost without effort, as Ernie Terrell and Larry Holmes both found out to their cost.
In sixty one fights, Ali won 56 times, 61% by knockout. He never drew a fight.
It seemed that Ali was a man who believed all roads led to God, often spending time at his father’s old church even after his conversion to Islam, albeit the black supremacist version peddled by the likes of Elijah Muhammad. Perhaps this is the kind of Islam that Bill Clinton may remark upon on Friday at the memorial service, inclusive, almost tolerant, the kind that the West can do business with. It seems unlikely that the radicals would agree but nobody had ever publicly called him out as an apostate.
People are uncomfortable with extremes – they feel secure under an umbrella of near-predictable mediocrity which is why I think that when all the blood is mopped off the floor, Britain will still prefer to huddle under the Orwellian shadow of Brussels, irksomely chafing as it is.
It’s been interesting to follow the uppercuts and left hooks in Westminster as the Conservative party enthusiastically cannibalises itself and the extremes of opinion are hung out to dry like so much dirty laundry. UKIP thinks that if the Brits leave they’ll be subjected to hordes of sexual predators roaming the streets in search of inappropriately clad women. The economists are talking about retail collapse and David Cameron is focusing on what he thinks it will cost the average family if the Brexiteers win. Meanwhile, the political fortunes of the likes of Gove and Johnson hang in the balance. Both are gamblers, it would appear, and like the last hand in the poker game, have gone ‘all-in’. If they fail, they can be assured of enjoying a very long exile in the political wilderness. I don’t often agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s political strategy, but he seems to be watching the bloodletting from the sidelines and his non-involvement might be quite a savvy move.
This particular bout cannot end in an honourable draw.