The CBZ Newswire

Full Circle: A Re-assessment of Ali’s Greatness

by on Apr.03, 2014, under Boxing News

By Karl Hegman

 

Sam Ibrahim, at left, with "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali at Deer Lake, Pennsylvania in 1980.

Sam Ibrahim, at left, with “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali at Deer Lake, Pennsylvania in 1980.

HOUSTON, TX — Spring has finally made its belated way to the Bayou City, replete with mosquitoes, junebugs, and the cockroaches that are part of life in the tropics. Being the rank sentimentalist that I am, I always get reflective during this time of the season that signifies change and second chances. I took a drive out to where I spent the majority of my teen years, to soak in the fresh air and take another look around where I spent some of the best years of my life.

I grew up and ran the streets in Quail Valley, a beautiful suburb that was constructed in the 70′s decade which featured a terrific golf course that hosted the Houston Open at the time. But my interests always concerned the Recreation Center where the boxing team was based out of.

I learned the art in that long gone gymnasium under the wings of two great men named Ray Alfred and Mark Stokes, and that translated into a good deal of success in the ring. While I was never a great fighter by any means, I did manage to win most of the 30-something fights I had there in a three year span.

I was victimized by a racially motivated decision in the finals of the Houston Golden Gloves in 1979, and had one more bout afterwards in which I stopped a fast handed southpaw in the second round. I was a bit burned out and in a dead zone as far as my future was concerned as my family was moving right after I graduated from high school.

It was in school that I met the biggest Muhammad Ali fan ever, a great kid named Sam Ibrahim. Sam lived in the same neighborhood as I did and was the second biggest boxing fan behind only myself, that I had encountered up to that point in my life.

Sam and his family were from the Middle East, and his brother was in one of my classes as well.

I would bring my Super 8 mm fight films of Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Jerry Quarry, Ken Norton and others and we would spend hours viewing them. We would have deep boxing discussions concerning Ali and although I thought he was a wonderful boxer, I did not think he was the greatest ever.

muhammed-ali-vs-rocky-marciano-poster

I had been introduced to boxing by my grandfather and he did not like Ali one iota. In fact, he celebrated as millions more did when Ali was knocked out by Rocky Marciano in the computer “Superfight”, and later versus Frazier, Norton and Spinks.

I did think that Joe Louis was the greatest heavyweight ever and I thought he would eventually wear Ali down and stop him. Sam was always enamored by Ali’s ability to “dance all night long” and his near constant method of circling the ring in a full 360.

Ali could most often times hit his opponent without being hit in return and could literally jab his foe silly before knocking them out.

Ken Norton had Ali’s number though, and in my opinion won all three of their fights. Someone in boxing always has your number, regardless of how good a fighter one is. Sam was such a huge Ali fan that he wrote Lloyd Wells, one of the members of Ali’s entourage. Wells set up a personal meeting with “The Greatest” for Sam on one of Ali’s many visits to the Bayou City that is Houston.

Sam couldn’t fight because of a disability, but he trained and worked out daily. He would just throw wild punches around when I first met him, but after I showed him the basics, he started coming along pretty good in boxing. He also called Howard Cosell on the phone one time and voiced his displeasure to Howie about the manner in which he called the Larry Holmes – Mike Weaver WBC Heavyweight Title fight.

Recently I re-watched the Marciano – Ali computer fight and really studied it for the first time. It finally hit me 35 years later like a Joe Frazier left hook that Sam was right — Ali could have beaten any heavyweight ever. He never threw his right hand in that exhibition, although Marciano was wide open and ducking right into it. Ali would have chopped both Marciano and Louis up and stopped them.

I drove by my old home and then Sam’s after that. The houses are still there, but the neighborhood is a bit run down now, to be honest. I drove the streets that I used to run every night as a fighter, and yearned for the long ago when Ali could make that 360, both to his left and right side.

He would stop long enough to riddle his opponent with combinations and then glide out of harm’s way from a counter attempt and then hit them again and again until they were no longer a threat to him.

I was thirsty and I stopped at the old U Totem/Circle K to grab a Gatorade which I would up paying about three dollars for. I didn’t really mind though, the trip down memory lane was worth it. As I sat on the hood of the car drinking it, it suddenly came to me that I was back to where I started from.

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