Ashley Robinson.
Ashley Robinson. Warren Lynam

If I could ever say I loved a man, it was Ali

WITH the passing of Muhammad Ali last week there has been enormous press, as well there should have been.

There have been all types of people quoted - from politicians to current and ex-boxers, both internationally and locally - and a massive amount of emotion in their comments.

I don't profess to be an expert at boxing and I have the utmost respect for those brave enough to get into a ring as there is nowhere to hide, so I don't expect my comments about Ali to be taken in the same context.

Mine are purely from someone who grew up in the Ali era, when live television in this country first started and I am unashamed to say that if I was ever going to say I loved a man, he was it.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s I was just old enough to understand racism in sport and society.

Firstly, though, as an athlete he was superb.

He was in his prime before his banning for four years when he took on the US Government over the Vietnam War.

After that he was a totally different athlete - a touch slower but still reached amazing heights.

I will always have a lasting memory of when he beat George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

He was a massive underdog but from the moment he arrived in Africa the masses embraced him - as he did them.

I was in Grade 11 at Nambour and we were allowed to watch it in the library.

Because of my undying faith in the man, I started taking bets and ended up winning about $25, which was the combination of about 12 or 13 bets.

I don't know what would have happened if he lost.

While I was fascinated by Ali's athleticism, I was mesmerised by his wit. While his hands were fast, his tongue was definitely quicker but at times it was the message it delivered.

The thing about the man was a lot of his talk was to stir the combined media into a frenzy before a fight, so a lot of it was tongue in cheek.

But as he said at the time, he was the most recognized man on the planet, which was a pretty big deal.

Imagine if he was fighting today with the digital media etc.

Back then he did it via television, radio and newspapers.

Most of it was part of the show but he was an amazing advocate for his people and is best summed up by a quote from the 1960s when he was asked how he would like to be remembered.

"As a man who never sold out his people," he said.

"But if that's too much, just a good boxer. And I won't even mind if you leave out how pretty I was …"

His love of Islam and courage to bridge the ever-deepening divide between it and Christianity will be sorely missed, in my mind alarmingly so.

But I am grateful for the wonderful memories he gave me and I would think over the last week he has gathered a whole other generation or two via You Tube ... and deservedly so.