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Rasheed, Muhammad. "Fightin' Dirty." Cartoon. The Official Website of Cartoonist M. Rasheed 18 Oct 2020. Pen & ink w/Adobe Photoshop color.
Q: Why was Ali not regarded as a big puncher? Is it because of his style or is power a matter of physical strength and size?
Muhammad Rasheed - Even though Muhammad Ali’s punching power was such that the accumulation of vicious combinations enabled him to precisely time the rounds in which early opponents would fall, ending his career with an impressive 66% knockout rate, he isn’t formally considered a big puncher in the popular press for a few reasons:
- The “theater of the unexpected,” as the professional boxing game is fondly named, follows a loosely-scripted narrative driven by the sports press, not dissimilar to the more heavily-scripted one used within the professional wrestling circus. Composed of crowned favorite pound-for-pound kings, heroes and villains playing out their forced mythological dramas within the kingdom of the squared circle, the popular press not only determines the nature of the story itself, but the rules and metrics by which the athletes and their awesome skills and feats should be measured. In the case of which “theater actor” is considered a big puncher or not, for the most part the press reserves the quasi-arbitrary prestigious honor for those fighters who routinely knockout opponents with the stunning melodrama inherent by doing so with but a single blow, with some caveat.
- Even though the official sport of professional boxing is supposed to show two high-skilled athletes at the top of their game, battling to determine which is the best in a public demonstration of the ‘sweet science’ — the close combat fisticuffs art of inflicting punishment upon the opponent while receiving little to no damage in return — the ongoing scripted narrative of the press finds little worth in what is actually real. Illogically holding great disdain for the high level chess match between two technically proficient boxers, the storytellers prefer that the theater actors ignore the actual skills part and hope that they just get in there throwing wild haymakers, in what amounts to little more than a controlled drunken bar brawl. The theater plays for an unsophisticated audience that is mostly ignorant of the functioning of the ‘sweet science,’ so little credit is given to the superior abilities of an actual boxer (“All he did was run!” “He was so boring!”), to instead favor the idiot crowd pleasing, scar-faced, rough-n-tumble performances of the puncher. Muhammad Ali—with his ‘dancing butterfly’ style on an unmarred pretty face—of course, stood proudly as an example of the former.
- By its nature, the sport of boxing has always been heavily divisive on the socio-political level, with the cheering fandom enthusiastically choosing sides along neighborhood, state, national, ethnic and especially race-based lines. Driven completely by the economic monopoly of the white aristocracy, the mainstream sports press nearly always leans in the direction of boxing’s Caucasian figures, not only blatantly favoring them to win, but to uphold them as the preferred face of the heroes of the theater’s scripted tale. By default, the black American descendants of slavery boxers are the bad guys, or at best tolerated stand-ins for “real” champions as long as they adhere to the archaic Black Code jim crow era rules for “staying in their place” while representing America (see: Joe Louis; Floyd Patterson; Joe Frazier).
Along with this normalized prejudice against black fighters, comes the nigh-obligatory nit-picking of dominant black American champions to somehow prove how they aren’t reeeeally all THAT great (see: criticisms of Muhammad Ali; Floyd Mayweather, Jr.). Equally downplaying weaknesses and covering over the blaring faults of their white fighter counterparts to artificially elevate their manufactured “greatness” (see: Rocky Marciano; Arturo Gatti; Wladimir Klitschko), black fighters receive no such covering, and when they do miraculously receive well-earned honor begrudgingly from a scowling white press, it’s due to their literally triumphing over undeniably insurmountable odds that play out before the world according to the rules of the very melodramatic script the same press concocted in the first place (“Don’t hate the player, hate the game!”).
In short, Muhammad Ali isn’t considered a big puncher because he isn’t white and brand new rules were invented to dull his shine to keep the disappointed white fans — who are viciously uninterested in hearing the ballads of dominant black champions sang and much prefer to hear of the heroism of a Great White Hope in his place — from withdrawing their dollar. Know ye that if Ali were white, he would absolutely be considered a big puncher for his youthful ‘calling the round’ feats alone.________________________________
MEDIUM: Scanned pen & ink cartoon drawing w/Adobe Photoshop color.
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