Carroll's Theory: The Greatest • Latino Sports

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Carroll’s Theory: The Greatest

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Queens, NY – According to many surveys  Muhammad Ali was the most recognized public figure in the world in the latter part of the 20th century. He was an iconic figure for baby boomers who ranks alongside JFK, Elvis, and The Beatles.

In my opinion, Muhammad Ali is also the most important athlete in the history of television.

ABC Sports utilized its nasal Brooklyn lawyer-turned-boxing analyst, Howard Cosell, to interview Ali before and after the bouts. Ali’s playful interviews with the bombastic Cosell drew millions of viewers.

When Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to join the US Army on the basis of being a conscientious objector, it was Cosell, along with his ABC Sports boss, Roone Arledge, who constantly gave him a national forum. In turn, Ali put ABC Sports on the map.

Ali is unquestionably the most important figure in the creation of the sports pay-per-view market. In the pre-cable television days of the 1960s and 1970s Ali’s heavyweight championship fights were beamed into movie theaters around the country. Although big fights these days take place on Saturday nights, back then they occurred on Monday evenings since that was the slowest night of the week in the movie theater biz.

That’s why the most famous fight of Ali’s career, his battle to retake the heavyweight title from Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971 took place on a Monday.

It was a battle of undefeated titans and Frazier eked out the decision in a fight that went the full 15 rounds. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather were small potatoes compared with the interest in that first Ali-Frazier showdown.

Ali was a big fan of pro wrestling when growing up and he loved how “the villains,” would rile up the fans to buy tickets in the hopes of seeing them get their comeuppance. He frequently insulted his opponents in a manner that would make Donald Trump blush but to Ali it was just shtick to create revenue.

Sadly, Joe Frazier never saw it that way. I remember attending a press screening of the 2008 HBO documentary of “Thrilla in Manila,” which detailed the last of their trio of fights. Smoking Joe spoke after the film ended and was still livid over the insults that Ali hurled at him back in the day. When I brought up that Ali had always maintained that he did it just to maximize box office revenue, Joe refused to accept that.

Ali was only 74 when he died from Parkinson’s Disease complications. He did however outlive most of his ring opponents from the 1960s.The last big name surviving heavyweight from that era is Canadian George Chuvalo. That’s kind of fitting since Chuvalo went the 15-round distance twice with Ali.

The lone time that I met Mohammad Ali was in 1995 at the ESPY Awards at Radio City Music Hall. The ESPYs were ESPN’s idea of creating a glitzy awards show that would honor athletes the way that a myriad of awards shows salute entertainers.  The ESPYs were only in their third year at the time and they were a costly and time-consuming event for the Worldwide Leader in Sports. There was no guarantee that they would continue.

Mohammad Ali’s decision to accept a lifetime achievement ESPY at the time helped give the ESPYs priceless credibility and it’s a key reason why it has remained an annual event. It has become so successful in fact that this year it will air on ABC (ESPN and ESPN are both wholly owned by Disney) in primetime on July 13.

Yes, the toll that Parkinson’s Disease was taking on him were evident but Ali couldn’t have been more gracious to anyone who approached him that night. From everything that I have heard and read about him he was always that way with his fans. I know a lot of athletes who could learn from his example.

Of course Muhammad Ali was more than just an athlete. My favorite Ali television moment came when he was a guest on NBC’s “Meet The Press” in the 1980s. At the end of the interview Ali thanked the panel and then joked, “I am not used to being on classy shows like this!”

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About Lloyd Carroll

Lloyd Carroll is the Senior Columnist for the Queens Chronicle, an award-winning weekly newspaper that has served the communities of Queens since 1978. This article as well as many future articles will also appear at Queens Chronicle. In addition, Lloyd also writes for our friends over at NYSportsDay.com. In today’s world of online publications, we at Latino Sports understand and value the importance of collaborating with other online publications in order to showcase and create awareness of each other’s work and dedication to our respectable communities.

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