How to comport yourself

I remember this championship fight. I was deeply disappointed that Leon Spinks defeated The Greatest, Muhammed Ali. I still remember the 45 that the older neighbor kid down the street who years later drove me to school used to play.

Muhammed… Muhammed Ali

He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.

What I found fascinating about this article from the Sports Illustrated vault is the way the two boxing champions absolutely refused to engage in all the posturing and nonsense invited by their entourages, and instead insisted on exhibiting respect for their opponent.

Ali accepted the decision without complaint. Around him rose anguished cries of robbery, of a fix, of being had. Ali, now the ex-champion, walked to his dressing room. He was crying, but his head was held high. He ignored the madness all about him.

He sat down and sipped a glass of carrot juice. Sarrea, his face emotionless, kneeled and began to remove Ali’s shoes. Someone shouted, “It was robbery.”

Ali’s head came up. “Shut up. Nobody got robbed. I lost the fight.”

The door burst open, and Michael Dokes, one of Ali’s sparring partners, flew into the room. He was furious. Indicating Ali’s associates, he said to Ali, “They fed you a lot of crap. They told you you were in shape and you weren’t. You listened to all the wrong people.”

“That’s right, not in shape,” someone said, grabbing the excuse from the air.

“Oh, man,” Ali said in disgust. “First I was robbed and now I’m not in shape. Why don’t you listen? I was beaten. I lost. He won. Can’t you understand that?”

Even after beating Ali, Spinks refused to accept the idea that Ali’s mantle had been passed on to him.

“I’ll fight Ali just like I’d fight any other guy who challenged me in the street. But I’ll never say anything against him. I’m not going against the man, I’m just trying to beat him. He was my idol, he still is my idol—and when the fight is over he still will be.”

In his dressing room Spinks quieted a small gathering. “Celebrate later,” he said, “but now, first things first. Before anyone starts jiving we must give our thanks to the Lord.” The new heavyweight champion of the world led the prayer: “Dear God, thank you for answering my prayers. Thank you for my not getting hurt, and for my man not getting hurt. Thank you for the miracle. All praise sweet Jesus.”

Late Friday night, two days after the fight, Leon Spinks stood at his hotel room window, staring out at the lights of Las Vegas.

“The thing I don’t like,” he said, “is people calling me the greatest. I am not the greatest. I may be the best young heavyweight, but he was the greatest. And he is still the greatest.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you should do it.