Best Athlete and Prizefighter of All Time (2009)

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was the greatest athlete, much less the greatest prizefighter, ever. Beyond legendary. The Scottsdale resident moved to the Valley after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and is seen at a plethora of charity and sporting events around town, including at the NBA All-Star Game at US Airways Center earlier this year.

Ali was the proverbial poet in boxing gloves, thanks to his precise punches, fancy footwork, and claims (until the end of his career) that no opponent could touch his "pretty" face. It was his smooth tongue, as much as his prowess in the ring, that made him famous. Many younger sports fans know him for his star turn in the legendary documentary When We Were Kings, about Ali's famous "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman (long before Foreman got fat and hawked grills). The documentary showed Ali at his pinnacle, when he backed up his infamous braggadocio with in-the-ring perfection. Before the fight, he enlisted the citizens in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to his cause. Locals roamed the streets repeating, "Kill him" (meaning Foreman in the ring) in their native tongue. Biographers believed the Ali-generated hype surrounding the fight got inside the head of the more physically powerful Foreman, and Ali won the bout in the eighth round after knocking Foreman to the floor.

Termed, during his prime, the "most beautiful male athlete" in history, Ali today has been humbled by his disease. He is never shown attempting to speak in public. A shame, since he was a master of the clever putdown in his day. He once said of opponent Joe Frazer: "He's so ugly that he should donate his face to the U.S. Bureau of Wildlife." About another opponent: "I'll beat him so bad he'll need a shoehorn to put his hat on." He was also a master of self-aggrandizement: "I'm not the greatest; I'm the double greatest"; "Not only do I knock 'em out, I pick the round"; "I'm so fast that, last night, I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark." Sometimes he was just plain funny: "My way of joking is to tell the truth. That's the funniest joke in the world." "My toughest fight was with my first wife."

The Valley's own Charles Barkley, the NBA legend-turned-sportscaster, also is a master of the one-liner, but he stole Ali's act.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos


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