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BEST ATHLETE EVER Phoenix 2007 - Muhammad Ali

And we don't just mean in the Phoenix metroplex. Anywhere! That the greatest athlete, much less the greatest prizefighter of all time, lives in Scottsdale is more a testament to our lower taxes (than places like Southern California) and our reputation as a bastion for the aged and infirm than anything else. But it's great to see the star of When We Were Kings, the brilliant documentary about Ali's famous "Rumble in the Jungle" with a young George Foreman, at charity events in Phoenix.

In case you haven't noticed him lately, the one-time silver-tongued Adonis of the ring has been humbled by Parkinson's disease. There are several names that seem to wind up on best-athlete-ever lists — Pelé, Michael Jordan, Jim Thorpe — but Ali's mentioned the most. He was dubbed Sportsman of the [20th] Century by Sports Illustrated. He's a three-time world heavyweight champion and the winner of an Olympic gold medal as a light heavyweight. Of his 56 pro bouts, he won 35 by knockouts. Think about how hard it is to be a boxing champ. Not only must you be an incredible physical specimen, especially in the weight class in which Cassius Clay-turned-Ali fought, you must be fleet of foot, more conditioned than an NBA point guard, and possess the street smarts of a drug kingpin. Ali had the best combination of that. He wasn't the most muscular fighter in the ring in his era, but he made up for it with style: You know, he "floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee."

Until his talents began to fade, opponents had trouble landing a blow to his head because of his quickness — which is why, he would brag to the likes of sportscaster Howard Cosell, he remained so "pretty." He didn't suffer his first professional loss until Joe Frazier floored him in his 32nd fight. He bounced back after that and knocked out Foreman in the "Rumble." He wound up losing three of his last four fights to Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick.

Though he never lost by a knockout, opponents started landing hard blows to his head in his latter fights. Whether his Parkinson's (a malady sometimes caused by sharp blows to the noggin) resulted from his boxing career is a subject of great debate.

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