Ronaldo learns from Ali to keep raging against the death of light – The Irish Times
In the Royal Suite of the Kuala Lumpur Hilton, one day in June 1975, Muhammad Ali announced that his heavyweight title defense against Joe Bugner the following week would be the last fight of his career. With $2 million in the bank, a real estate portfolio worth far more than that, a religion to enact and a desire to spend more time with his family, the 33-year-old was determined to step down while he was. in advance.
“Horses are getting old, cars are getting old, the pyramids of Egypt are collapsing,” he said. “I want to retire while I’m still on top. From now on, this is the last time you will see Muhammad Ali in a fight.
He was back in the ring against Joe Frazier three months later, fought another 10 times (many of those encounters damaged his punching reputation) and threw hundreds more punches over the next six years. In the end, the bombastic retirement proclamations became as much a part of her schtick as the declarations of her beauty. His perseverance was not about money. There was no need to prove his greatness. He just couldn’t stop. Whether driven by a craving for crowd adulation or an addiction to the spotlight, Ali refused to walk away. Even Ferdie Pacheco urged him to do so while resigning because his doctor in 1977 failed to shake him off.
When the greats reach the end of the game, they sometimes find it more difficult than mere mortals to leave the stage. The same supernatural self-confidence that makes them extraordinary artists in their splendor seems to persuade them that they can still be what they once were, even in their sporting age. Ali being mortified by Larry Holmes. Forty-year-old Sugar Ray Leonard’s last shameful dance with Hector Camacho. Cristiano Ronaldo sulks his expiry date on the United bench?
Football is not boxing and there are fundamental differences between Ali then and Ronaldo now. The Portuguese star doesn’t suffer from blows to the head and he hasn’t let himself go physically, as the three-time heavyweight champion did by adding rolls of fat to that previously immaculate physique as the sixties -ten advanced. Yet looking at the soap opera surrounding the final days of his second United tenure, there is something reminiscent of Ali’s own delusions in the latter half of his thirties.
The 37-year-old version of Ronaldo doesn’t seem to accept the ravages of time, refuses to acknowledge the evolution of the sport he once played and seems determined to ignore all the evidence suggesting it’s time to migrate to an environment less hectic like Major League Soccer. Or Ligue 1 for that matter.
“They think I can’t fight anymore,” Ali said in December 1980 when the Nevada State Commission effectively told him he could never box in Las Vegas again. “Based on my last performance, I don’t blame them. I don’t have too many fights anymore. But I didn’t want to go out while being retired. I want to be free to make my own decision. If I quit, it’s because I want to quit. No one is going to stop me.
It’s not hard to imagine this type of refrain swirling around Ronaldo’s head as he rages on social media regarding the widespread ‘lies’ about him. After his own declaration of belligerence, Ali spent 12 months traveling the planet for a friendly/medically negligent boxing commission to allow him to fight as he neared 40. There were flirtations with Hawaii, London , Madison Square Garden, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Casablanca and South Carolina. Where once big cities and legendary venues vied for the right to host its contests and secure an entry on the sport’s most famous resume, now it had to venture further and further from Broadway, cap to hand, looking for a welcome.
Ronaldo knows exactly what it feels like to be suddenly unwanted. Twelve months ago, Manchester United apparently had to rush to prevent Manchester City from signing him. Now he’s been so diminished that you have managers at far lesser clubs across Europe who would threaten to quit if he was brought in against their will for business rather than footballing reasons. There are stories of his agent trying to persuade United to pay a significant chunk of his stratospheric weekly wages just for Napoli to loan him out.
And, judging by an unintentionally hilarious positive article in an English broadsheet last weekend, his handlers are furiously spinning on his behalf. In vain. Whatever they try to say, wherever it ends up, it’s been an embarrassing postscript, doing no little damage to his legacy, the kind of stuff that really matters for a character with such a famous ego.
Ali was also humiliated upon arrival, fighting his last in a makeshift ring at a community baseball diamond in the Bahamas. Shortly after the start of the first round (ringed by a bell stolen moments before from a cow in a nearby field), he had a clinch with Trevor Berbick, felt his own fat quiver against the hard body and in form of the young opponent and knew he had no business there.
“Watching him lose to such a moderate fighter in such a dirty setting,” wrote the incomparable Hugh Mcllvanney, “was like watching a king go into permanent exile in the back of a garbage truck.”
Ronaldo will leave Carrington for the last time in a Bentley but the general air of regret remains the same.