SubScribe: Muhammad Ali souvenir pages Google+

Sunday 5 June 2016

Muhammad Ali souvenir pages

A collection of front pages, wraps and supplement covers published today to mark the death of Muhammad Ali. Two interesting points to note: the number of monochrome images and the popularity - particularly with American papers - of the picture of the then Cassius Clay shouting at the floored Sonny Liston in their world heavyweight championship rematch in 1965.

None, so far as I can see, has explained the photograph, which was taken in the second minute of the first round. Many have not even captioned it to name the boxer on the canvas.
Having knocked Liston to the floor, Clay should have moved away, but instead he stood over his opponent shouting: "Get up and fight sucker!" The referee - former world champion Jersey Joe Walcott - hustled him back to the corner and returned to Liston. He should then have taken over the count from the timekeeper, but there was confusion between them.
As the referee went over to talk to the timekeeper, Liston - who later said he hadn't been able to hear the count - got up and the boxers started fighting again. The timekeeper gestured to the referee that he had counted Liston out and the fight was stopped.
If Ali/Clay had abided by the rules rather than standing over Liston and taunting him, the referee could have controlled the count and Liston would have heard. If he had stayed on the floor, it would have been a spectacular clear-cut win for Clay. If he had got up, anything might have happened.

But without all that back story, why choose that picture?

Possibly, I suppose, because it was the first decent shot to turn up in a Google search - or the best option that came free in the subscription package.  After all, in these straitened times for picture desks everywhere, who has the staff to sift through the thousands of Ali images, especially on such a busy shift?
But did those picture editors, who probably weren't born when the picture was taken, know what the photograph was all about - or have a clue about the furore that ensued?
And if they didn't, shouldn't they have made it their business to find out what their defining image of probably the most famous sportsman in history actually said?
If they then decided that the picture was appropriate, perhaps they and their colleagues might have shared the story with their readers.

Almost every paper proclaims Ali to be The Greatest - based on Clay's "I am the greatest" boast before the first match against Liston in 1964 - and the coverage is overwhelmingly admiring. In that context, the choice of a picture that shows him at his most unpleasantly aggressive, breaking the rules and behaving - in Walcott's words - like a wild man, seems odd.
I'm sure it is intended to represent Ali's dominance of the ring. But it also shows us that boxing is an ugly sport and that the physically beautiful Ali could be ugly too.

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