Muhammad Ali: titan of the ring who invented a unique brand of showmanship

Muhammad Ali was a limitless divinity, touched by a tincture of madness. He was the showman beyond all showmen, conquering the decades with an all powerful chaos.

When I was still in short trousers I witnessed his all consuming hype machine sweeping up all in his path. Nobody was immune to it: an intoxicating deity, an all powerful one man circus, beamed into our homes via a black and white analogue medium. What joy, what excitement.

Ali was the enduring icon of my childhood: brash and ebullient, a heavyweight pugilist whose brilliance in the ring and bravado outside it made his face one of the most recognisable in the world. He distinguished himself as not only an unparalleled sporting genius; he also invented a unique electric showmanship, which conveyed a subliminal message to my future career path.

Back in 2005 Borkowski promoted the World Sports Awards in the Royal Albert Hall. I had the honour of looking after the great man for a couple of days. Sadly, by then he was gripped by the cruelty of Parkinsons. This did nothing to dim his cheeky spirit, which outfoxed a bunch of journalist and photographers dazzled by a precious series of rare media encounters. It was a career high. I had to pinch myself: to be so close to, and working with, my childhood hero was unthinkable. It is impossible to convey the man’s cultural impact to a younger generation, fed on still images and faded films of long forgotten Homeric encounters. Muhammad Ali oozed glamour, excitement, charisma and humanity, courage and warmth. His art was beautiful in form, and its function embodied the principles of populism and social consciousness.

The activist Dick Gregory captures his essence in this quote: “And I’ll tell you something. If people from outer space came to Earth and we had to give them one representative of all species to show them our physical powers, our spirituality, or decency, or warmth, our kindness and our humour, and most of all our capacity to love – it would be Muhammad Ali”

You were the greatest; truly, your like will never, ever be seen again.