R.I.P. Ali - and your sport, too

As we have marked the passing of Muhammad Ali, let us also mourn the wheezing, withered shell of a sport that both elevated and brutalized The Greatest.

Can you name the current heavyweight champion(s)? Could you even pick out just a few of the leading practitioners from a lineup of giants? The heavyweight championship – currently led by a Brit almost the size of a Trafalgar Square statue and just about as stiff (Tyson Fury) and an Alabama lad who is squandering a perfectly good football body (Deontay Wilder) – is just one step away from witness protection.

At his peak, Ali was the world’s most recognizable athlete, and by extension, boxing borrowed on his importance and was great itself once again.

When he fought Joe Frazier or George Foreman, the ring was a stage of global fascination. He made the whole world care.

Heck, when he fought Zora Folley or Chuck Wepner, it was a big deal.

The heavyweight championship hasn’t really possessed significant juice since Mike Tyson became vulnerable and Evander Holyfield got old and Lennox Lewis walked away with health and senses intact in the early 2000s.

And in the meantime boxing itself was co-opted by a mutant version featuring cartoon characters fighting with hands and feet inside a cage. The MMA took the fascination for elemental combat and covered it in garish graffiti. Its stars come and go seemingly with the cycles of the moon, leaving behind few traces that they were ever here.

When boxing matters, it is simultaneously beautiful and repellant. It is a grand showcase of will and courage and a guilty pleasure for those who dodge the blood and sweat at ringside.

When it doesn’t, it is just an empty sideshow.

Let us lay Muhammad Ali to rest next to the sport that he made grand.