Commentary PHL Vote 2022

Learning from Ali

Muhammad Ali, arguably, was the best boxer of all time. For my generation at least. Not only could he “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”, he was, as he was always boasting, “pretty” – while opponents like Joe Frazier were “ugly”.

Ali was a performer and his off-the-ring antics only helped generate more buzz around his fights. For the Thrilla in Manila in 1975 he even came with a 45rpm containing a jingle which I think was entitled “The Black Superman” whose lyrics I still remember to this day.

Oh, and don’t forget. He was the self-styled, self-proclaimed “The Greatest”.

Vintage Ali.

In his latter years when age was slowing him down Ali unveiled a tactic in the ring. He called it “Rope-a-Dope”, and what he would do was he would lean back against the ropes of the boxing ring, slouch a little, use his arms to cover his torso and his gloved fists to cover his face, and then he would taunt his opponent to come and take some swings at him. The jabs and hooks would bounce off Ali’s massive forearms or off his gloves, and if the opponent would keep at it for rounds on end Ali calculated that he would eventually tire out and when that happens the old champ would unleash a barrage of quick jabs and hooks that would send the opponent reeling backwards and many times one of those jabs would score and down to the canvass the opponent would go.

Watching those late Ali fights I can’t forget how the crowd in the arena would whistle, because the Rope-a-Dope bored them. They paid to see action, they wanted to see a slugfest – and all they were seeing was Ali’s massive back leaning backwards against the ropes. Many of my friends too, especially the Ali haters (yes there were those) would comment that Ali was not fighting how a boxer was supposed to fight. And part of them were right if your expectation of a boxer was to see him go toe to toe with his opponent round after round after round until someone gave up. But that would only be partly right, because the boxer’s main objective is to win – whether by decision or by some clear cut knockout. Whether he did that by going toe to toe or by going the Ali way was up to him. That was strategy.

From the Facebook page of Rob Cham, artist-illustrator.

It struck me that Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s refusal to engage his rivals in the debates being set up left and right is his own version of Ali’s tactic. As he would himself point out – with ten candidates on stage each would get, say, 20 minutes tops. Now imagine even if just half of the nine others would use their minutes to bash him – that would be 90-100 minutes of bashing and he could only respond with 20 minutes of rebuttal. Odds not in his favor, no matter how you slice it.

And so Marcos Jr. does his own version of Ali’s tactic. Much to the irritation of his opponents and their followers, who want to see blood – his. Add to this the fact that none of those who are so critical of his non-appearance would vote for him anyway, while those who support him would remain supportive of him even if he chose just to lean against the ropes. Until the final bell sounds.

I guess when you’re ahead in almost all the scorecards of the judges, why not learn from Ali?

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.