The world lost a true icon when Muhammad Ali passed away last Friday after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. The three-time world heavyweight champion transcended the sport of boxing in part due to his memorable in-ring battles. “The Fight of the Century” against Joe Frazier divided a nation while “The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman united another. Perhaps, in his most courageous outing, “The Fight to Save Earth” pitted Ali against the Man of Steel himself, Superman.
Neal Adams’ iconic cover of 1978 Superman vs. The Muhammad Ali comic book has been seen all over social media since the passing of the boxing legend. While a fight of this magnitude is a really cool spectacle in the abstract, the story and pairing of these two iconic figures represents the enormity of something larger than ourselves.
Superman and Muhammad Ali are the most celebrated individuals of their genres. Both fought for truth and justice on their own terms while demonstrating a graceful resolve against any adversity. While Ali was referred to as “the greatest”, Superman is considered Earth’s greatest hero. Ali, being able to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”, resonates similarly to Superman’s moniker of “faster than a speeding bullet” and “more powerful than a locomotive.”
The story, written by Dennis O’Neil, represents the best of reality and fantasy trading fisticuffs in a fictional setting to save our world. The narrative captures Ali’s maverick virtue as he volunteers to fight the alien Scrubb fighter right as Superman steps forward. Superman believes he is the choice to defend the human race while Ali contends that because Superman is an alien, he shouldn’t be the chosen one. Once the Scrubb leader declares that the two will fight each other to determine who is Earth’s greatest champion, he plans to have Superman’s powers deactivated in order to make it a fair fight. Ali trains Superman in the finer points of the sweet science because he knew that even without his powers, Superman could win. If Ali lost the fight, Superman would need to refine his skills so the Earth has a better chance of survival.
When the fight begins, Superman makes a good accounting for himself until the style and guile of Ali proves to be too much as Superman gets pummeled black and blue. Ali urges the referee to stop the fight because Superman won’t go down. Superman falls to the ground as the referee calls for the bell, and declares Ali the winner.
Superman’s loss to Ali didn’t damage his credibility with readers, despite the racial tensions that existed at the time, because, well…he’s Superman. By the time the book was released in 1978, Ali had lost the heavyweight championship to Leon Spinks. That didn’t deter people from buying the famed comic because Ali was not just a top level boxer but was a once in a lifetime athlete that epitomized greatness regardless of a win/loss record.
Muhammad Ali left an indelible legacy that will be celebrated long after we’re gone.
His uncanny pugilistic skill is topped only by his courage to challenge authority regardless of the complexity of the political climate.
I think it’s safe to say that if Superman was real, he and Ali would be really good friends.
When the dust settles and the smokes clears, they both want everything to be alright with the world and make no mistake about it, the world is a better place today because Muhammad Ali lived in it.