Bob Dylan, a longtime admirer of Muhammad Ali and the sport of boxing, has penned a tribute to the legendary fighter. “If the measure of greatness is to gladden the heart of every human being on the face of the earth, then he truly was the greatest,” Dylan wrote of Ali, who died Friday at the age of 74, on his website. “In every way he was the bravest, the kindest and the most excellent of men.”
Dylan, who dabbled in boxing in his youth, has long looked to the sport for inspiration, from “Who Killed Davey Moore” to “Hurricane,” inspired by the boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who was wrongfully convicted of murder.
A verse on Dylan’s 1964 LP Another Side of Bob Dylan was inspired by the then-Cassius Clay. “I was shadow-boxing earlier in the day / I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay,” Dylan sang on the track, which he recorded after Ali defeated Sonny Liston in February 1964 to become heavyweight champion for the first time.
“I said ‘Fee, fie, fo, fum, Cassius Clay, here I come / 26, 27, 28, 29, I’m gonna make your face look just like mine / Five, four, three, two, one, Cassius Clay you’d better run / 99, 100, 101, 102, your ma won’t even recognize you / 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, gonna knock him clean right out of his spleen.”
Seven years later, Dylan was in the Madison Square Garden crowd to witness what was billed as “the Fight of the Century,” a 1971 bout versus Joe Frazier that marked Ali’s first professional loss.
In December 1975, following the release of Dylan’s Desire which housed “Hurricane,” Ali appeared on stage at Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue at New York’s Madison Square Garden alongside Rubin Carter’s wife and daughter. At the fundraising concert, Ali called Carter in prison from the MSG stage; earlier on the tour, Dylan visited Carter in prison. Dylan and Ali also spent time together backstage at the benefit concert.