Would Muhammad Ali, The Greatest of all time, have traded the fame and fortune for health?

Featured photo: Trainer Frank Casanova says he enjoys bringing kickboxing, powerlifting and yoga into the daily mix for his clients. 

By Frank Casanova

For Enchantment Sports

“Fisticuffs” or “rope-a-dope” were in Muhammad Ali’s vocabulary. No one knew that better than “The Greatest,” “The Champ,” or “The Louisville Lip,” as he was known by his hometown fans.

Frank Casanova says, “Keep your hands up and chin in. Protect your ribs with your elbows.”

Unfortunately, for a number of years before he died in June of 2016 at age 74, he had trouble saying any of those terms while battling Parkinson’s disease.

I’ve heard of the wealthy men wishing to give all they had for their health. I often wondered if Muhammad Ali felt that way, suffering a neurological disease that took his words and his legs out from beneath him.

Sonny Liston or the great Joe Frazier couldn’t do it. The nerve of them to even think they could try. Ali’s willpower kept him on his feet, even when his brain had enough. New research and advances in medicine bob and weave daily and go the distance to help champions of Parkinson’s rally on.

Back in the day when George Foreman was serving disaster from an assembly line, Cassius Clay stepped up and took a pounding so hard even the missed jabs shook his world. He must have known, deep in his heart, that the payoff for victory wasn’t immediate. The multiple concussions and double vision he experienced with every atomic round would change him in the future. He chose victory then, and later in life, he knew the consequences.

I believe that he would have made that choice again. It must have felt innovative, like being the first man on the moon — rewarding in its own right.

“The Greatest” died at 74.

What was happening to his head physically – with his feet in Madison Square Garden and his cranium popping and snapping up, akin to the Verrazano suspension cables during rush hour in a storm? This neural shearing of the brain stem was his undoing. Repeated brain shock, rocking and tugging, his brain like a mushroom slowly detaching from its stem.

In contrast, boxing is a contemporary answer for those fighting Parkinson’s. The craze is called “Rock Steady” and this method is taught throughout the United States. Started by Rock Steady Method founder Scott Newman in 2006, this tough regiment develops core strength, coordination, agility, functioning and helps repair the damaged information highway of the body. This training differs from competitive boxing in that there isn’t any head contact, but the technique is the same. I find it counter-intuitive, yet compelling, that the same sport that crushed Muhammad Ali is the rehab to that horrific disease.

In my field I have worked with competitive and fitness boxers for 20 years. I have witnessed people improve themselves with boxing, watching their bodies become more stable as the nerves develop. I have seen first-hand what boxing can do physically and mentally for people.

It empowers those in need and resolves doubt within one’s self. Boxing develops hand-to-eye coordination, which advances reflexes, strengthens the gate, and builds foundation in the feet and ankles resulting in better balance. Pugilism is like a coin toss, in this case head’s bad, tail’s good.


Frank Casanova has worked with New Mexicans for 24 years professionally as a personal trainer. He was introduced to boxing while taking American Kempo Karate, competing at various invitational and full-contact kickboxing matches. He has competed in triathlons and participated in Boulder for the 70.3 2010 Ironman.

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