More than any other athlete of the modern era, boxer Muhammad Ali transcended his sport to deeply influence the world outside the ring -- an icon of black pride and antiwar dissent, he was the embodiment of pure poetry, physical and verbal alike, bringing beauty and grace to a sport and a culture in desperate need of both. Given his gift of gab, it's no surprise that Ali recorded several albums -- it could be argued he was the original rapper -- and given his massive popularity, it's also no surprise that he was the inspiration behind any number of tribute songs: "The Greatest Love of All," a tune from his film biography The Greatest, is the most famous and the most mawkish -- it was, of course, the subject of a putrid cover version by Whitney Houston -- but rest assured that others celebrated his life and brilliance with far greater panache. The 22-track compilation Muhammad Ali and the Ultimate Sound of Fist-Fighting covers a remarkable swath of musical ground, from soul to reggae to samba -- a few songs swerve a little too close to novelty territory, but much of the material is top-drawer, with enough propulsive grooves and soaring melodies to satisfy aficionados of the square circle and plain old squares alike. Highlights include Don Covay's "Rumble in the Jungle," Jorge Ben's "Cassius Marcellus Clay," and Big Youth's "Foreman vs. Frazier."
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