He was “The Greatest”.
It’s amazing to think that in a world full of high skill sport, a boxer is considered the greatest athlete of all time by many.
Muhammad Ali was more than an athlete. He was an activist. A leader. Most importantly though Muhammad Ali was an inspiration to many Black American’s in a difficult time following the assassination of Martin Luthur-King. He would go on to become an inspiration to people from all over the world, of all races and ethnicities.
He was not a perfect man or perfect fighter. Ali lost 5 professional fights. He was married 4 times and had seven daughters and two sons. Ali’s imperfections made him all the more endearing to fans. Muhammad Ali died respected, loved and remembered fondly. He remains a pop culture icon, boxing royalty and truly “The Greatest” showman who ever lived.
Ali was born Cassius Clay on January 17th 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky to a poor family, just one generation removed from slavery. Ali had 5 siblings, a sister and 4 brothers. The Clay family were descendants of the heroic former slave Archer Alexander who had been chosen from the building crew as the model of a freed man for the Emancipation Memorial. Alexander was the subject of abolitionist William Greenleaf Eliot's book, The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom.
Boxing was a passion of Ali’s from a young age. He began training as a 12 year old. It is said young Muhammad was directed to the sport after meeting local police officer and boxing coach Joe Martin. He encountered Martin who recalled meeting an angry Ali after his bicycle had been stolen by a local thief. Ali told Martin he was going to "whup" the thief who quipped back that he had better learn how to box first.
As an 18 year old Ali represented the United States at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games, winning the Light Heavyweight Gold medal. He would turn pro later that year. Four years later, still fighting under the name Cassius Clay, he would defeat Sonny Liston to claim the World Heavyweight Championship. Shortly after his title win he would shed the name Cassius Clay which he called his “slave name”. Instead he converted to Islam and would forever be known as Muhammad Ali. He would finish his professional boxing career with a record of 56 wins (37 knockouts) and 5 losses from 61 fights.
But Muhammad Ali was more than just an excellent fighter. Ali crossed over into the mainstream. His fame was all encompassing. He was a human rights activist and famously refused to join the US Army during the Vietnam War. He was arrested for this refusal, found guilty of draft evasion charges, and stripped of his boxing titles. He successfully appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, by which time he had not fought professionally for nearly four years.
He returned after his conviction was overturned and regained the heavyweight championship but defeating George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” bout. His heroics in the ring were legendary and continued through until 1981 when finally Muhammad Ali would retire following a loss to then unheralded fighter Trevor Berbick.
By the time he retired Muhammad Ali was already showing signs of the illness which would inevitably end his life. Ali was officially diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome in 1984 and it is estimated that during his boxing career Ali absorbed more than 200,000 blows to the head. Professors vary in their thoughts on how much impact boxing played in Ali’s condition, however it is clear that Muhammad’s career choice, at the very least, amplified the effects of any genetic disposition he may have had to the condition.
Following his diagnosis Ali continued to live a full and productive life. He became a bestselling author, made hundreds of public appearences through until the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games. In an emotional opening ceremony Ali would light the Olympic cauldron with the world watching. Over the next two decades Ali would retreat future away from the public gaze as his condition worsened. Muhammad’s health deteriorated notably at the beginning of 2013. In December 2014 Ali was hospitalized for a mild case of pneumonia. His close family and friends say he never fully recovered and would be in and out of hospital for the rest of his life. Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd 2016 after being admitted to hospital with a respiratory illness the previous day.
Muhammad Ali would have been 77 years old today.
Rest Peacefully, the world shall not see your like again.
CLASSIC MUHAMMAD ALI FIGHTS
The "Rumble in the Jungle" vs George Foreman
The "Thriller in Manilla" vs Joe Frazier (their 3rd fight)
MUHAMMAD ALI AT THE 1996 OLYMPIC GAMES OPENING CEREMONY