I don't normally talk about obituaries on here, but nevertheless I was saddened to hear that boxing legend Muhammad Ali has died. He was 74. The cause of death was septic shock. He had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for over 30 years.
Muhammad Ali, sometimes referred to by his birth name of Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., was three time world heavyweight boxing champion. His moral behaviour represented many of the things I admire about the sport of boxing - in the context that it is a gentleman's sport because it follows rules and a code of honour.
There is a stereotype that heavyweight boxers are huge lumbering brutes. Muhammad Ali was none of these things. He combined speed, agility and power into a fighting style rarely seen in large boxers. He was light on his feet and lightning fast with his jabs. Other boxers were often worn down by exhaustion over time by Ali's endurance. He won 56 fights over a 21 year professional career and only lost 5.
He had a sometimes brash personality, but it was combined with magnetism and personal convictions that made him stand up for his beliefs. When asked to go fight in Vietnam, Ali responded.
"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years." - Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali's boxing career started young (age 12), and by the age of 18 he won the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy.
Returning to the USA after his win he became frustrated with prejudice and discrimination and according to rumour threw his gold medal into a river. He would eventually sign a 6 year contract in Lousville, where he would also be introduced to the "Black Muslim Movement" in the USA and be given the name "Muhammad Ali" by the leader of the movement, Elijah Muhammad.
By 1963 he had won 15 professional fights and was still only 21. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and set to fight heavy hitting slugger Sonny Liston, who he mocked as a "big ugly bear" and issued his now famous quote: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble, young man, rumble."
The heavyweight champion, Liston was expected to win that fight easily, the odds were placed as 7 to 1. But in the opening rounds of the fight it became pretty clear who had the upper hand. At 210 lbs and 6'3" tall, Muhammad Ali would dance away from Liston's clumsy punches and pepper him with jabs. By the end of the 7th round, Liston gave up. He had torn muscles swinging uselessly at Muhammad Ali. He was tired and broken.
|Sonny Liston swinging uselessly at Muhammad Ali.|
After refusing to fight in Vietnam, Ali was stripped of his title, but fought attempts to send him to prison. He would not be allowed to fight again until he was 28 years old, losing 3.5 years of his athletic prime. His draft avoidance case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and during that time he worked on a film, appeared in a Broadway musical, and endorsed a burger chain called Champburger.
When finally allowed to fight again it was Oct. 26, 1970, a minor fight before he would be allowed to go up against the new champion Joe Frazier on March 8th 1971. Frazier would win the 15 round match on points, but the fight was seriously damaging to both boxers and was a close decision.
Meanwhile Muhammad Ali was winning in the courts. The United States Supreme Court looked favourably on Ali and on June 28th, 1971, it unanimously reversed a lower court decision and granted Ali his conscientious-objector status.
After losing to Frazier on points, people began thinking Muhammad Ali was done. That he should perhaps retire. But that never happened. Over the next few years he would fight in 14 matches and win 13 of them, eventually getting a rematch with Frazier and winning, and also beating George Foreman who had become the new heavyweight champion.
The Foreman fight was unusual. It took place in Zaire, on October 30th 1974 and was billed as "The Rumble in the Jungle". Near the beginning of the fight Foreman hammered Ali with blows to the chest and shoulders that hit like sledgehammers, but as the fight wore on Foreman wavered and got tired. Ali just seemed to get faster and faster and by the 8th round Ali knocked out Foreman with a blurry series of lightning punches. He took back the heavyweight title.
Ali would fight Frazier again in 1975, in a match called the "Thrilla in Manila". Unlike their 2nd match, this one lasted 14 rounds, but Ali still won by knock out.
In 1978 Ali lost a fight to Leon Spinks but would regain his title during a rematch.
Ali’s longtime ring doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, urged him to quit, noting the slowing of his reflexes and the slurring of his speech as symptoms of brain damage. Ali refused. In 1980, he lost to Larry Holmes. A year later, his last fight, Ali lost to Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas.
It was time to hang up the gloves.
Ali would later be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Some would claim it was caused by exposure to chemicals at his training camp, but as the years went by and more boxers / football players / etc became victims of mental illnesses, it became pretty clear that the symptoms were due to head trauma.
Even after his retirement Muhammad Ali would continue to speak out on issues that concerned him. Not all of his comments were welcomed or admired, but he would speak his mind regardless. As the years went by he began to lose his ability to speak and had a loss in mobility.
More Quotes from Muhammad Ali:
"I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong."
"I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want."
"I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.' "
"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick."
"He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life."
"If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologize."
"I've made my share of mistakes along the way, but if I have changed even one life for the better, I haven't lived in vain."
"The word 'Islam' means 'peace.' The word 'Muslim' means 'one who surrenders to God.' But the press makes us seem like haters."
"If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you."
"Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even."
"I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others."
"It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen."
"The man who has no imagination has no wings."
"My trainer don't tell me nothing between rounds. I don't allow him to. I fight the fight. All I want to know is did I win the round. It's too late for advice."
"Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are."
"Cassius Clay is a name that white people gave to my slave master. Now that I am free, that I don't belong anymore to anyone, that I'm not a slave anymore, I gave back their white name, and I chose a beautiful African one."
"It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe."
"I don't have to be what you want me to be."
Muhammad Ali will never be forgotten.