Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American professional boxer. Early in his career, Ali was known for being an inspiring, controversial and polarizing figure both inside and outside the boxing ring.
Ali (as Clay) began training at age 12. At 22, he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in an upset in 1964. Shortly after that, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name. He converted to Sunni Islam in 1975 and then embraced the teachings of Sufism in 2005. Ali retired from boxing permanently in 1981.
In 1967, three years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested and found guilty of draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title, which he successfully appealed in the Supreme Court of the country where, in 1971, his conviction was overturned. Due to this hiatus, he had not fought again for nearly four years — losing a time of peak performance as an athlete. Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation.
Ali remains the only three-time lineal world heavyweight champion; he won the title in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Between February 25, 1964, and September 19, 1964, Ali reigned as the heavyweight boxing champion. Nicknamed “The Greatest”, he was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were the first Liston fight, three with rival Joe Frazier, and “The Rumble in the Jungle” with George Foreman, in which he regained titles he had been stripped of seven years earlier.
At a time when most fighters let their managers do the talking, Ali, inspired by professional wrestler “Gorgeous” George Wagner, thrived in—and indeed craved—the spotlight, where he was often provocative and outlandish. He controlled most press conferences and interviews and spoke freely on issues unrelated to boxing. Ali transformed the role and image of the African American athlete in America by his embrace of racial pride and his willingness to antagonize the white establishment in doing so. In the words of writer Joyce Carol Oates, he was one of the few athletes in any sport to “define the terms of his public reputation”. He was honored at later Olympic Games when tasked with lighting the flame at one and bearing the flag at another.
If you ever watched Muhammad Ali box you knew how powerful of a man he was. Both physically and mentally. This was a man, a champion that gave everything he had to his passion. He trained like a madman and fought like a beast. Like any man, any great man, he fought most of the times coming out as the victor. But sometimes he was at the defeated end. That’s when a person of such magnitude becomes human again and we are able to identify ourselves with him. That is somebody who, even after his death, is the only 3x Heavyweight Champion of the World. He lived his passion to the fullest, one that is regarded by many as his downfall, ( Parkinson Disease, pron to illness and infection, rumors of inability to speak) something that’s admirable, to say the least. He was true to his self. Some people might not want to follow the same extremes that Ali tookfollowed, of course in their respective areas but no matter what, it is important to find out your passion and give it all you have, in order to succeed living the life you want.
I believe that Ali’s character can be summed up in three words:
- Motivation: His fights, his speeches his impeccable champion drive and the confidence he had sends shivers down any man’s spine. It’s the type of character that motivates you to achieve your goals and be courageous in tough times aspired to be like Ali.
- Work Ethic: Montages and pictures of his training routines can be found all over the internet. Muhammad Ali worked like no other in order to master his craft and become the greatest of all time. He might have hated training as highlighted in this famous quote
”I hated every minute of training but i said to myself, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
but that is what great man do. They do it anyway, whether the like it or not, even when they are tired, frustrated, ready to give up they keep going and improve on their mastery. If we believe in the 10,000-hour law towards mastery then Ali had surely achieved a level way beyond.
- Psychology: He was a vicious trash talker, spitting hideous language to his opponents both outside and inside the ring. He told the world long before becoming that he was the greatest. He destroyed his opponents long before they even stepped in the ring and trained like a vicious animal that is hunting to kill. He helped question his time’s status quo and was courageous for being himself, standing up for his beliefs and actions. Ali claimed in his 1975 autobiography that shortly after his return from the Rome Olympics he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant and fought with a white gang. The story has since been disputed and several of Ali’s friends, including Bundini Brown and photographer Howard Bingham, have denied it.
Ali’s Stance- Question the Status Quo
In March 1966, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces. He was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. As a result, he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeals process before his conviction was overturned in 1971. During this time of inactivity, as opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow and Ali’s stance gained sympathy, he spoke at colleges across the nation, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African American pride and racial justice.
On January 19, 1981, in Los Angeles, Ali talked a man down from jumping off a ninth-floor ledge, an event that made national news.
Ali published an oral history, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser, in 1991. That same year, Ali traveled to Iraq during the Gulf War and met with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to negotiate the release of American hostages. In 1996, he had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ali’s bout with Parkinson’s led to a gradual decline in Ali’s health though he was still active in the early years of the millennium, even promoting his own biopic, Ali, in 2001. Ali also contributed an on-camera segment to the America: A Tribute to Heroes benefit concert.
On November 17, 2002, Muhammad Ali went to Afghanistan as the “U.N. Messenger of Peace“. He was in Kabul for a three-day goodwill mission as a special guest of the UN.
On September 1, 2009, Ali visited Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, the home of his great-grandfather, Abe Grady, who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1860s, eventually settling in Kentucky. A crowd of 10,000 turned out for a civic reception, where Ali was made the first Honorary Freeman of Ennis.
On July 27, 2012, Ali was a titular bearer of the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He was helped to his feet by his wife Lonnie to stand before the flag due to his Parkinson’s rendering him unable to carry it into the stadium.
Ali lived the way he wanted. Yes, he shattered his health, his brain, that eventually resulted in Parkinson’s disease, he lived his last years as a broken man, unable to speak properly and quite frankly losing the unbreakable almost god-like aura that he had in his younger years when he was still the champion of the whole world.
Nevertheless, if you have ever trained seriously for any sport or mainly for your own goals, you respect such an approach. It’s what gave him the 3 heavyweight belts. It is what shaped a 12-year-old Cassius Clay that got into boxing after a fight he had with his bicycle thief. This drive, this focus into your work is what distinguishes a champion from a mere contender. The will to go in and give it your all. To go through the pain, the struggle and stop caring what might happen.
He might have spoken upon topics expressing controversial opinions which he later changed but he fought racism and stood up for equality showing that a champion is a symbol of idealism and inspiration
With all that being said in Ali’s case, Legacy happened. One that will contain boxing, his beliefs, the impact he had on the world, his character and truly how great of a person he was. This is the type of legacy that lives on centuries after you die.