I am writing today about the “The Greatest” ever lived. His name was Cassius Marcellus Clay. If that does not sound familiar to you, you might know him by the name Muhammad Ali. He is the best boxer that ever lived and arguably one of the most influential people of the 20th century. He was a boxer and an activist and a hostage negotiator. He fought inside the ring and out.
Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942. He started fighting at the age of 12 when somebody stole his bicycle. His older cousin taught him how to fight to protect himself and that is when his interest in boxing started. He began training as an amateur boxer and at age 18 he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1969 Summer Olympics. Later that year he turned professional. He made his professional debut on October 29th 1960 were he won after 6 rounds to Tunney Hunsaker. The boxers he defeated included Tony Esperti, Doug Jones and Archie Moore. At age 22 he won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston. However, not all of his fights were without trials. He was knocked down by Sonny Banks and Henry Cooper. During the fight with Henry Cooper he was floored by a left hook and the end of round 4 but was only saved by the bell. He then proceeded to win in the 5th round which he had predicted. He actually wrote the prediction on a piece of paper read it after the fight.
Some of the more well known fights were the Rumble in the Jungle which was a historic fight held in the now Dominican Republic of Congo. He fought against the world heavyweight champion George Foreman. Ali won by a knockout flooring Foreman just before the 8th round. This was the greatest fight of the 20th century. It was attended by 60,000 people and viewed on TV by 50 million.
Another famous fight was the Thrilla in Manila. He fought Joe Frazier at the Phillippine Coliseum in Quezon City. Ali won by a technical knockout. A technical knockout also known as a TKO is when a referee or a doctor can no longer fight safely. The contest was named by Ali who likes to taunt his opponents with rhymes. The full version is “A killa and a thrilla and a chilla when I get that Gorilla in Manila”. Some of his more famous rhymes and quotes include: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t George thinks he sees me but I know he won’t”. “Don’t count the days make the days count”. “I should be a postage stamp that’s the only way I’ll ever get licked”. “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread they can sure make something out of you”.
Muhhamad converted to Islam in 1961, and changed his name to Muhhamad Ali.
Muhhamad was quoted saying “Cassius Clay is my slave name.” and “I am America. I am the part you wont recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.” Ali said he heard about Islam when he was fighting in the Golden Gloves Tournament, in 1959, and he attended his first Nation of Islam meeting in 1961. However, he hid his involvement from the public, until he was sighted with Malcolm X, Muhhamads mentor.
Aligning himself with the Nation of Islam, its leader Elijah Muhhamad, and a narrative that labled the white race as the perpatraitor of genocide against African Americans made Ali a target of public opposition. Ali had gone on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1972 which inspired him to have a greater grasp on spiritual awakening. In 1977, he said after he retired, he would dedicate the rest of his life to helping people find god.
After the September 11 attacks, he stated that Islam was a religion of peace, and that the world shouldn’t have a negative view on all of Islam because of one group. He also stated that “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own agenda.” and that “Political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam, and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what islam really is. In later life, Ali began to take an interest in Sufism, which he referenced in his autobiography, The Soul of a Butterfly.
According to Muhhamad, since Islam was a religion of peace, he could not go to war in vietnam, as it was against the teachings of the Qur’an. When Muhhamad was notified of his status as 1-A (Extremely eligible for combat), Ali declared that he would refuse to serve in the army and publicly considered himself a conscientious objector. He stated “ War is against the teachings of the Qur’an. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christianwars or wars of any unbelievers” . On april 28, 1967, Ali appeared in houston for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Army, but refused to take oath and was arrested, and suspended from boxing in the united states. However, at his trial on June 20, 1967, the jury found Ali guilty after only 21 minutes for violating the Selective Service laws, by refusing to be drafted. However he remained free for several years following his trial, when on June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction by a unanimous vote.
Before the first Iraq war Mohamud Ali personally rescued American hostages from Sadam Heusein. On August 2nd 1990 Sadam Hussein and his army invaded Kuwait. He took American hostages from the General Motors factory. The United Nations gave Saddam a deadline to get out of Kuwait and release the hostages, but he did not. He just scattered the hostages and used them as human shields. In October he released 4 women and children. That is when the greatest boxer of all time stepped in to intervene in the national ring. Ali was highly regarded in the Islamic world, especially when he changed his name to Muhammed. He traveled to Baghdad with the intent to get all the hostages released. Many back home thought this was just a publicity stunt and he was criticized because he could not speak clearly due to his Parkinson’s Disease. He had to use hand signals but he still managed to visit many locations in Baghdad and pray in the Mosques. Crowds flocked to him. During his trip he actually ran out of his Parkinson’s medication but stayed in the country until he could meet with the dictator. He was bed ridden for days at a time but refused to leave. An Irish hospital in Baghdad replenished his medication just days before Saddam agreed to meet with him. Ali sat with Saddam, and Saddam then agreed to release the hostages.
In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which can be the result of head trauma and physical violence. His fight with parkinson’s led to a slow and steady decline in his health, And in 1998, Ali began working with Michael J Fox, who also had parkinson’s disease, and they worked on funding a cure for parkinson’s. In February of 2013, his brother said that he could no longer speak, but this rumor was later proved to be untrue. On June 2, 2016 Muhhamad was hospitalized for a respiratory illness. Although his condition was initially described as “fair”, it got worse, and he died the following morning from Septic Shock.
Muhhamad Ali was the greatest Boxer in the world, who’s philanthropic legacy and efforts to make a change will never be forgotten for his athleticism, sportsmanship, and his activism. He will forever be known as the “Greatest Ever.”