By The Prophet of Life
For a time, he was one of the best known people in the world. He completely changed the sport of boxing. He changed his religion and his name at the height of his popularity. He even defied the U.S. Government when he was drafted to go to war. Muhammad Ali became an icon in sports, in the counterculture, in the African American Community and in the cult of Personality. He was a media sensation of his own making.
Born in Louisville KY in 1942, Cassius Clay, began boxing when a policeman suggested he do so to channel anger he had after someone stole his bicycle. By the time he was 19 He won a Gold Medal in boxing for the U.S. team in the 1960 Olympics. He entered professional boxing soon afterward and by 1963 amassed a 19-0 record. He had defeated all of the other contenders for the heavyweight crown and was scheduled to fight champion Sonny Liston.
Ali taunted Liston in the press everywhere he went. The press reported his exploits and taunts but few took him seriously and fewer thought he had any chance of beating Liston who was bigger and stronger than Ali. When the first blows began, Ali was a 7-1 underdog but his superior speed and powerful blows forced Liston to quit the match before the seventh round bell. At 22, Ali was the youngest boxer to beat a reigning Heavyweight Champion.
Ali was considered the greatest boxer of all time because he defeated every major boxer in what is considered the golden age of boxing. His emphasis on speed and colorful self-coined descriptions of his style like, “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” captivated people. He revolutionized the sport, which had been dominated by gigantic men, of huge strength for decades. His gift of self-promotion, confidence, pride and his personality all played a part in making an Ali fight an entertainment spectacle that filled seats and garnered mass media coverage.
Ali was a unique and revolutionary figure in many ways. He touted pride for himself at a time when many black people lived under Jim Crow and Apartheid. He converted to Islam at a time when a majority of Black Americans were Christian. He even stood up to the might of the U.S. Government.
Ali refused to go into the army when conscripted during the height of the Viet Nam War. He refused on the grounds of being a conscientious objector. This was unheard of. Ali’s public popularity rapidly declined. He was jailed. He was stripped of his championship title and banned from boxing He appealed his incarceration all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. He was then reinstated into boxing but he lost four of his prime boxing years during the process.
Over the next decade, Ali won and lost the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship twice. He regained it from Joe Frasier and took it from George Foreman. Two of his fights the “Rumble in the Jungle” against Foreman and the “Thrilla in Manilla” against Frazier were epically successful internationally. Ali declined as a boxer after that but continued to be a success. He penned a best-selling book about his life. The book was made into a major movie which he starred in. There were other acting roles and media events he was part of. He even got Saddam Hussein to release hostages when he invaded Kuwait in the 1990’s.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984. He was still active while battling the disease which he had for the rest of his life. He raised a lot of money for charity and garnered the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
There has never quite been another sports personality like Ali. In the heyday of his boxing career, he was able to control how he was presented by the media and in doing so, was able to control the public perception of his persona. He was always colorful and controversial. He was both polarizing and inspirational. He never shrunk from a fight both in and out of the ring, no matter how daunting the odds. He broke many molds and became a unique individual whose existence had a global impact in many different fields. It is unlikely that there will ever be anyone quite like him again.
Copyright 2016 Love Force International Publishing. All Rights Reserved.