Muhammad Ali: The king of ring and rights
“I shook up the world! Oh, I shook up the world. I am the greatest. I am the king of the world. I’m 22 years old. I’m the heavyweight champ. There’s not a mark on my face. I talk to God every day. I know the real God,” the ring rang with a loud outburst of powerful emotions of victory.
These words came out of the mouth of the American convert Muslim boxer- Muhammad Ali just after a shock 7th round win over the powerful Sonny Liston to become the World Heavyweight Champion, in 1964.
Before the match he teased his opponent that he would “float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee.”
Why Muhammad Ali took up boxing?
Born in 1942 and raised in Louisville, Kentucky U.S. Muhammad Ali was previously known as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. He started boxing at age of 12, just to avenge the humiliation of a stolen bicycle. Someone, stole his bicycle and he went to report to a police station. There he met policeman Joe Martin who was a youth boxing trainer in a local club. Afterward, Muhammad Ali devoted his time to boxing and never looked back.
But as he was crowned as the Champion, in 1964, he stunned the world by revealing, he had accepted the teachings of the Nations of Islam. His spiritual mentor gave him the name Muhammad Ali. He dominated boxing for the next three years defeated everyone who came in his way. Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, Cleveland Williams, Ernie Terrell and karl Mildenberger, to name a few. He took heavyweight boxing to the heights it had never previously reached. His talent outshone his predecessors.
His Revolt against Vietnam War
Muhammad Ali remained outspoken on the issues of race, religion and politics which made him a controversial figure at the peak of his career.
In 1967 referring to his religious beliefs, Ali spoke out against the Vietnam War. He refused to be inducted into U.S. Armed Forces to fight in Vietnam. He was sentenced to 5-year imprisonment. His boxing license was suspended. His heavyweight belt was canceled and banned from boxing for three years. But he got free after he appealed. The New York State Supreme Court ordered his boxing license reinstated in 1970 and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.
When he returned from exile. Again he took his career to sublime success. Muhammad Ali would often say “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up,”.
Muhammad Ali, the endless spirit
October 30, 1974, the fight named “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire, in which Ali, employed a “rope-a-dope” strategy, and he won against George Foreman to regain the title taken away from him seven years before. On February 15, 1978, Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks but 7 months later, he defeated him in a unanimous 15-round decision and reclaimed the heavyweight crown. Ali became the first boxer to win the World Heavyweight Championship three times. He defended his title 19 times.
Muhammad Ali retired with 56 wins with 37 knockouts and 5 losses. Ali’s superb footwork, lightning speed, the ability to take a punch, and above all his unmatched courage made him the greatest fighter of all times.
Ali believed, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made of something they have deep inside- a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill,”.
His Illness and Death
In 1984 Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. It’s possible that it happened to him due to the severe head trauma suffered during his boxing career. His movement and speech were limited but he still remained in the public spotlight. He traveled around the world for humanitarian, goodwill, and charitable cause. Muhammad Ali used to say “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room in heaven”
Ali married four times. He married his fourth wife Yolanda in 1986 who remained with him till death. He has seven daughters and two sons. Muhammad Ali left the world at the age of 74, on 3rd June, 2016.
Muslims from all over the world, fans, admirers, and dignitaries reached Louisville, Kentucky, Exposition Center to attend traditional Islamic funeral ritual of legend Muhammad Ali. It was the most widely covered funeral of a Muslim in the U.S.
He Touched the Hearts of many
Amitabh Bachchan on his death poured out his heart, ”I met him at his house in 1979, and I found him a smiling and humble person. He fought both inside and outside the ring. I believe he was the greatest and he will always remain the greatest. What a life he had and What hard times he went through. When racial discrimination happened to him he threw away his gold medal into the water in the Ohio River. He was not only a great sportsman but he has said unique things in his life. We need to study its depth even today we can learn from it.”
According to David Cameron the former British Prime Minister, “His popularity was beyond boxing; he was not only the champion of boxing but he was also the champion of civil rights. And a role model for so many people,”.
Don king, the former promoter commented “It’s sad for life, Ali will never die. like Martin Luther King, his spirit will live on, he stood for the world,”.
“There will never be another Muhammad Ali. The black community all around the world, black people all around the world, needed him. He was the voice for us.,” Floyd Mayweather Jr. regretted.
In a White House ceremony in 2005, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the same year the $60 million Muhammad Ali Center was opened in Louisville. It’s a nonprofit museum and cultural center that focus on peace and social responsibility, He was announced as the BBC Sports Personality of the Century.
Muhammad Ali influenced so many people, because he was ready to sacrifice his career, fame, and money for his principles and beliefs.
(Written by Ijaz Ali, a freelance journalist from Pakistan. He holds a Master’s Degree in European Studies from Germany and can be reached at [email protected])