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It is no longer news that more has been written about Muhammad Ali than any other living person. The reason this is so is not far-fetched. When you have a heart as big as the world, the world, everyone wants to definitely write about it. I was born in the 80’s, four years after one of the greatest men that ever walked the face of the earth- Muhammad Ali- retired from active boxing career. But even long after he retired from active boxing, this man never stopped being the best the whole of humanity cannot forget in a hurry. A man who embodies the conflicts, struggles, and hopes of hundreds of years, a man who mesmerized the world with his artistry in the boxing ring, and won its respect with his courage outside it, Yet, his greatest accomplishments – love, kindness, and generosity-all occurred outside the spotlight. He proclaims himself as the world greatest, and millions around the world could not dispute it, but agreed with him.
Muhammad Ali, initially Cassius Marcellus Clay at birth, was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville Kentucky, United States of America. Blacks were the servant class in Louisville back then. What they are known for was to rake manure in the backstretch at Churchill Downs and clean other people’s homes. Growing up in Louisville, the best on the socio-economic ladder most black people realistically could hope for was to become a clergyman or a teacher at an all-black public school. In a society where it was often believed that might makes right, white was synonymous with both- wrote Thomas Hauser. This was the environment Muhammad Ali grew up.
Early in his career, he was known for being an inspiring, controversial and polarizing figure both inside and outside the boxing ring. He began training at twelve years old and at the age of twenty two; he won the world heavyweight championship in a stunning upset from Sonny Liston in 1964. Muhammad Ali’s coming into boxing is somewhat important to examine. When he was twelve years old, his bike was stolen. That did not go well with the young Clay and therefore decided to report to a local Louisville policeman by the name Joe Martin. So, Ali’s boxing career started under the tutelage of this policeman. Before anyone knew it, Muhammad Ali advanced through the amateur ranks, won a gold medal at the age of eighteen at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and turned professional under the guidance of the Louisville sponsoring group, a syndicate comprised of eleven wealthy white men.
In 1964, he changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay to Muhammad Ali, converting to Islam. Concerning religion, Ali has this to say “Over the years my religion has changed and my spirituality has evolved. Religion and spirituality are very different, but people often confuse the two. Some things cannot be taught, but they can be awakened in the heart. Spirituality is recognizing the divine light that is within us all. It doesn’t belong to any particular religion; it belongs to everyone”. Ali was stripped of his title as he refused to render his services to the army in the Vietnam War. Not only was his boxing license suspended he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison along with a fine. After his period of exile, he made a comeback with a fight against Jerry Quarry on October 26, 1970. He was chosen as the top contender against heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Nicknamed the Fight of the Century, it created a stir as two undefeated opponents were against each other. The fight took place on March 8, 1971. Though the initial rounds were neck to neck, in the latter Frazier took an advantageous lead and eventually won the contest. This was Ali’s first ever loss since his professional debut. In his entire career spanning almost four decades, Muhammad Ali won fifty six fights (37 by knockout) and five losses.
Unfortunately in 1984, the boxing legend was diagnosed with Parkinson disease- a neurological condition that is notorious for attacking the part of the brain that controls the body’s movement. But this condition did not deter Ali from enjoying a robust public life. In 1985, he served as the referee of the inaugural WrestleMania event, organised by the World Wrestling Federation. He also published an oral history, Muhammad Ali: His life and Times by Thomas Hauser, in 1991. The same year, he travelled to Iraq to negotiate the release of American hostages with Saddam Hussein. In 1996, he had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta Georgia. Also in 2002, he travelled to Afghanistan as a UN Messenger of Peace. 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, Muhammad 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.
Today, the world is celebrating the life and times of a legend with unwavering conviction. A man who asked his heart what actions to take, and his heart replied like the beat of a drum that has yet to fade, a man who stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves, a man who stared adversity in the face and a man who shared himself with the world and all who came his way. Muhammad Ali was an international figure and treasure. More than anyone else of his generation, he belonged to the people of the world and was loved by them. He encouraged millions of people to believe in themselves, raised their aspirations to accomplish things they otherwise might not have achieved. He was not just a standard bearer for African Americans; he simply stood up for everyone. Continue to rest in peace Muhammad Ali – the world’s greatest.