Who was Muhammad Ali and was the boxing only reason for the love he got from all over the world ?? Answer is straight forward “No”. Muhammad Ali was known as “Cassius Marcellus Clay” the name which was given to him by his family. He took up boxing at the age of 12 and there is interesting story behind it.
When he was 12, his bicycle was stolen and when he went to report to police about his stolen bicycle, he told a police officer he was going to “whup” the culprit. The police officer was Joe Martin and he suggested him to learn to box before he challenged the thief. His boxing career took off from there which ended with three heavyweight championship and one olympic medal but what gave him popularity was his unflinching self belief, his showmanship and his outspoken support for civil rights.
At the age of 18, in 1960, he was selected in the US boxing team for the Rome Olympics. He was unwilling to go because of his fear of flying and there is a story that he bought a second-hand parachute and wore it on the flight to beat his fear of flying. The journey was worth taking as he beat Zbigniew Pietrzykowski to become the Olympic light-heavyweight champion.
He received a hero’s welcome when the team returned to New York but the reality of the discrimination in US society hit him when he was refused a table in a restaurant. This incident made him fierce supporter of civil rights.
Clay not only wanted to box out opponents but also wanted to box out racism that was plaguing America in 1960s. Clay involved himself with a group that was rooting for separate black development.Clay converted to Islam in these circumstances and became Muhammad Ali. In his opinion Cassius Clay was his “slave name” that needed to be abandoned.
Ernie Terrell referred to Ali by the birth-name Clay during the build-up to their world championship fight in 1967. Muhammad Ali gave him a 15-round battering and during the bout, Ali screamed in Terrell’s face: “What’s my name, Uncle Tom?”
Many of such acts were seen as Ali supporting and promoting religious fanaticism in already divided US society.
On April 28, 1967, time in which United States was at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” He was banned from boxing for three years.
Few days after his return, Ali fought in the “Fight of the Century” on March 8 1971 against Joe Frazier and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional career.
Ali got his revenge three years later and beat Frazier and later George Foreman in Zaire in the fight called as “Rumble in the Jungle” and reclaimed his Heavyweight Championship. His match against Foreman is worth watching for his tactic called as “rope-a-dope”, where he was seen on ropes for first seven rounds soaking puches of Foreman and at the end of the eighth round he jumped out of his defensive shell and sent Foreman packing with knock-out punch.
A year later, Ali was up against Frazier for a third time in a fight called as “Thrilla in Manila”, in one of the most brutal bout. As per Ali himself it was the closest he had come to death in the ring. Ali came triump again when Frazier’s corner stopped the fight after 14 rounds.
In Las Vegas in February 1978, he lost his title to Leon Spinks, who was 12 years his junior. In the return fight in New Orleans eight months later drew a world record gate, with millions more watching on television. This time Ali won the world title for a third time at the age of 36.In his professional career, he won 56 fights, 37 by way of knockout, and lost 5.
Muhammad Ali was a showman in the ring, he teased and taunted his opponents. His self belief was construed by many as overconfidence. Muhammad Ali, early in his professional career, also started correctly predicting the round of victory. Once he correctly predicted round of victory for 7 times out of 8. In February 1962, he beat Don Warner in four rather than the five predicted by him, he later said that he finished the fight in four because Warner had not shaken hand.
He also became crowd favourite for his “I am greatest” claim and following it with magnificent performances. His humility after retirement impressed everyone. Later he was seen as a man who was ready to do anything for world peace and for an egalitarian society. He was a hero for world and particularly for large numbers of black people. His life had ups and downs but he was never down. He lived like a fighter and died like a fighter.
RIP The Greatest Ever