Tributes are being paid around the world to Mohammad Ali, considered by many to be the best boxer of all time and three times the heavyweight champion of the world. He’s died at the age of 74 in Arizona. President Obama called Mohammad Ali “A man who fought for what was right”. He said Ali shook up the world and the world was better for it. And the former US president Bill Clinton also paid tribute to Mohammad Ali.
The sporting universe had suffered a huge loss. The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Ali’s courage and determination would remain an enduring inspiration for the world. He was born Cassius Clay, Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky. He said of his own sport “Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up”. Let’s throw back now, the life of Mohammad Ali with the BBC’s Joe Wilson.
He touched too much. He is ugly. He is pretending. I’m the true champion. And they make me the underdog. They are wrong because I’m the champion, I’m the real champion.
No one talked the talk like Mohammad Ali. No one fought the fights like him. He told the world he would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. And then he did it. As an amateur boxer, he was Olympic champion in 1960. As a professional, he became indisputable heavyweight champion. But the progress was almost never smooth. In 1964, Clay became world champion beating Sonny Liston after weeks of taunting. He’d called the most feared fighter in the world, “a big ugly bear”. Boxing had never heard nor seen anything like it.
Put him in the hospital!
Having become world champion, Cassius Clay then ceased to be. He announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name.
Why you insist not being called Mohammad Ali now?
That’s the name given to me by my leading teacher.
Ali’s close association with the Black Muslims under the influence of people like Malcolm X alienated him for much of 1960s in America. His belief in separation of the races set him against supporters of the black Christian integrationist movement spearheaded by Martin Luther King. Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War declaring himself a conscientious objector. Now his opponent was establishment, he was stripped of his title and sentenced to five years in jail. In 1974, Ali traveled to Zaire for perhaps the most famous boxing match of them all, “The rumble in the jungle”. Once again, Ali was fighting an opponent many perceived to be undefeatable, up against the younger bigger George Foreman.