In his most famous words, “fight like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” Muhammad Ali became one of the greatest boxers in world history. With no other fighter before him as heavily promoted, he had the attitude, spunk, and rhymes to create hot anticipation even before he stepped into the ring.
Born Cassius Clay Jr., Ali started with his first coach who led him all the way to the Rome Olympics. While there, Muhammad won a Gold Medal in the light, heavyweight division – an event that solidified his path to the professional boxing ring in the United States. He would later throw his Gold Medal into a river because he could not stand representing a country full of racism. It was this act and his public presence that intrigued Malcolm X to invite Ali into the Nation of Islam.
Before changing his name to match the will of the founder of the Nation of Islam, Ali was ranked in the top ten fighters in the country. As Ali climbed the rank in the boxing circuit, he also received more coverage than any of the other boxers. Some claim it was Muhammad Ali alone who revitalized a sport many sports enthusiasts stopped watching. With such attention and a public profile, he was offered a 50 – 50 split of his fights – the highest ever offered in boxing history.
In his first battle for the heavyweight championship of the world, Ali fought Sonny Liston in Miami. Claiming he was destined to win the fight, Muhammad came into the ring as sharp, strong, and pumped as ever. Although Liston was the more powerful contender, he couldn’t keep up with Ali who maintained his endurance and eventually outsmarted Liston to become the World Champion at only 22 years of age.
As the Vietnam war led to the draft in the United States, Muhammad Ali, being of a member of the Islamic faith, was a conscientious objector. With his quick and witty tongue, Ali revealed, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong … no Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Due to his anti-war status and refusal to enter the draft, Ali was stripped of his boxing title and was sentenced to five years in prison – a decision that was later reverted in the appeals process. During this time, Ali fought abroad and gave talks at different public institutions against racism and fought hard to teach others about equal rights. Only in 1970 was Ali allowed to fight in the United States, an act granted by a senator of Georgia, as the state had no boxing commission.
The Fight of the Century, as it was later dubbed, saw Ali versus Frazier at their best. The fight went until the last round when Ali was knocked to the ground. This was Ali’s first loss as a professional fighter. In his next, highly advertised fight, Ali fought George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle, which was created by none other than Don King. Ali knew Foreman didn’t have the same endurance he did so he let Foreman pulverize him against the ropes in the early rounds, which wore Foreman out. By the eighth round, Ali came back to knock-out Foreman with one striking blow.
Currently, Muhammad Ali is retired and has two battles which he faces daily; his own long-lasting fight against Parkinson’s disease, and helping those less fortunate in the world – especially in Africa. Ali published an oral autobiography of his life in the early 1990s. And, in the acclaimed movie Ali in 2001, Will Smith portrayed the fighter’s life, his fights, and his personal and religious battles on the big screen. Along with many other awards given to him for his humanitarian deeds, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in 2005
He once said: “’cause I’m free. I’ve made the stand all black people will have to make sooner or later: whether or not they can stand up to the master.’”
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