He was born as Cassius Clay and left the world as Muhammad Ali. The 74 years he breathed on earth were all spent fighting. Initially he trained to fight, then fought to earn and finally battled Parkinson disease., A born fighter he lived his boast that he was the greatest.
Born in 1942, he won a gold medal in boxing in the Rome Olympics in 1960. He came home expecting a rousing reception. All he got was racist slurs from the whites and was called "the Olympic nigger". Frustrated he threw his gold medal into the Ohio river. But fate willed otherwise. Helaunched into an professional boxing career which saw him lose only five times out of the 61 bouts he fought, 37 of them knockouts. He knocked out Sony Liston, a terrific boxer himself in less than two minutes in 1964, to become the youngest world heavyweight boxing champion., even while many spectators were still entering or settling into their seats. He won the title again in 1974 and 1978.
Fame and money came to him in good measure. His confidence rose sky high. He made his most quoted statements," I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee", followed by another one," I am the greatest". His string of wins mostly from knockouts made an admiring world agree .
In between he converted from Christianity to Islam, because he felt the Whites had treated Blacks as slaves and would not treat him fairly. He felt he found peace in Islam and remained a devout Muslim till his last day.
However, soon enough the war in Viet Nam caught up with him.. Called up for compulsory military service, he refused. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to prison and fined $10,000. In the prime of his boxing career he was out of the ring for three years and sacrificed his earning potential. This clear stand and the preparedness for taking punishment won him a huge audience in America as well as the world over. When asked why he refused to fight he said the Viet Cong
He returned back into the boxing ring with a bang.winning famous fights in Madison Square, New York, in Zaire and in Manila. Some of these memorable fights are remembered today as Rumble in the Jungle and Thrilla in Manila. Soon age was catching up and he fought his last fight in December,1981 losing in the 10th round to Trevor Berbick. His majestic career in boxing had come to an end.
Retirement was to bring yet another round of fight. But this time it was in form of Parkinson disease which would constantly make his hands tremble and affected his speech also.. Ali himself once calculated that he had taken 29,000 punches on the head and won $57 million in his career. But it was the effect of punches that lasted longer than the money. With trembling hands he lit the Olympic torch in 1996 in Atlanta as the world watched.
Ali has left the world leaving behind a tale of grit, determinatio ,respect, confidence, dedication, charity, and spirituality. His wit has now become legendary. Sample these two quotes. "It will be a killa and thrilla and a chilla when I get the gorilla in Manila". Before the fight he said to Philippines President Marcos " You're not as dumb as you look. I saw your wife"
The twelve year old boy, who upon losing his bicycle told the police that he would whip the thief was advised to first learn boxing. In six years time he had won the gold medal at the Olympics.
Truly he was the greatest.
Muhammad Ali : Rest in Peace.