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“I am the GREATEST!” Muhammad Ali

Culture | September 27, 2017

Boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, was born, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in 1942. Throughout his spectacular career, Ali boxed under the names of Cassius Clay, Cassius X and finally, Muhammad Ali, after converting from Baptist to Muslim. He passed away from this world in 2016 after his long-time suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He was/is quite possibly one of the most iconic and decorated athletes of our time! He was a colorful individual, both personally and professionally.  

Young, Clay, Jr., expressed an interest in the sport of boxing as early as 1954 at the tender age of 12 years old. Not many would argue that this is an awkward age, in general, for boys and girls, alike. In addition to the ordinary struggles at this time in his life, he suffered many injustices due to the color of his skin. As an African American, he was repeatedly denied basic human rights as well as privileges because of his race. This frustration contributed to his interest in boxing, which was a, sort of, release. He put all his energy (both positive and negative) into the sport and boy did he ever deliver!

As you may or may not know, Muhammad Ali, was much more than just a professional boxer. He was a husband, 4 times over, a father, an anti-establishment sympathizer, a civil rights activist and a Muslim; following in the footsteps of his mentor, Malcolm X. He recorded 2 “spoken word” albums and a rhythm and blues song. Being a man of many talents, Ali also performed in several films and even a Broadway musical. After he finally retired from his boxing career, in 1981, he devoted himself to his religion and charity work.

As an anti-war activist, Ali was known for his anti-establishment views as a member of the counterculture generation, which fueled his fame during that time. He was arrested and charged with draft evasion in opposition to the Vietnam war. As a result, he was convicted and stripped of his boxing licenses and titles, leaving him unable to box professionally for 4 years; until he was eventually vindicated by winning his appeal. Ironically, one of his most notable opponents, Joe Frazier, advocated in his defense to clear his name. Ali and Frazier first met in 1968 and considered themselves friends, outside of the ring.

Ali began his boxing career as an amateur, winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, at the age of 18, resulting in the birth of his professional career later that same year. By the age of 22, he had taken the WBA, WBC and lineal heavyweight titles from boxing great, Sonny Liston (Fight of the Century & Super Fight II). This was just the beginning of an epic career! Throughout his time in the ring, Ali had many noteworthy opponents, almost too many to list. In addition to Sonny Liston, some of his more iconic contests were against Joe Frazier (Thrilla in Manilla), “Gorgeous” George Wagner, Sonny Banks, Floyd Patterson, George Foreman (Rumble in the Jungle) and Leon Spinks. The list just goes on and on!

For Muhammad Ali, boxing was not only physical but mental as well. He believed he could… so he did! Ali was quite possibly his own biggest fan! He was excessively confident and never doubted his own ability; which was evident to all who remember him. Among other things, he called himself, the greatest and the prettiest! He had many less flattering things to say about his opponents, however! He belittled them by calling them everything from ugly and stupid to smelly! Ali was infamous for taunting his opponents with his clever, rhyming trash-talk! Below are some of his better-known quotes:

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”

“I’m young; I’m handsome; I’m fast. I can’t possibly be beat!”

“It’s hard to be humble when you are as great as I am!”

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

“I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”

“I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.”

“It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

“I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest!”

Aside from being a larger-than-life boxer, Muhammad Ali was a proud man and strived to be a positive role model as an athlete, an African American and a civil rights activist. He used his celebrity influence to bring attention, not only to himself, but to civil rights and anti-establishment issues. Ali was not undefeated but boasts an impressive boxing career. As an amateur, he had 100 wins with 5 losses. Out of 61 professional bouts, he had a whopping 56 wins with only 5 losses. Ali was decorated and celebrated throughout his career by the sport of boxing, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and countless other periodicals, The BBC, and even Presidents. Ali’s many celebrated contributions to the sport of boxing and to society live on as a testimony and a legacy he left for all of us!

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.