To say we’ll miss Muhammad Ali is simply an understatement. More than an understatement. For Ali, without doubt, changed the world as we know it.
Born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay, as he was originally known, probably wouldn’t have taken up fighting for a living, but when he was 12-years-old an older boy stole his bicycle and everything changed.
The story goes that a young Cassius had rode his brand new bike to the Columbia Auditorium but when he came out a few hours later his bike had been stolen.
Somebody told the young champ that there was a police officer in the basement of the auditorium so Cassius went down and told him about the theft before venting his anger out against the thief claiming that he was gonna ‘whoop’ whoever it was that stole his bike.
Miraculously, the police officer was Joe Martin – a boxing enthusiast who owned his own gym. Inspired by Clay’s wrath of anger he decided to start training him as a boxer – six weeks later and Cassius won his first bout.
He went onto claim light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics before beating Sonny Liston in ’64, a fight which the majority of boxing pundits and fans thought would go drastically the other way. Ali here claimed his first, of three, world titles and earned the nickname ‘The Greatest’.
Ali was the greatest not only because of his impeccable boxing record, but because of the class of boxers who were on that record, boxers Ali was able to systematically destroy.
Boxers such as Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, and Jerry Quarry. Boxers who would, no doubt, obliterate the bulk of heavyweights in the world today yet due to the unfortunate timing of their fighting careers were still so inferior to Ali.
In the golden era of boxing, an era which will likely never be defeated in terms of the quality and prowess of countless boxers at the time, Ali was still able to make boxing look so easy.
I, personally, am always fascinated when I glare back at Ali’s bouts against Foreman, Frazier, Liston, and Quarry, and watch as Ali almost jogs, or dances, or ‘floats’, as he would say, around the ring for a full 15 rounds – evading punches, thrown from the fists of some of the hardest and most athletic boxers to have walked the earth as if they weren’t even there.
Ali suffered his first professional defeat by Joe Frazier in a bout dubbed the ‘Fight of the Century’ in New York on 8 March 1971, but it didn’t take long for Ali to get back in the ring, regaining his title with an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in the infamous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) on 30 October 1974.
Ali absorbed every punch of Foreman’s, a fighter renowned for his crippling punching power, until Foreman simply couldn’t throw anything else – then Ali pounced and floored Foreman.
Ali fought Frazier for a third and final time in the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ on 1 October 1975 and succeeded when Frazier retired, refusing to get back in the ring for the 15th and final round.
But his boxing is just one of the reasons we’ll miss Muhammad Ali as that was only one segment of the legend he truly was.
Another reason we’ll miss Ali is how he revolutionised boxing into what we know it as today. He brought politics, religion, and race all into the ring and the interview rooms with him – changing his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X, and then Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam and befriending the controversial Nation of Islam.
Ali also brought trash-talking into the limelight, a tactic that was very rarely used beforehand, and a tactic which he hilariously flourished in.
Ali was also a civil rights campaigner and a poet who transcended the bounds of sport, race and nationality.
His time in the ring came to an end in the early ’80s when Ali suffered defeats against both Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.
Ultimately ‘The Greatest’ fought 61 times as a professional in total, winning 56, 37 of which by knockout, and only losing five times.
Soon after retiring, rumours began to circulate about the state of Ali’s health and eventually Parkinson’s disease was diagnosed with Ali’s health steadily deteriorating for numerous years.
He was admitted to hospital in the U.S. city of Phoenix, Arizona in June this year where he later died aged 74 on June 3.
When Ali was asked how he would like to be remembered, he once said:
As a man who never sold out his people. But if that’s too much, then just a good boxer. I won’t even mind if you don’t mention how pretty I was.
One thing is for certain – Muhammad Ali will never be forgotten.
Rest in peace. We miss you.