The person in life I most admire is Muhammed Ali. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky in southern America. Like many young Black people Ali came from a poverty stricken family, this forced him to turn to boxing. He became famous throughout the sport because of the way he could intimidate and psych out opponents by verbally taking them apart in press conferences and TV shows. This earned him the name of the “Louisville lip”. Before Ali’s first major fight against world champion Sonny Liston, Ali gave him the nickname of “The bear” and set off to Liston’s training camp with a pot of honey to “tame the bear”.
This stunt was said to have made Liston so nervous that during a pre-match doctor’s check up the champion’s heart rate was so fast that he was near to having “a heart attack”. I have always Ali defeated Sonny Liston, who was the Mike Tyson of the 1960s. Liston was a boxer who wasn’t meant to lose a fight, he seemed invincible but Ali defeated him both in and out of the ring. This fight was one of my dad’s earliest sporting memories, he remembers how he and his brothers crowded around the wireless like so many others around the globe listening to Ali making history.
The next day at mass the whole town spoke of how underdog Ali had taken apart a fearsome boxer. Later on that night instead of celebrating like so many other champions in luxury five star hotels Ali travelled to a black ghetto where he had set up camp, he had dinner with civil rights leader Malcolm X. The next morning Ali held a press conference to confirm rumours that he was involved with the Nation of Islam. He told the worlds’ press that he was the peoples’ champion. “I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I am free to be what I want”.
This statement earned him many supporters because of the way he refuses to turn his back on his roots. Unlike other champions he didn’t give up on the people he grew up alongside, he kept fighting for equal rights by becoming a spokesman for the oppressed. Ali who was known by his birth name Cassius Marcellus Clay changed his name to Cassius X, saying, “Clay is the name of my owners. I am no longer Cassius Clay I am now Cassius X”. When interviewed on a primetime TV show Ali taunted his rivals in the boxing world bragging that he was “only 22 years old.
I don’t have a mark on my face. I must be the greatest! ” Malcolm X soon became a close acquaintance of Ali. In my opinion Malcolm X was using Ali to his advantage. Ali became X’s political puppet in the world of sport. As Muhammed Ali developed into an icon for young blacks X saw this as an opportunity to increase support for the Nation of Islam. Ali soon joined the Nation and was given the name Muhammed Ali by its leader Elijah Muhammed. In his next fight Ali wiped the floor with previous opponent Sonny Liston in a rematch.
It took Ali just one round to “floor” the former champion. When a journalist called him Cassius Clay, Ali announced to the world “That is a slave name. I am a free man, my name is Muhammed Ali. Soon after the USA’s on going war with Vietnam, Ali was required to report for national service to fight in the war. Ali refused and stood defiant blasting the war. I admire this because he stood up for what he believed in and never backed down. “No Vietcong ever called me nigger” “You want me to fight for you, you won’t even stand up for me right here”.
Muhammed Ali was arrested for refusing to carry out national service; he faced the maximum 5 years in jail and having his boxing licence revoked. Even at this stage Ali could have apologised for his remarks, while his attorneys negotiated a deal with the government. He chose another course: “Keep asking me, no matter how long On the war in Vietnam, I sing this song I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong” Even with a lengthy custodial sentence and a suspension from the board of boxing hanging over his head Ali stood up for what he saw right.
He was under huge pressure at the time because it was when the civil rights movement was at its peak. He knew that if he was banned it would take away precious years away from him in his career when he was in his prime. Most of America’s state boxing committees banned Ali from boxing and he was unjustly stripped off his heavyweight title. In his absence Joe Frazier took the vacant title and moved into Ali’s empty top dog position.
Ali signed to fight Joe Frazier for the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Ali criticised Frazier saying he was a fake champion by mocking him. Frazier’s no real champion” “Anybody black who thinks Frazier can whup me is an Uncle Tom” “Joe Frazier, The great white hope” The war of words between the two carried on all the way up to fight day. At the weigh in Frazier refused to acknowledge Ali’s name change calling him by his previous name Cassius Clay.
This lead to Ali calling Frazier an “Uncle Tom”. He was furious and the two had to be separated. “Call your sons your daughters, your brothers your sisters, your mother and your father and get them to the TV because I have never wanted to whup a man so bad! Muhammed Ali defeated Frazier convincingly to regain his title. During the fight forcing Frazier to eat his words shouting, “What’s my name” as he threw punches. His attorneys informed him that there was still a chance of fighting in New York. The New York state boxing committee had convicted murderers, rapists and army deserters who were licensed to fight. So Ali lodged a case against the boxing authorities. The judge took note of this and ruled that Ali’s rights under the fourth amendment had been violated and restored his license.
Ali was cleared to fight and wasted no time in setting up a fight against George Quarry, in Atlanta Georgia. Quarry would be the first white American he fought since 1962. In the run up to the Atlanta bout gunshots were fired outside of where Ali was staying. He received a severed head of a black Chihuahua with a message warning him “We know how to handle black draft-dodging dogs in Georgia. Stay out of Atlanta! ” This was a warning from the far right possibly from an organization like the Ku Klux Klan.
Muhammed Ali showed huge bravery in carrying on, most people would have run a mile if such organizations as sick and twisted as the KKK made threats to their safety. Despite all the traumas leading up to the fight Ali carried on, the threats didn’t faze him from resurrecting his boxing career, knocking out Quarry in front of a 90% black crowd. When Joe Frazier overpowered Ali in his next fight the paparazzi ran riot calling him a “has been” and a “spent force”. He trained hard in order to prove his critics wrong. This never say die spirit earned him the legend status that he rightfully owns.
Corrupt fight promoter Don King, signs current champion Foreman and Ali, lining up a fight in Zaire. The fight was to be called “The rumble in the jungle”. Ali reclaimed his title by knocking out Foreman with a historical left hook in round 8. An attendance of 62,000 people and millions who watched on TV around the world witnessed the fight. Ali defeated Joe Frazier in his next title defence. He chose to fight on and defend his title. This would be a bad decision and would be one of the main reasons why he contracted Parkinson’s disease later on.
I have always admired Muhammed Ali for a number of reasons. He was and still is the best boxer that has ever lived becoming the first person to defend his title on three consecutive occasions. Ali always stood up for what he believed in. He protested over the way he and other blacks were treated in America by refusing to fight in Vietnam and by throwing his Olympic gold medal into the Hudson River. He was someone to look up to for oppressed black people around the world. In my opinion he was the Nelson Mandela of the sporting world.