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Muhammed Ali : Birth, Boxing Career, Religious Transformation, Honors and Death


(Last Updated On: January 17, 2020)

Muhammed-Ali-biography

Birth of ‘The King Of Boxing’

Muhammed Ali is a big name in the arena of boxing. He is a universal idol for many boxers even today. He still has a huge fan following and is remembered by many. Named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., later known as Muhammed Ali, was born on the 17th of January, in 1942. He was born in a Christian household, to Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay. Born and brought up in Louisville, Kentucky, he did his schooling from Central High School and was dyslexic.

Tracing his familial history, it was found, that he’s a from the lineage of slaves, who were brought to the USA during the 18th century, a period known as the Antebellum South. During this period, the state economy flourished drastically, due to the excessive dependence on slaves.

While Ali’s mother was a house helper, his father painted signs and hoardings and they managed a decent house, in a good black area. Clay senior was a Methodist but Odessa was a Baptist and she raised her kids that way. The family often faced discrimination, as Odessa described an incident when Ali was not allowed to drink the water due to his ethnicity and color. He clearly used to get affected by this, which eventually led him to annihilate a train yard. The image of Whites got embossed in his head as ‘White Rapists’, after his father revealed images of a black teen, killed brutally. He became politically active too in his career and significantly represented the African-American Muslims of the states.

 

Boxing Career

 

The lauded Muhammed Ali, is undoubtedly one of the best sportsperson of the 20th century and greatest boxers, hence the nickname, ‘The Greatest’.

His budding interest in boxing can be traced back to the year 1954 when Ali was just 12 and got his bike stolen. He was all set to avenge his loss, by thrashing the thieves red and blue until he met a policeman named Joe Martin, also a boxing trainer, who divulged him to boxing. Joe wanted Ali to learn the technique before getting onto business, business referring to the beating Ali wanted to give the thieves.

Ali saw some boxers on television which encouraged him to learn the skill. He was trained by Fred Stoner and then Chuck Bodak during his amateur trainee years.

During his layman fighting years, he witnessed a hundred wins and lost only five fights. His first dilettante debut match was played against a local trainee boxer, which Ali won. After this he went on winning numerous titles and awards, Light Heavyweight gold medal, golden gloves title, to name a few.

Ali’s first debut as a professional was a duel with Tunney Hunsaker, who also served as West Virginias’ police chief. It occurred in 1960, on 29th October. While Ali was all charged up and referred Tunny as ‘loafer’, Tunny claimed that it was an honor to share the ring with him and he has the potential to become a world champion.

Now Ali needed a trainer, he approached Archie Moore but eventually left his camp as Moore wouldn’t fight him because he was an amateur and would assign Ali petty chores. Ali then hired Angelo Dundee, paying him dollar 125 weekly, although he wanted Sugar Ray Robinson for the job but got disdained. Dundee was apt, he respected Ali’s personality and made sure that he didn’t direct him or tried to control him. Under Dundee, Ali won numerous matches. He won against renowned boxers like Jim Robinson, Henry Cooper and even defeated Archie Moore.

One of his toughest matches was against Doug Jones, who got defeated in his own hometown because of which, this win of Ali’s, was greeted with boos and negative hooting by the audience.

 

Religious transformation

Ali definitely had hatred against the whites for discriminating against him and his community and exploiting them. When Ali was still a teen, a man selling newspapers caught his sight. What was different about the man was the content that he was selling. It was about the ‘Nation Of Islam’ and its notions being used for black empowerment. The man was none other than Elijah Muhammad, a religious leader, founder of NOI and the spiritual guru for Ali, Malcom X, Louis Farrakhan and more. It was a cartoon in his paper, that caught most of Ali’s attention. The cartoon depicted a black slave being forced and whupped into praying to Jesus. Ali later revealed that it made most sense to him. He could relate to it and could feel the picture. It made him question his present notions regarding his religion, and realize that Christianity was forced upon him and his community by the enslavers. It was never chosen by him or his ancestors.

Ali first heard about the NOI in 1959, attended the first meeting during 1961 and finally converted in 1975 when the leader of NOI, Elijah passed away. He became a Sunni Muslim. He faced a lot of criticism and it was believed by the opposers that he was brainwashed and indoctrinated on religious grounds but despite that, he was firm in his opinion and embraced Islam with utter respect and devotion.

 

Fight of the century

 

Fight of the century was an iconic battle between two undefeated kings of the boxing world, Mohammed Ali and Frazier. The latter, during the time of Ali’s exile from the boxing world, won the title of World Heavyweight Champion and the fight was held in order to figure out who, amongst the two is the true champion, as the title belonged to both with full legitimacy. Frazier was more prevailing at that time and superior to Ali. Ali’s return caused a lot of puff, for the two being set up against each other.

The battle was won by Frazier and it was said that how Ali was knocked down, is the hardest a man can be hit. This was Ali’s first professional defeat. This was not all. Two more fights occurred, creating a trilogy, Super Fight ll and Thrilla In Manila, in 1974 and 1975 respectively where Ali won.

 Drama in Bahama

 

Ali’s last fight was in 1981, against Trevor Berbick. It was considered as a drama because first, it was Ali’s last fight and second, he was not in proper shape but he claimed that even the best doctors have diagnosed him fit to fight. After his match with Holmes, Ali was unwell. The fight had to be stopped at the tenth round by Ali’s trainer and of course the three matches with Frazier along with other fights where he lost contributed to his poor health. The fight was considered poignant, as these boxers were in no competition against Ali and idolized him, but the impact of his last fights was terrible, resulting in the loss in the last battle. Had it been Ali’s prime peak time, these boxers wouldn’t have lasted a minute.

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and suffered from heavyweight loss due to thyroid medications which also added to the loss.

Trevor who emerged as a champion after this fight was undeserving as he couldn’t even survive the second round in front of Mike Tyson.

 

“Flutter like a butterfly, sting like a bee”

 

Ali’s go-to phrase was, ‘Flutter like a butterfly, sting like a bee’. He was more of an outside boxer and relied on fast movements and speed. Talking about his jab, Ali had not one but 6 different styles of the jab as revealed by a trainer. He was undoubtedly the fasted, mainly because of his dancing technique.

Another trainer, Darrell Foster said that he never stopped which made it very difficult to hit him as he was always moving but he lost that ability after a while, making Ali more stable and still rather than moving. His jab technique would form a blur in his opponent’s eyes.

Another tactic that Ali used was of thrash talking. He always made himself be claimed as people’s champion and his opponents as a tool of white ma’s establishment. Attaching this feeling to the opponent would help Ali perform better. An ESPN columnist once termed Ali as the king of thrash talk.

Political squabble and noble involvement

 

Muhammed Ali was a courageous and outspoken activist. He always took the stand and stood by it. Drama hit when Ali refused to join the US military. Earlier, in 1964 Ali was rejected because of his jerry-built score in writing and spelling but when the Vietnam war approached, the standards were lowered as more manpower was required, which meant that Ali was now needed but he refused to join due to his religious take on the war. He said that he’s not supposed to take part in war unless declared by Allah and most importantly, he didn’t want to fight a Christian war against people who never called him a nigger. This resulted in him losing all his titles and being barred from boxing. After appeals and court cases, Ali came back. The case was called Clay Vs United States. It was during this absence that Frazier became the heavyweight champion.

Ali had always strongly objected to racism. He even threw a medal of his in a river when he and his friend were denied entry to a white restaurant. He also addressed this issue in various interviews and talk shows and made statements that he would rather be in jail than be an American soldier. He was an advocate for the African American Muslims and always stood for the rights they rightfully deserve. He was the face of the civil rights movement. He also did goodwill missions in Afghanistan and North Korea and also went to Iraq when 15 US hostages were being released. He made quite an impression on Nelson Mandela too and was also seen taking a stand against islamophobia after the 9/11 attacks.

 

Honors received

 

Ali was the heavyweight champion three times. He won six Kentucky golden gloves titles, two national and Olympic gold.

A Timeline:

 

1959  National Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight Champion

1959 National Amateur Athletic Union champion

1960 National Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight Champion

1960 National Amateur Athletic Union champion

1960 Gold medal, Rome Olympics, light-heavyweight boxing

1964-67 World Heavyweight Champion

1970 Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Award

1974 Sportsman of the Year, Sports Illustrated

1974 Fighter of the Year, Boxing Writers Association

1974-78 World Heavyweight Champion

1978-79 World Heavyweight Champion

1979 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Texas Southern Univesity

1979 Street named after him in Louisville, Kentucky

1985 Recognized for long, meritorious service, World Boxing Association

1987 Elected to Boxing Hall of Fame

1990 Inducted into International Boxing Hall of Fame

1996 Lights Olympic torch, Atlanta

1997 Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, ESPN

1997 Essence Living Legend Award

 

Death

The world lost the great and highly extolled boxer, Mohammed Ali, in 2016, on 3rd June. He died due to septic shock, at a hospital in Arizona. He suffered from Parkinson’s, which aggravated his other respiratory illness. Bill Clinton gave a eulogy at his funeral. Celebrities, political figures, sportspersons everywhere were saddened by his demise, including Barack Obama who said, ‘Muhammed Ali shook up the world and the world is better for it.’

Ali played a total of 61 professional fights and won 56 of them out of which 37 were knockouts. He won 31 times straight, undefeated until his battle with Frazier. The thrice crowned heavyweight champion, sill remains in many hearts and was a significant figure.

 

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