Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, he cannot hit what he cannot see, rumble young man rumble! The entire Boxing Family is in grief shedding copious tears which are falling thick and fast like autumnal leaves, following the passing of Muhammad Ali, the most phenomenal fighter of all time…The Greatest. A golden era of Boxing passes with him.
Olympic light heavyweight champion. Champion of the world three times, and historically forever linked to his most intrepid ring opponent “Smokin” Joe Frazier, the sheer power of Muhammad Ali’s incredible personality, his bravery in the face of adversity, his kindness, love and humanity more than match his agility, and the exceptional speed, accuracy and dextrous zip of his lightning punches. On film his left jab was timed as twenty-five percent faster than that of the great Sugar Ray Robinson, who ruled the roost as middleweight champion in an early era. But Muhammad Ali’s rapier-like wit was even faster and even more to the point than his quicksilver fists.
In more than three hundred years of boxing as a formulated sport, following on from its origins in the Greek and Roman classical eras, there’s never, ever been anyone remotely like Muhammad Ali. And for the few who live til they’re one hundred, none will see his like again.
Muhammad Ali’s great battles in the ring, will be remembered and marvelled at as long as there’s boxing. But, his greatest, bravest and most remarkable fight was against Parkinson’s Syndrome. He was diagnosed with this cruel debilitating illness in 1984. Yet although it took its cruel and relentless toll on his body and robbed him of his famous verbal eloquence and feline physical grace, his intelligence, spirit and determination shone undimmed, as brightly as the Olympic torch he held to light up the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. All over again, it won him the love, affection and admiration of millions, in a new and younger generation of sports fans.
Born on January 17, 1942 in Lousiville, Kentucky, he was named Cassius Marcelous Clay Jr. His Mother Odessa recalls that as a baby, he swiped out and damaged one of her teeth. A dozen brief years later, a very angry twelve year old stormed into the Louisville gym of Police Officer Joe Martin, declaring someone had stolen his bike and he was going to whup that sucker! The Cop patiently explained to him that he better learn to fight before trying to take the law into his own hands! One hundred amateur wins and just five defeats followed. It culminated in six Kentucky Golden Gloves Championships and two back to back national Golden Gloves titles. Then… marching on to the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics, when he defeated Poland’s Zbigniew “Ziggy” Pietzykowski in the final. He’d overcome his acute fear of flying to reach The Eternal City.
The young Cassius teamed up with brilliant trainer Angelo Dundee. Angelo had noticed the youngster’s instinctive reflexes and unusual skills, when he sparred with light heavyweight world champion Willie Pastrono, boxing rings around the slick and experienced skillster, who ruefully conceded he couldn’t lay a glove on the kid.
In his 20th pro fight, twenty two year young Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight championship by overwhelming the fearsome Sonny Liston, who quit on his stool, not coming out for the seventh round. As he’s so boldly predicted, it was an eclipse of the Sonny. The joyous new champion yelled: “I shook up the World!” There was some more World shaking to be done in the eventful years which followed.
One day after his coronation, he announced to the world that he would change his “slave name” Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.
In the rematch he granted to Liston he knocked him out in the very first round with that now fabled so called “Phantom punch.” All the more shocking because a perfectly time short range downward chopping right which only travelled a few inches, stunningly dropped such a powerful fighting man. Sonny’s right leg twitched involuntarily from the shock of the impact and who rolled over as he tried to get up. It took two tries for him to regain his feet.
We never saw the best years of Muhammad Ali. Instead of obliging Uncle Sam and opting for a few exhibition fights far from the madding crowd of the front lines, he defied the draft, flatly refusing to take part in the Vietnam War. Briefly jailed, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his championship and his boxing licence. He was forced to be inactive from June 1967 to October 1970, when a unanimous Supreme Court ruling, finally allowed him to again follow his vocation.
Before all that, Muhammad Ali had conducted a brilliant campaign that gave him prestige and recognition worldwide. He made eight defenses of his crown, several of them in Europe. In his first return fight after his enforced ring exile, he stopped Jerry Quarry in three dazzling rounds. Then a gruelling fight against tough brawling Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena, who he poleaxed in the fifteenth and final round with a pinpoint right hook to the temple.
Then the first confrontation with Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden and the first defeat of Ali’s career. Years later Joe recalled that Ali had promised to kiss Joe’s feet if he lost. Ali did not and as quick as a flash he characteristically grinned: “I lied.” Ali defeated Joe in a second fight. But their epic and titanic third encounter: “The Thrilla in Manila,” will forever interconnect them. Joe’s trainer Eddie Futch wouldn’t allow Joe, who’s sight in both eyes was severely impared, to come out for the last and final round. Ali fainted moment after holding his arms aloft, later recalling: “It was the closest thing to dying.”
Prior to this on 30 October 1974, Muhammad Ali had regained the world heavyweight crown, ten years after he first won it, via the Rumble in the Jungle, which was arranged by flamboyant promoter Don King. To achieve this seeminly impossible victory, Ali KO’d the formidable previously undefeated George Foreman, who was almost seven years younger than him. History was made in Kingshasa, Zaire, the former Belgian Congo in Africa, where “The rope a dope,” was created. Each man took home the then princely sum of five million dollars, which until then, was the biggest purse ever.
After that Ali defended the WBC belt making eleven defenses, losing-in what was a surprise for all-precisely in the eleventh, against another Olympic gold medalist, Leon Spinks, on points. It was former Olympic champion Leon’s seventh pro fight.
The World Boxing Council did not approve a direct rematch, which Ali won to be recognized as monarch of other body. The opponent who eventually caught up with Muhammad Ali, was Father time, plus the effects of classics against the best fighters in a stellar era for heavyweights. He was defeated by Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.
After being defeated by Jamaican Berbick, Ali opted for the final retirment. Muhammad Ali and our then President of the WBC, Don Jose Sulaiman became tremendous friends, they often traveled together, Ali was invited several times to different parts of Mexico by our leader, and during the WBC’s fiftieth Convention in Cancun, Don Jose organized a ceremony naming The Greatest “KING OF BOXING.” With the tender assistance of many superstars, Ali shed tears of joy and honor. A superstar amont stars. The most brilliant constellation.
Earlier this year at the second World Boxing Council Female Convention, Muhammad Ali’s Wife Lonnie received a major award for her love and steadfast dedication to him, as he became frailer. Lonnie who’s been married to Muhammad Ali since 1986, said how proud and thrilled he was for her receiving this heartfelt and so well deserved recognition. Behind every great man…..
Throughout his truly amazing, extraordinary life Muhammad Ali became one of the most quoted men in history while making it.
Let’s select two in a vain attempt to try to remember a colossus who will span all ages: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing in life.” And: “I’m the astronaut of Boxing. Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey were just jet pilots. I’m in a World of my own.”