Muhammad Ali doesn’t get called ‘The Greatest’ simply due to his exploits in the ring. Boxing fans must know about the heavyweight legend always on what would have been his 80th birthday.
Born January 17th of 1942, Ali went on to become the most famous boxer that’s ever lived. He transcended the sport and was the first top division champion to polarize in the media era.
Winning gold at the 1960 Olympics, Ali exploded onto the scene with a mouth to match his electrifying skills. He indeed was one-of-a-kind from the off.
Losing just five times in the unpaid code at competition level, Ali turned professional weeks after his medal exploits in Rome, Italy. Needless to say, he hit the ground running.
At the time, journalists were predominately white men. They had plenty of experience dealing with black fighters but were never ready for Ali.
His brash talking strategy and tendency to predict the round he would win didn’t adhere to most boxing writers of the time as prejudice reared its ugly head.
Nonetheless, Ali didn’t care. He was there for one reason only, to change the face of pugilism forever – and boy did he do it.
Toppling Sonny Liston in 1964, when written off entirely by the media, Ali repeated the feat and superseded it during a rematch.
He then embarked on a three-year undefeated run until an infamous incident with the US Army put an unwelcome hold on his career.
Losing his title and narrowly avoiding jail for refusing to get drafted, Ali spent three years in the wilderness of what might have been. Ali returned in 1970 but lost critical years from the ages of 25 to 28.
Many believe he was a completely different fighter when he returned after being unable to compete against the best around. It was less than five months until Ali lost for the first time against Joe Frazier.
He would spend another three years away from the world championship scene. You could argue that Ali lost six years to that fateful decision, but he certainly wasn’t done yet.
Regaining the NABF strap from Frazier in their return, Ali was now on the verge of being a two-time heavyweight champion. He was already up there, boxing royalty inside the ring and outside it.
His continued willingness to travel worldwide, meet fans, and speak to TV shows in any country assured Ali that his star was only enhanced when he wasn’t champion.
This scenario made his comeback to a title reign all the more special. He fought and toppled the fearsome George Foreman when he avenged the Frazier defeat.
‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ cemented Ali’s legacy. He used the now-legendary ‘Rope-a-Dope’ tactics to send his reputation into the stratosphere.
Muhammad Ali was the most famous man on the planet after tantalizing fans in Zaire and adding a catchphrase to his two world-famous fight and tactical monikers.
‘Ali Bomaye’ became the official chant of the ‘Louisville Lip.’ Youngsters the world over yearned to be as good as Ali one day.
From his charity work to his campaigning for equal rights and controversial views on blacks only dating blacks, Ali had the total package of sports, politics, and celebrity.
You had to listen when he spoke.
It was a perfect storm. It also lifted Ali above all others, no matter what sport they were involved in the world over.
MUHAMMAD ALI – THREE-TIME CHAMP
Of course, he fought way too late into his advanced years and making history by winning the world heavyweight crown for the third time possibly cost him his health. But that was a testament to the kind of man he was.
Glory was the main aim in boxing, and didn’t he secure just that?
That’s why this latest generation of fans can never forget the name, Muhammad Ali. If his star ever wanes, we’d all be in big trouble.
Celebrate him, remember him and revere him for the man he was. And not the man he was silenced to by illness until he died in 2016.
Muhammad Ali was the truest ‘Greatest of All Times’ we will ever encounter. There will never be another like him.
In a new world of YouTubers and celebrity boxing, give me Muhammad Ali every time.
Phil Jay – Editor of World Boxing News since 2010 with over one billion views. Follow WBN on Twitter @WorldBoxingNews.