By Mohamed Jaward Nyallay
Mike Tyson, George Foreman and Floyd Mayweather are some of the greatest boxers the world has ever seen. But their individual fame, stardom and glory are nothing compared to Muhammad Ali’s; put it simple, Ali is the greatest of all times.
Foreman himself said: “He said it better than anyone else: ‘ I am the greatest!’ The man was the greatest. Forget about boxing, he was one of the greatest men to get in to a ring.”
Michael Parkinson, a famous British TV show host said Ali brought an extra two million viewers to his show. During Parkinson’s stellar career he interviewed Ali three times. He remarked in the Guardian last week, “we were lucky he chose boxing.”
Ali introduced himself to the boxing world by beaten the world champion, Sonny Liston in 1964. He accomplished such feat at the tender age of 22.
How Ali changed boxing
In a century where people saw boxing as a brutish beastly spectacle, Ali added something different to the sport. Make no mistake, Ali himself was a beast of a man but apart from that, he made boxing looked like a science.
He did so with his precision, movement and speed. His calculation which involved distance between punches and between him and the opponent, made boxing look like physics.
His brash persona defined him and his jibes added more intensity to boxing. He coined words, phrases and composed poems ahead of every duel. He basically talked off his opponent’s state of mind out of the fight. That is pure psychology, a branch of human science.
The man was so good at propaganda that he made Zairians believe that George Foreman was a white man, even though Foreman had a darker skin than him.
In a famous fight which he described as ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, he was facing George Foreman.
Foreman was an animal; his towering and intimidating presence alone was enough to scare Ali. This does not even include the fact that by then Foreman was more experienced and matured than Ali. He was the world champion and had gone up to 40 bouts undefeated.
What Ali pulled off that night? It was amazing. He defeated Foreman in the eighth round.
The thing about Ali’s boldness was striking. He claimed that he was the greatest of all times and when once anyone makes such claim, you put yourself in a position where everyone could take a shot at you for the slightest failure.
The pressure of keeping up such title is immense. But he did not crack under the pressure, instead he flourished.
Ali used boxing as a platform to reach out to people. To many he was more than a boxer. Like in the ring, outside, he was also a fighter. He was a serious civil rights campaigner, alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr.
As a black boy growing up in the 60’s he saw the brutal display of racism, first hand. Shortly after he won an Olympic Gold for Team USA in Rome, Ali and his friends were stopped from entering a local restaurant in US. Such incidents happening in his country of birth, at the back of a major success like that? It changed him. From then onwards, he was never silent about racism in America.
Ali was a controversial figure. He was a talker. He was famously known as ‘Louisville lips’. Louisville, Kentucky is the home state of Muhammad Ali.
His oratory was sharp enough to hurt American foreign policy towards oppressed countries like apartheid South Africa and the ever suffering Palestine.
Formerly known by his birth name, Cassius Clay, he stunned White America in 1974, by changing his name and his faith.
Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Cassius X, mimicking Malik- al Shabbaz who was known as Malcolm X. Clay once again changed his name to Muhammad Ali; that name could come to be written in the sands of time.
His conversion to Islam and his open criticism about racism were not the only controversial stands he took. The start of his downfall started when he refused to be recruited by the US military for the Vietnam War.
He famously remarked: “I aint got no problem with any Vietcong. They never called me nigger.”
For that action, he was sentenced to jail and stripped off his titles. For three years he had to make a living from giving public lectures on college campuses and appearing on TV shows.
America’s out lash at the world champion was overwhelming. Some saw him as a coward trying to dodge his civil duty. But his stance was understandable.
America got to understand his stance after more than 50,000 American soldiers died in the war.
The final fight
The boxer had to cut short a beautiful career that lasted for 25 years. In 1984, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson disease. Parkinson disease affects the nervous system, so much so that one can lose total control of his body motion.
Ali was a fighter, for 32 years he fought with the disease. But the disease got the better off him, over the years he got so frail that he could barely talk, let alone walk.
The man who was once known as the ‘ Louisville Lips’ can barely mutter a word in the end. He fought, until he lost the final rounds last weekend.
As expected, his funeral ceremony has attracted so much attention across the world.
Controversial US politician, Donald Trump himself expressed his condolence on his twitter wall. He did so, even though Ali had once bashed his plans of stopping Muslim immigrants in the country.
Surprisingly, family members and close friends say the former world champion carefully planned his funeral.
Bob Gunett, the spokesperson for the Ali family said: “ He was the people’s champion and had wanted the memorial to reflect that.”
His corpse is already in his hometown Louisville, where it will be buried on Friday.
Celebrities like former boxing heavy weight champion, Lennox Lewis and Will Smith are all going to be present. Politicians like former US President, Bill Clinton; Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyib Erdogan and King Abdallah of Jordan are already in town.
Important family friend like Malcom X’s daughter, Attalah Shabbaz is going to be a speaker during the funeral.
Perhaps the most notable absentee is the first black US President, Barrack Obama. White House had confirmed this week that the President could not make it for the funeral because of his daughter’s high school graduation.
The funeral ceremony will be attended by 15,000 people and the corpse of a great man will be laid at KFC Center before being paraded across Louisville.
‘God came for his champion’ was the tweet of Tyson when Ali was announced dead.
“There will never be another Muhammad Ali.” Mayweather wrote on his twitter wall..
Champions come, champions go. But Mohammad Ali will forever remain the Greatest Of All Times (GOAT).
Rest In Power legend.
(C) Politico 10/06/16