It is now Monday, three days after the death of Muhammad Ali, and I am just getting around to writing this, because it took me three days to even know what to say. I feel like talking about him as a boxer is secondary to who he was as a person and an inspiration to millions, hell probably billions.
The greatest boxer of all-time can be debated; Ali, Marciano, Louis, Robinson. There is no debate when it comes to the most inspirational or most famous athlete of all-time. Not only was Ali the most famous athlete in this history of the world, but I would say he was the most famous person in the world, period.
Ali was a polarizing figure, mostly loved, but some were not a fan of his since he refused to enter the military for the Vietnam War. If that is you, I can’t blame you for your reasoning, if you were in the military or had family fighting and can’t forget what Ali did, I understand that. I on the other hand do not feel that way, but rather the opposite and could not have more respect and admiration for what he did. He stood up for what he believed in, not only for himself, but for an entire race and religion.
He was the voice and face of his people, and he was the one to stand up when he had everything to lose, and lose everything he did. He said “The white man is my enemy, not no Vietcong”. “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Those are very polarizing words which split a lot of America on Ali, but like it or not, there is no denying the fact that life for black Americans in the 50s and 60s was not easy, and his outlook on white people and the American government is exactly that…can you blame him?
Today’s athlete is way to worried about protecting their brand that they make sure that they never say anything politically incorrect in fear of losing money. There is no one in sports today that even stands out from the pack to speak their mind on real issues. You might have the occasional athlete who will speak out about their team, their coach, or their opponent. In situations like that, everyone will talk about how brash he is, like a Conor McGregor, Richard Sherman, or even a Kobe Bryant towards the end of his career. None of them would ever even consider the notion of speaking out in the fashion that Ali did on real issues questioning the US government.
I look at Ali as a revolutionary, more than a boxer. I did not even want to touch on his boxing career much in this article, because that does not define who he was as a person. The stories that the people who fought and trained with him are worth mentioning. George Foreman talks about the differences being in the ring with Ali compared to other fighters, and he said even though he was clearly one of the greatest fighters ever, it was not his ability that made him hard to beat, but it was his presence in the ring. He is a man larger than life who took on the US government while taking the hardest punch you can throw, and then looking at you and asking “Is that all you got?”
If I was to mention one moment about Ali’s fighting career I would bring up his knock out against Foreman. Even though the ‘Thrilla In Manilla” against Joe Frazier is widely considered the greatest fight of all-time. I believe that Ali knocking out Foreman, in Africa, seven years after being stripped of his heavyweight title, is the single greatest moment in the history of sports.
A man past his prime fighting an absolute giant of a man who seemed indestructible with the hardest punch in the history of boxing. This seemed like an impossible task to many.
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Ali got in the ring across from the giant and used the famous ‘rope a dope’ method until Foreman punched himself out, and Ali scored the greatest knockout in the history of combat sports to regain his heavyweight belt once again.
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”
“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
“I’m a fighter. I believe in the eye-for-an-eye business. I’m no cheek turner. I got no respect for a man who won’t hit back. You kill my dog, you better hide your cat.”
“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.”
“Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the little pebble in your shoe.”
“I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, and throw thunder in jail. You know I’m bad. Just last week, I murdered a rock,injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”