I was born on the same day than Muhammad Ali. Not the same year though, a few decades later, but on the same day. Which makes me a great boxer by birth, doesn’t it? I got introduced to Muhammad Ali when I watched a video of the 1977 Oscars ceremony in which he appeared on stage with Sylvester Stallone. They teased each other and traded friendly jabs in their fancy suits. Ali oozed charisma. I immediately took a liking to the man. And when I discovered we shared the same birth date, I decided to learn more about his life story. ‘This will be the greatest upset in the century of all boxing.’ Ali before his first title fight against Sonny Liston.
Ali grew up in the American South during the segregation period. He started boxing when he was a kid and discovered he had a real talent for the sport. He won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games and went on to become the heavyweight champion of the world at the age of twenty-two. His bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman are among the greatest boxing fights ever. At the end of his career, Ali had a record of fifty-six victories for sixty-one fights. To this day, he is the only boxer who has won the heavyweight title on three different occasions.
‘I’m so fast I can run through a hurricane and don’t get wet.’ Ali before his epic fight against George Foreman.
Inside the ring, his boxing style with his hands down, his unorthodox footwork and his uncanny speed captivated the audience. Ali moved like no heavyweight before him. Outside the ring, it was his personality and his political stands that set him apart. Ali was a boxer, an activist and a philanthropist. He fought for fame and titles inside the ring. He fought for freedom and equality outside the ring. He challenged the establishment by publicly criticising American politics on the issues of race equality, civil rights and the military intervention in Vietnam. Few people have done more for the African-American community than Ali.
‘Keep the camera moving because I’m kinda fast.’ Ali showcasing his footwork on television before his first fight against Joe Frazier.
Muhammad Ali is nicknamed ‘the greatest of all time’, and he definitely is one of my greatests. Ali achieved his dream of becoming the heavyweight boxing world champion and he gave up his title when he decided to stand by his values and principles of not taking part to a government-sanctioned killing exercise, the Vietnam war. He was heavily criticised at the time and even labelled a coward. He was taken to court and convicted for refusing the draft to serve in the war. He was stripped of his title and banned from boxing. His sanction was eventually overturned three years later. ‘You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight.’ Ali’s speech at Howard University in 1967, days before refusing the draft.
Today, the Vietnam war is regarded as one of America’s history darkest episodes. Time proved that Ali did the right thing. He sacrificed his prime years as a boxer and he gave up all he had worked so hard for his whole life to do what was right. He was the champion on both sides of the ropes. This is what made him the greatest. Professional athletes of today are paid way too much to even think about taking risky political stands and put their careers on the line like Ali did. As for me, I'm not sure I'm ready to give up on my dreams yet to follow my convictions and do what is right. I am ten years older than Ali was when he refused the draft and I am probably another few years away from reaching such wisdom. I do hope that one day I get the chance to prove I can be great too and transcend my own interests for the greater good of society.
'I’m gonna fight, not for me, but to uplift my little brothers who are sleeping on concrete floors today in America.’ Ali in the 1996 ‘When We Were Kings’ documentary.
Ali's life spans seventy-four years, from the segregation period to the election of the first black president of the United States. He inspired people to believe in themselves, to stand against injustice and to fight for equality. Ali is an icon of the twentieth century. And people will continue to sing his rhymes and quote his lines for a very long time.