Muhammad Ali is arguably one of the most eminent boxers in the history of the game. He led an exemplary and robust career, beating several greats including Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Pride and flamboyance were the perfect words to describe his attitude.
But what was it that inspired him, that drove him to being one of the greatest ? That was his exceptional determination, his belief that he could achieve what he aimed for, contrary to the criticism surrounding him.
Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay at the time, was terribly self-obsessed. He would often shout ‘Look at me ! I’m so pretty !’ Persistence was what drove him. During training, he would scream ‘I am the greatest !’ And so, he was soon portrayed as one of the haughtiest boxers of his time. By the early 1960s, he had won enough matches to make his name in the world of boxing. After beating many notable boxers including Sonny Banks and Cooper, he gradually made his name in the boxing world.
He felt it was indispensable for him to finally face the petrifying world heavyweight champion of his time, Sonny Liston, albeit being criticized for having such plans by the analysts who saw Clay as the clear underdog. Similar to Steve Jobs, Clay was also motivated and determined to ‘put a ding in the universe.’ During that time, Clay would often visit Liston at his training camp, trying to intimidate him.
He would often call him a ‘big ugly bear’ right before him, without any hesitation or fear. He would also say “After I beat him I’m going to donate him to the zoo.” Heck, his confidence was so outrageous that he once said, “If you even dream of beating me up, you better wake up and apologize.”
Later on, Clay joined the Nation of Islam and his name was changed to Muhammad Ali. On this Ali remarked, “Cassius Clay is my slave name.” He built a strong bond of friendship with fellow follower of Nation of Islam, Malcolm X.
Albeit a fruitful relationship, their friendship soon ended after Malcolm X departed from the Nation of Islam and converted to Islam. He later remarks in his biography that ending his friendship with Malcolm was one of the mistakes he regretted most in his life. In 1975, he too converted to Sunni Islam.
In 1964, the U.S was recruiting men for its army to send to Vietnam. Ali failed the qualifying test and said “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest!” But the following year, the standards of the test had changed and Ali proved eligible for the army. However, Ali refused to join. He said, “War is against the teachings of the Holy Quran. I’m not trying to dodge the draft.
We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger.” Soon, Ali’s boxing license was snatched and he was stripped of his world heavyweight championship. In the later years, the case was taken to court in which Ali’s conviction was overturned by a unanimous 8-0 decision.
One of his more well known battles, the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ against George Foreman, took place shortly after his return to boxing. Foreman too was, similar to Liston, an intimidating and daunting fighter and was known to be one of the hardest hitters in boxing’s history.
However, he too fell prey to Clay’s agility. Clay exhausted him through till the eighth round when Foreman failed to make the count. And so, Clay regained the championship title. Foreman later remarked, “I’ll admit it, Ali outthought me and outfought me.”
Ali set an example for everyone through his attitude and stature during times of despair and racism. He uplifted the spirits of the devastatingly oppressed blacks. His stance even inspired Martin Luther King, who became encouraged to openly criticize the U.S army for the Vietnam War.
His life proved exemplary for the blacks, who were greatly influenced in gaining confidence through him. About Ali’s stance, Karim Abdul Jabbar remarked “The fact that he was proud to be a Black man and that he had so much talent…made some people think that he was dangerous. But for those very reasons I enjoyed him.”
Once asked about how he would like to be remembered, he replied “As a black who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could. As a man who tried to unite his people through the faith of Islam. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forget how pretty I was.”