Muhammad Ali, A Fighter In and Out of the Ring – R.I.P.

Associated Press named Muhammad Ali (Jan 17, 1942 – Jun 3, 2016) the “No. 1 heavyweight of the 20th century.” Sports Illustrated named him “Sportsman of the Century” while the BBC agreed, citing him as “Sports Personality of the Century.”

Muhammad Ali
Image by Thomas Hoepker, 1966 Chicago

At 18 he won the Summer Olympics light heavyweight gold medal in Rome, Italy, and at 22, as a strong underdog, he defeated Sonny Liston for the professional heavyweight title, becoming the youngest person to take the title from the then-current holder.

Throughout his career, and beyond, the retired champion fought more than just his opponents.  The Champ was a strong and vocal advocate of civil rights and it is said that he even inspired Martin Luther King Jr.

Over five decades ago, young Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. addressed a room full of journalists and announced that he had converted to Nation of Islam.  Further, he let them know that he was changing his name to Muhammad Ali.  This announcement was met with great hostility and his response was, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be.”

That stance, that statement, that backbone, helped define the champion and greatly assisted the civil rights movement in America and around the world.

Muhammad Ali, The Beatles
The Greatest and the Beatles by Autore Sconosciuto, Public domain

A cultural phenomena, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion during the Vietnam conflict, holding to his religious belief as a conscientious objector.  In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction because the Appeal Board gave no reason for the denial of his conscientious objector exemption.

When he retired at the age of 40, his pro record was 56-5, while earlier compiling a 100-5 amateur record.  He was never one to quit, always fighting for what he believed in.  He said, “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.”

He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Within two years after his retirement, the legend was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome, a disease that commonly results from severe and repeated head trauma.  Not to be slowed, he remained active for years.  He made many notable accomplishments over the following decades and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and the Liberty Medal in 2012.

Muhammad Ali 2012
Liberty Medal image by pete troshak CC BY 2.0

On the date of Ali’s 19th wedding anniversary (Nov 19, 2005), the non-profit Muhammad Ali Center opened in his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky.  Sitting along the riverfront, the $60 million center displays many items from his boxing career as well as highlighting peace, personal growth, respect and social responsibility.  Of the center, he says, “For many years I have dreamed of creating a place to share, teach and inspire people to be their best and to pursue their dreams.”

Since the time of his diagnosis, Ali also fought back, specifically through the establishment and funding of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.  He created the annual Celebrity Fight Night events, responsible for raising over $123 million to combat the disease.  One thing he firmly believed is “The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

Concerning life, he said, “People look for miracles.  People look for surprises of all kinds.  Yet the greatest wonder, the greatest miracle, the greatest surprise, is to be found in ones heart.”

Thank you for all that you did.

Over For Now.

Main Street One