Perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest Muslim athlete that has ever graced this earth is Muhammad Ali. As millions of people around the world mourn his death, we should take some time to look back on his eventful and illustrious life.
Born in Louisville Kentucky in 1942 as Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali burst into the world scene when he won gold for USA in the Rome Olympics in 1960 and four years later he won the world heavyweight championship. It was not all pretty in his career as he was suspended from boxing and stripped off his titles for refusing Military service. After his suspension, he reclaimed the world heavyweight title two more times defeating the likes of Joe Frazier and George Foreman along the way. In 1984 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but Ali devoted his life to philanthropy. He earned the presidential award of Freedom in 2005 adding to another achievement to his plethora of awards. Ali sadly passed away on June 3rd 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Born Cassius Clay Jr. in Louisville Kentucky in 1984, Ali was not only a boxer, he was also an activist. Growing up in a black community Ali was no stranger to racism and discrimination. He had a character of valor and courage even at a tender age.
It was through his never-back-down attitude that he discovered his talent for boxing. When Ali was twelve his bike was stolen and he told a police officer that he wanted to beat up the thief. “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people,” said Officer Martin. And to his luck Officer Martin apart from being an officer, trained young boxers at a local gym.
It was in that local gym that Ali forged out a boxing career. He won his first amateur fight in 1954 by a split decision and that sparked the start of an illustrious boxing career. That win was not long followed by a golden glove win in the 1956 tournament for novices in the light-heavyweight class. Three years later he followed that up by winning the National golden glove tournament for champions as well as the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title for the light heavyweight division.
Ali won a spot in the U.S Olympic boxing team in the Rome Olympics in 1960. Ali was a colossal figure standing at 6’ 3” but he moved with the speed of a lightweight and had impressive footwork for a big guy. He won all his first 3 fights and then later defeated Zbigniew Pietrzkowski of Poland to the light heavyweight gold medal.
His Olympic triumph led to many heralding him as an American hero. Backed by the Louisville sponsoring group Ali turned professional. He defeated the likes of Henry Cooper, British heavyweight champion and Sonny Liston on his way to heavyweight championship of the world in 1964.
Known for his bravado, Ali used to praise himself before fights and taking digs at is opponents. That was seen as a tactic to unsettle his opponents before fights. He was also witty and articulate with his comments giving birth to one of the most iconic statements of all time, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” referring to his ability and movement in the ring.
To be continued……..