Great Personalities » Muhammad Ali
Cassius Clay alias Muhammad Ali was not only known for his charisma but also for his powerful boxing skills. Clay, who won a gold medal in the Olympics, tossed it into a river, because of the racist remarks that he was subjected to at a restaurant. Young Clay, disgusted by the widespread racism prevailing in America, joined Malcolm X, converted to Islam, and changed his name to Mohammed Ali. He also refused to serve in Vietnam, as it was a war that opposed the values he fought for. As a result, he had to serve few years in jail, because of his ideologies. Ali [Clay] has contributed immensely to limitless charities and causes and has been actively interested in world politics. However, his battle with Parkinson’s disease for the last thirty years has rather limited his participation.
Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on 17 January 1942. His father, Cassius was a piano player and his mother’s name was Odessa Clay. He was raised in a middle-class Avenue, somewhere in Louisville at Kentucky. Although, Clay began boxing at the age of twelve, it was Joe Martin, a white Louisville police officer who kick-started Clays’ boxing career. However, it was Fred Stoner, a black trainer, who essentially taught Clay the basics and science of boxing. Stoner showed him how to move with the grace of a dancer, at the same time instilled in him the subtle skills that transformed ordinary boxers to great boxers.
Cassius Clay [Mohammed Ali] won a gold medal for boxing at the 1960 Summer Olympics, when he was just 18. He then signed one of the most lucrative contracts ever negotiated by a beginning professional in boxing. He then worked his way into contention for the coveted heavyweight title. He also generated sufficient media attention by boasting, when he was ranked only ninth in the list of participants. It was evident from the onset that Clay [Ali] was his own man, he was sharp, quick-witted, and mentally strong and an original. From the start, Clay [Ali] was his own public relations agent. He knew that his brash talk and boasting would bring more interest and income to the sport of boxing.
Clay’s [Ali’s] next fight was with Sonny Liston in 1964. It was a match of classic challengers, fighting for the world heavyweight championship, in Miami. The whole world stood up and watched the Miami fight. It was simply beautiful. It restored the balance boxing, finesse, and intelligence to boxing. Clay’s punch line, ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’, was being sung in the background. With a display of controlled and clever boxing, the 7-1 underdog, Clay destroyed Liston, despite Liston being the more powerful of the two. Clay used his skills, anticipation, and mental strength and danced his way to the title.
At the age of 22, on 6 March, 1964, Clay changed his name to Mohammed Ali, and joined the Nation of Islam. Ali knew that he had something that nobody had. He knew he had something beyond a boxer. He knew he had marketing sense and a noble purpose,
Ali defended his world heavyweight champion title in June 1965 by once again knocking out Liston. This time it was brutal, and knocked him cold with a stunning right-hand punch to his head. The speed of the knockout blow was so fast that it totally surprised Liston. It also separated Ali from the regular heavyweights.
During 1967, Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War, and cited religious and personal reasons for his refusal. As a result, the Champ was arrested, stripped of his title and boxing license was suspended. He was sentenced to five years Imprisonment and fined a sum of $10,000. He appealed and was set free within three years, and the Supreme Court reinstated his boxing license in 1970. He then returned, to knock out Jerry Quarry in October 1970.
In 1971, Ali returned to Earth – he fell from invincibility. He lost his fight against Joe Frazier in Manila, with the whole world watching. Suddenly Frazier was the talk of the town. On 10 September 1973, Frazier won another match with Ken Norton and continued his reign as the world champion. Ali decided to have one more go at Frazier in 1974. He was 32 and felt bitter about his earlier loss. He won the re-match and became the world heavyweight champion once more. He also retained his title in a re-match with Frazier in 1975.
It was in 1975, Ali decided to write his autobiography, titled ‘The Greatest – My Own Story.”
In 1980, he also dabbled in politics, supported the Democratic Party, supporting President Carter. Unfortunately, in 1982, at the age of 40, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. It was mainly due to the repeated heavy blows he had received during his 17 years of boxing. Despite his handicap, he also functioned as a sort of diplomat for a short period in 1985. Despite his condition, Ali continued to remain active, participating in charitable causes and raising funds for the Ali Foundation. He also appeared frequently in sports magazines and fundraising programs. He feels that his condition, the Parkinson’s syndrome is for a reason, so as to serve humanity.
In 1996, at the Atlanta Olympic Games, it was Ali who lit the Olympic Flame. The whole world watched as he slowly climbed the steps and lit the flame, with trembling hands. Everyone watching was deeply touched, although no one was moved than Ali himself.
Ali’s main source of income is though his appearances. His travels keep him busy and he usually travels about 250 days a year. Although he is greatly at peace with his charity work and travels, his greatest pleasure is spending time with his family at his farm in Michigan. His wife Yolanda and his adopted son Assad Amin are a great source of support.
When asked, whether he was sorry that he ever got into the ring? Ali responded, “If I wasn’t a boxer, I wouldn’t be famous. If I wasn’t famous, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.” That is Ali in a few words.