The Greatest: “Muhammad Ali, who died Friday, in Phoenix, at the age of seventy-four, was the most fantastical American figure of his era, a self-invented character of such physical wit, political defiance, global fame, and sheer originality that no novelist you might name would dare conceive him. Born Cassius Clay in Jim Crow-era Louisville, Kentucky, he was a skinny, quick-witted kid, the son of a sign painter and a house cleaner, who learned to box at the age of twelve to avenge the indignity of a stolen bicycle, a sixty-dollar red Schwinn that he could not bear to lose. Eventually, Ali became arguably the most famous person on the planet, known as a supreme athlete, an uncanny blend of power, improvisation, and velocity; a master of rhyming prediction and derision; an exemplar and symbol of racial pride; a fighter, a draft resister, an acolyte, a preacher, a separatist, an integrationist, a comedian, an actor, a dancer, a butterfly, a bee, a figure of immense courage.” — The New Yorker editor David Remnick, author of Ali biography, King of the World.


“Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it.”

“In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him – the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston.

I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was – still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic gold medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of south-east Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.

‘I am America,’ he once declared. ‘I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me’.

That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with [Martin Luther] King and [Nelson] Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t… Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it.” — United States President Barack Obama


“No Vietcong called me nigger”? The actual quote:

 Ali and the Vietnam War: “Herein stood the sheer audacity of Ali’s [conscientious objection] stand at the prime of his career and why his memory – even for those who were not alive when he competed – resonates so widely and so deeply. His stand carried not risk but the certainty of exile from the one way he knew how to make a living – boxing. He could have had anything that America offered a black man by way of riches and fame at the time, and he turned his back on all of it to make a connection between his own freedom and that of the oppressed globally. He was stripped of his title the same day and his licence was suspended.

Standing his ground elevated his image internationally. “We knew Muhammad Ali as a boxer but more importantly for his political stance,” says the artist Malick Bowens in the film When We Were Kings. “When we saw that America was at war with a third world country in Vietnam and one of the children of the US said, ‘Me? You want me to fight against Vietcong?’ It was extraordinary that in America someone could have taken such a position at that time. He may have lost his title. He may have lost millions of dollars. But that’s where he gained the esteem of millions of Africans.” — Gary Younge of the The Guardian


Ali on the Vietnam War and his conscientious objection:


Ali the “onliest of boxing’s poet laureate”:

The “Louisville Lip” takes on Joe Frazier poem:

More lip-smacking of Frazier before the ‘Thrila in Manila’ in 1975:


Ali the boxer:

On Ali knocking out George Foreman in the eighth round of the Rumble in the Jungle. By Norman Mailer in The Fight:

“Foreman’s arms flew out to the side like a man with a parachute jumping out of a plane, and in this doubled-over position he tried to wander out to the center of the ring. All the while his eyes were on Ali and he looked up with no anger as if Ali, indeed, was the man he knew best in the world and would see him on his dying day. Vertigo took George Foreman and revolved him. Still bowing from the waist in this uncomprehending position, eyes on Muhammad Ali all the way, he started to tumble and topple and fall even as he did not wish to go down… He went over like a six-foot sixty-year-old butler who has just heard tragic news…”

The Rumble in the Jungle’s ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy – full fight

Momma say knock you out: Ali’s top ten knock-outs


Ali and Islam:  “I’m no troublemaker. I have never been to jail. I have never been to court. I don’t join any integration marches. I don’t pay attention to all those white women who wink at me. I don’t carry signs. A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.” — Ali on joining the Nation of Islam and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali

Malcolm X on Muhammad Ali


Goodbye Champ: “Ali was asked on a television show what he would have done with his life, given a choice. After an awkward pause – a rare thing, indeed – he admitted he couldn’t think of anything other than boxing. That is all he had ever wanted or wished for. He couldn’t imagine anything else. He defended boxing as a sport: “You don’t have to be hit in boxing. People don’t understand that.”

He was wrong. Joe Frazier, speaking of their fight [in Manila], said he had hit Ali with punches that would have brought down a building. Coaxed into fights by his managers long after he should have retired, and perhaps because he loved the sport too much to leave it, Ali ended up being punished by the likes of Leon Spinks and Larry Holmes, who took little pleasure in what they were doing.

Oscar Wilde once suggested that you kill the thing you love. In Ali’s case, it was the reverse: what he loved, in a sense, killed him. The man who was the most loquacious of athletes (“I am the onliest of boxing’s poet laureates”) now says almost nothing: he moves slowly through the crowds and signs autographs. He has probably signed more autographs than any other athlete ever, living or dead. It is his principal activity at home, working at his desk. He was once denied an autograph by his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson (“Hello, kid, how ya doin’? I ain’t got time”), and vowed he would never turn anyone down. The volume of mail is enormous.

The ceremonial leave-taking of great athletes can impart indelible memories, even if one remembers them from the scratchy newsreels of time–Babe Ruth with the doffed cap at home plate, Lou Gehrig’s voice echoing in the vast hollows of Yankee Stadium. Muhammad Ali’s was not exactly a leave-taking, but it may have seemed so to the estimated 3 billion or so television viewers who saw him open the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Outfitted in a white gym suit that eerily made him seem to glisten against a dark night sky, he approached the unlit saucer with his flaming torch, his free arm trembling visibly from the effects of Parkinson’s.

It was a kind of epiphany that those who watched realised how much they missed him and how much he had contributed to the world of sport. Students of boxing will pore over the trio of Ali-Frazier fights, which rank among the greatest in fistic history, as one might read three acts of a great drama. They would remember the shenanigans, the Ali Shuffle, the Rope-a-Dope, the fact that Ali had brought beauty and grace to the most uncompromising of sports. And they would marvel that through the wonderful excesses of skill and character, he had become the most famous athlete, indeed, the best-known personage in the world.” — George Plimpton, editor of the Paris Review and author of Shadow Box, in a 1999 essay on Ali for Time magazine.


Round One: The Champ knocks out the Fab Four in 1964 – by Autore Sconosciuto



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