Muhammad Ali – Simply “The Greatest”

By Kevin Cain

Growing up in the Seventies, the Golden Days of boxing was as much a backdrop of the times as the FA Cup final or wearing flared trousers. This was the age of heavyweight boxing with such luminaries as; Smokin' Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Ken Norton and of course the king of them all, Muhammad Ali.

So waking up on June the 3rd to the sad news of the passing of one of my greatest sporting heroes, part of my own history also died that morning. It was the same for millions of kids from the 60's and 70's from all over the world.For never has a boxer touched so many hearts from so many different places and it is something that will never, ever happen again.

He was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky on the 17th of January 1942 and began his boxing career when he was 12 after his bicycle was stolen. In typical Ali fashion he vowed to a police officer that he was going to whup the person who took it ! His quick hands were only surpassed by his razor sharp wit and the nickname of the Louisville Lip soon stuck.

In an incomparable career Ali beat the invincible Sonny Liston in 1964 to win the heavyweight title and announce himself to the world. I am the Greatest he declared at the time, and soon the world would find out he was simply telling the truth.

Extraordinary fights such as the Thriller in Manilla with Joe Frazier and The Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman captured the world's attention and nations took Ali to their hearts. These were not just boxing events they were pure theatre. As not only was he the best boxer the world had ever seen he was also the most witty and the funniest. You think the word was shocked when Nixon resigned, wait till I whup George Foreman's behind, was Ali's rhetoric before the big fight.

However, it was outside the ring the Ali courted the most controversy. In a highly conservative and racially divided America, Ali became a giant of 20th century American history. He fought for civil rights and was highly vocal against the Vietnam war. He rejected his slave name, Cassius Clay and joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, changing to Muhammad Ali. He was convicted of draft evasion, stripped of his title, and banned from boxing for more than three years. At this time Ali was reviled by many, but history now tells us of his forethought and wisdom.

In 1984, after 61 fights and after three years of retiring from the ring, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's. Although he handled the disease with the utmost grace this was a unique tragedy seeing the most beautiful and graceful sportsman barely able to walk or speak. Who can forget one of his last most public acts in 1996 when the world witnessed Ali, with shaking hands, light the Olympic torch in Atlanta. It was a fitting honour as it was back in 1960 that boxing fans from all over the world saw Ali introduce himself to the sport by winning Olympic Gold.

Ali is survived by his fourth wife and nine children the family have announced that they want a public funeral so the world can join together to say goodbye.

His greatest and most poignant quote was, I am America, 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.

(He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again. Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2 – Ed)

R.I.P Mohammad Ali 1942-2016.