The World is Mourning Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champion

Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali has sadly passed. He is seen as one of the biggest boxing legends to have ever lived as well as one of the most iconic personas of the 20th century. He devoted much of his time to philanthropy after he retired and was an important figure to both the black and Muslim community.

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Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, started with boxing at the age of 12 after he vowed to stand  up against the one who stole his new bike. Soon afterwards he won his debut match and this is where it all started, in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

Six years later, at merely 18, Ali began his journey towards greatness at the 1960 Rome Olympics. On September 5, “The Greatest” demonstrated his quality in the light heavyweight division by winning the Olympic Gold Medal. He became known for his lightning speed and elegant footwork and was heralded as an American hero after bringing home the biggest prize. Ali was crowned the heavyweight champion of the world after knocking out Sonny “The Bear” Liston in 1964.

It was not until after this fight that he announced that he converted to Islam and has changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He became a devout Muslim and was not happy with the media still using his old ‘slave’ name. In an interview on Ali’s conversion, he made clear that he does not want to be named Cassius Clay anymore by anyone.

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Ali was called up for military service in April 1967 to serve his country in the Vietnam War. This is where he started a different kind of fight with his outspoken views against the war. He refused to fight on the grounds of his principles, stating that his religious beliefs prevented him from fighting. He was arrested afterwards and the Boxing Association stripped him of his world title and boxing license  and was penalized for 5 years.

“No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision was withdrawn, Ali returned to the ring in 1970 and one year later he took part in the so called “Fight of the Century”. He took on Joe Frazier but lost, making it his first professional loss after 31 consecutive wins.

“Rumble in the Jungle” was another legendary fight. Undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman was younger and massive, named as the favorite of the 1974 fight that took place in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Congo). Ali silenced his critics after luring Foreman into throwing wild punches with his “rope-a-dope” technique. He reclaimed the title after knocking Foreman out in the 8th round.

Phillipines, 1975, The “Thrilla in Manila”. Ali faced Frazier once again in a heated fight, however Frazier’s trainer had to throw in the towel after 14th round, granting the win to the one and only Muhammad Ali.

Ali lost the title in February 1978. After beating Leon Spinks, who he lost the title to, in September, he wrote history by becoming the first boxer to win the heavyweight championship three times. After his final loss to Trevor Berbick in 1981, the boxing great retired from the sport.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”

His boxing style was highly unorthodox for a heavyweight fighter and was typified by his famous catchphrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. He relied on his superior hand speed, tremendous reflexes and his dancing in the ring, throwing quick jabs to surprise his opponents. He was also very known for his rhymes, his talking trash in the media to taunt anyone who comes up against him.

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Ali was someone who truly believed in himself and in his beliefs. He refused to fight against innocent people. He fought for the ones who had no voice. Ali’s impact among black Americans, among those who opposed the war in Vietnam, among Muslims and among all people with grievances against “the system” was huge. He was a sports figure who had so much political influence on so many people.

Ali was a deeply religious man. Although his state of health wasn’t at its best in his last years, he was still one of the most beloved people in the world. What he means to the world is extraordinary. His whole life he preached for freedom and equality for all people.

“I’m no leader. I’m a little humble follower.”

In spite of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984, Ali kept traveling all around the globe to make humanitarian, goodwill and charitable appearances. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and it that same year he opened the Muhammad Ali Center, focusing on peace and social responsibility in his hometown Louisville. The five time “Fighter Of The Year” was a great human being and he will surely be missed.

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His place in history remains uniquely his own. He stood for something, didn’t budge and triumphed. He encouraged millions of people to believe in themselves, boost their ambition and accomplish things that might not have been if it wasn’t for him. He wasn’t just a conveyor for black Americans. He stood up for everyone.

“Allah is the Greatest. I’m just the greatest boxer.”

The world is mourning Muhammad Ali. On Twitter, people from all over the world are reacting to his death.

Written by Ermin Crljenković

Ermin Crljenković

Born in Belgium, with Bosnian roots. A student Applied Economics at the University of Antwerp and a football fanatic who loves to travel.