Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest sportsmen the world has produced, will be laid to rest today in his hometown at the Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky, United States. He was diagnosed of “septic shock” after he was admitted into a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 2. He passed on the following day. For nearly 32 years, he had bravely grappled with the Parkinson syndrome and had valiantly refused to let the disease control his life. He remained active like the champion he was, to the end.
As millions of people gather from all over the world to celebrate one of the most illustrious personalities the world has ever produced, Muhammad Ali will be remembered as a charismatic, gifted, courageous, hardworking, and humane philanthropist, who touched so many lives in more ways than one.
As a sportsman and a boxer, he will be remembered as one of the greatest boxing heavyweight champions of all time. The world is today paying tribute to a man whom the BBC voted in 1999 as the Sports Personality of the 20th Century. Ali is the man the Associated Press reported as one of the two most recognized athletes in the United States. And 97 per cent of Americans over 12 years of age are able to identify Ali and Babe Ruth out of 800 dead and living athletes in America. We can bet that those findings would be readily replicated all over the world.
Sometimes, the world wonders if Ali’s life would have been different if his bicycle had not been stolen at the age of 12, which made him fume to the police officer who led him to boxing. But when he took to boxing, he did not look back. His hard work, his enterprise and creativity are the things that mark him out as a professional and among all time best. He became an Olympian at the age of 18 winning the world’s light heavyweight title in the summer of 1960.
As a professional, he was 22 when he became the youngest to beat a reigning world heavyweight champion. It was not merely that he fought with the best and prevailed in 51 out of 56 fights, he showed class and creativity. His style of moving constantly had amazed even his opponents some of whom expressed their frustration of not getting at him.
Ali took one of those life-changing decisions when he converted to Islam after winning the world heavyweight title. But even more remarkable was the changing of his name. Cassius Marcellus Clay, his original name, he discarded saying it was his “slave name.” By then, Ali had become a changed man, and it is easy to see the influence of the Nation of Islam and especially one of its then revolutionary adherents, Malcolm X, in Ali’s attitudes, reactions and world view.
Muhammad Ali was a revolutionary in his own right because very few men would just walk away from the world’s heavyweight boxing title, choose to risk a five-year jail term, lose all the prize money and the endorsements and millions of dollars involved, and, above all, as his trainer, Angelo Dundee, lamented, “he was robbed of his best years, his prime years.” By refusing to be inducted into the US military, by speaking out against the Vietnam War at a time the US was under pressure to win that war, Ali exposed himself to too many dangers and too many risks.
But, by so doing, he became an icon of inestimable value, loved and respected all over the world for his courage and forbearance. He demonstrated that titles and money cannot replace dignity, that freedom and liberty must be preferred to enslavement and oppression. His sacrifices are beyond material things. They are spiritual and philosophical. That is what the world is celebrating today. And we completely agree with Mike Tyson that “God came for his champion. So long great one.”
Some of his great fights include: the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ match against George Foreman in 1974 in Zaire, and ‘Thriller in Manila’ match against Joe Frazler in 1975. He will be highly remembered for his memorable quotes including: “Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee, your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see,” and “It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.” Adieu, the great one.