By Joe Apu
The holy books tell us there is a time for everything. There is a time to be born and a time to die. For boxing legend Muhammed Ali, the time is here. He died last week and will be laid to rest today in his hometown, Louisville, United States.
Americans and the rest of the world will today pay Ali their last respects. The man who, from his young age had dubbed himself the greatest, stopped at nothing to realise his dream of ruling the world in his chosen career, irrespective of the opposition. On and off the squared ropes, Ali remained like a colossus in the minds of all. His life, struggles and steadfastness in what he believed marked him out as one to be reckoned with.
In this special tribute, we take a look at Ali’s lifetime and how he affected the world through boxing, his religion and even the disease (Parkinson) he suffered as a result of boxing. Rather than agree for boxing to be banned to protect others, Ali advocated that the sport be allowed to remain because he saw it as an escape from poverty, crime and more for the average black American.
In a tribute by the ESPN, Ali’s highlights were traced. He boasted he was “The Greatest,” and in the prime of his charismatic career, many agreed. But as brilliant as Muhammad Ali was in the ring, perhaps, his true greatness was outside it when he fought the United States government. His refusal to accept induction into the armed forces on religious grounds cost him millions and his heavyweight title, but at the end, Ali came out victorious, in the most significant battle of his life.
In his second fight against Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali celebrated his recent name change by knocking out the former champ in the first round.
The sports world is filled with showmen and great athletes, but, perhaps, never were they better combined than in the young man who began life as Cassius Clay and became a worldwide phenomenon as Muhammad Ali. The man who bragged about his ability to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” went from being a curious oddity in the early 1960s to a national villain and then an international hero. Indeed, he reigns as one of the most beloved men on the planet.
Born on January 18, 1942, in Louisville, Ky as Cassius Clay, Ali started fighting at the age of 12. He sioon after won two national Golden Gloves middleweight championships and an AAU national light-heavyweight title. After graduating from high school, Ali won the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
In his early pro bouts, he showed unbelievable hand and foot speed for someone 6-foot-3 and about 190 pounds. As he developed, he showed a stinging jab and an improving right hand. He held his hands low and avoided punches to the head by bobbing out of the way.
The brash youngster was a terrific self-promoter, mugging for the camera and boasting that not only was he the greatest fighter, he also was the most handome. He predicted in rhyme, with unerring accuracy, the round in which he would knock out his opponent (“They all fall/in the round I call”). In a period when interest in boxing had waned, Ali revitalised the sport.
While he had brought life to the sport, the boxing press was not convinced he was ready to dethrone heavyweight champ, Sonny Liston. Before the February 25, 1964 fight in Miami Beach, 43 of 46 writers predicted a Liston victory. A 7-1 underdog, Ali scored a stunning upset when Liston didn’t come out for the seventh round, claiming a shoulder injury.
The next morning he confirms he had joined the Nation of Islam. On March 6, the sect’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, gave a radio address, where he declared the name Cassius Clay lacked a “divine meaning.” He gave him the Muslim name, “Muhammad Ali.” Muhammad meant one worthy of praise, and Ali was the name of a cousin of the prophets.
The popular opinion was that the heavyweight champ shouldn’t be preaching what was considered a “hate religion.” Ali’s popularity nose-dived.
Promoters shied away from his rematch with Liston, and it was held in front of only a few thousand fans in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965. Liston never made it past the first round, Ali scoring a knockout with what some claim was a “phantom punch.” Six months later, Ali unmercifully punished former champ Floyd Patterson before the fight was stopped in the 12th round.
Ali successfully defended his title seven more times through March 22, 1967. But his TKO of Zora Folley was his last fight in the ring for three and half years. Now, Ali’s opponent was Uncle Sam. When the military attempted to draft him, Ali said he was a conscientious objector. “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” he had said in 1966.
Appearing for his scheduled induction on April 28, 1967 in Houston, he refused three times to step forward at the call of his name. An officer warned him he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more Ali refused to budge when his name was called.
That day, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other boxing commissions followed suit.
At the trial two months later, the jury, after only 21 minutes of deliberation, found Ali guilty. The judge imposed the maximum sentence. After a court of appeals upheld the conviction, the case went to the US Supreme Court. During this time, people turned against the war, and support for Ali grew.
Eight months before the Supreme Court ruled, Ali returned to the ring. There was no state commission in Georgia, and on October 26, 1970, Ali scored a third-round TKO over Jerry Quarry in Atlanta. Six weeks later, he registered a 15th-round TKO over Oscar Bonavena in New York.
Two undefeated heavyweights stepped into the ring in Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971 in what was billed as “The Fight of the Century.” Joe Frazier and Ali each received then-record purses of $2.5 million. Remarkably, the fight lived up to the hype. The two punched at a furious pace, with Frazier applying unrelenting pressure and Ali answering with rapid combinations. A sweeping left hook by Frazier decked Ali in the 15th round. While Frazier left with a battered face, he also exited with the unanimous decision and his title.
Ali, however, claimed victory in a bigger decision three months later when the Supreme Court ruled in his favour.
After following the Frazier loss with 10 victorious fights, Ali dropped a 12-round decision to Ken Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw. Ali reversed that decision later in 1973.
The second Ali-Frazier fight, on January 28, 1974, didn’t live up to the standards set by the first, but it still was a good one. Ali gained a unanimous decision, setting up a match with George Foreman, who had knocked out Frazier for the title.
“You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?” Ali said. “Wait till I whup George Foreman’s behind.”
The Rumble in the Jungle was fought in the pre-dawn hours in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali, a 7-1 underdog, introduced the Rope-a-Dope, where he stood flatfooted against the ropes and covered up as Foreman flailed away. By the eighth round, the unbeaten champion was exhausted, and Ali knocked him out. He had become the second heavyweight (Patterson was the first) to regain the title.
Ali had become America’s champion. The most vilified athlete of the ‘60s had become the most heroic of the ‘70s. A man denounced as anti-America in 1967 was invited to the White House in 1974.
Eleven months after whupping Foreman came the Thrilla in Manila. Ali took the early rounds before Frazier hammered away in the middle rounds. But Ali showed the heart of the champion in the late rounds. He staggered Frazier in the 13th and, with the challenger’s eye swollen shut, pummeled him in the 14th. When the bell rang for Round 15, Eddie Futch, Frazier’s trainer, threw in the towel.
An overconfident Ali lost his title on February 15, 1978 when Leon Spinks, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist who had only seven fights as a pro, took a split decision. Ali regained the title from Spinks seven months later, winning a unanimous decision. He had become the first three-time heavyweight champion. It would be his last victory.
The following June, Ali announced his retirement. But money brought him back, and Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick beat him in his last two fights. Ali, with a 56-5 record, retired for good.
Unfortunately, all the punches he suffered had taken an effect. In 1984, Ali learned he had Parkinson’s disease, a neurological syndrome characterised by tremors, rigidity of muscles and slowness of speech and movement. While the disease has left him a shadow of his former self, he still attempts to spread good will. Only now he does it with smiling eyes rather than his Louisville Lip.
At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ali again stood alone in the spotlight. With the world watching, he steadied his trembling hands to light the flaming cauldron and signal the start of the Games. Tears were shed by many, as the man whose beliefs had once divided a nation was now a unifiying – and beloved – force.
How Ali planned own funeral before death
Stories by Joe Apu
In a funeral he planned years ago, Muhammad Ali will be coming home as a “citizen of the world” when he is buried today in Louisville.
A procession will carry his body down an avenue that bears his name, through his boyhood neighborhood and down Broadway, the scene of the parade that honoured the brash young man – then known as Cassius Clay – for his gold medal at the 1960 Olympics.
Funeral details were outlined by family spokesman Bob Gunnell at a news conference Saturday in Scottsdale, Arizona, not far from Ali’s home in his final years. The family “certainly believes that Muhammad was a citizen of the world … and they know that the world grieves with him,” Gunnell said.
After the ay procession today, a memorial service open to everyone will be held at Louisville’s KFC YUM! Center. The list of eulogists is endless.
The ceremony will be led by an imam in the Muslim tradition, but will include representatives of other faiths. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch will represent Mormons.
“Muhammad Ali was clearly the people’s champion,” Gunnell said, “and the celebration will reflect his devotion to people of all races, religions and backgrounds.”
Ali’s wife, Lonnie, and his children had 24 hours to say goodbye to him, Gunnell said.
After Ali died, in the three-time heavyweight champion’s old neighborhood, brother Rahaman Ali stood in a small house on Grand Avenue and dabbed his eyes as he shook hand after hand. The visitors had come from as far away as Georgia and as near as down the street.
“God bless you all,” the 72-year-old Rahaman said to each.
Ali’s death held special meaning in Louisville, where he was the city’s favorite son.
“He was one of the most honourable, kindest men to live on this planet,” his brother said while greeting mourners at their childhood home, recently renovated and turned into a museum.
Cars lined both sides of the Louisville street, where Ali grew up. The guests piled flowers and boxing gloves around the marker designating it a historical site. They were young and old, black and white, friends and fans.
Another makeshift memorial grew outside the Muhammad Ali Center downtown, a museum built in tribute to Ali’s core values: respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, charity, spirituality.
“Muhammad Ali belongs to the world,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said at a memorial service outside Metro Hall. “But he only has one hometown.”
Rahaman recalled what Ali was like as a boy named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., long before he became the most famous man in the world, the Louisville Lip, celebrated as much for his grace and his words as his lightning-fast feet and knockout punch.
In their little pink house in Louisville’s west end, the brothers liked to wrestle and play cards and shoot hoops.
“He was a really sweet, kind, loving, giving, affectionate, wonderful person,” Rahaman said, wearing a cap that read “Ali,” the last letter formed by the silhouette of a boxer ready to pounce.
When he was 12 years old, Ali had a bicycle that was stolen and he told a police officer he wanted to “whoop” whoever took it, Fischer said at the memorial service. The officer told him he’d have to learn how to box first.
Daniel Wilson was one year behind Ali at Central High School and remembered he was so committed to his conditioning that he didn’t get on the school bus like everybody else. Instead, he ran along beside it, three miles all the way to school each morning.
“The kids on the bus would be laughing and Ali would be laughing too,” he recalled at the Grand Avenue home.
Ruby Hyde arrived at the memorial holding an old black-and-white framed photo of a young Ali. She’d been a water girl at his amateur bouts as a teenager in Louisville, and seen even then that there was something special, something cerebral, about the way he fought. Years later, he came back to the old neighborhood as a heavyweight champ, driving a Cadillac with the top down.
“All the kids jumped in and he rode them around the block,” she remembered.
He never forgot where he came from, she said.
“He’s done so much for Louisville. He’s given us so much,” said Kitt Liston, who as girl growing up in Louisville admired Ali’s unblinking fight for justice and peace. “He’s truly a native son. He’s ours.”
Liston’s voice trembled as she recounted running into him at a baseball game a few years ago.
“I got to tell him how much I cared about him. He put that big ol’ paw out and just shook my hand,” she said. “He just had time for everybody.”
The mayor ordered the city’s flags at half-staff.
Outside Metro Hall, Fischer pointed west, toward Ali’s childhood home, about three miles away in one of the city’s poorest zip codes.
“There can only be one Muhammad Ali, but his journey from Grand Avenue to global icon serves as a reminder that there are young people with the potential for greatness in the houses and neighborhoods all over our city, our nation, our world,” he said.
Fischer told mourners to teach all children Ali’s legacy: that a kid from Kentucky can grow up to be “The Greatest.”
“That’s how we become champions,” he said. “Muhammad Ali has shown us the way.”
My father now at peace –Laila Ali
•Former US President Clinton, other world leaders converge for Ali’s burial
A former American president, several foreign heads of state, prominent entertainers, clergy members of various denominations and even royalty are slated to speak at the memorial service for boxing icon Muhammad Ali today.
The service will be held at 2pm at the KFC Yum Center in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. President Bill Clinton, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current king of Jordan Abdullah II, and comedian Billy Crystal are scheduled to speak. Also, former boxing champion Lennox Lewis and actor, Will Smith, who portrayed Ali in a 2001 biopic about the outspoken fighter, will serve as pallbearers along with six others.
“This was really designed and intended by the champ himself to be his last statement to the people of planet Earth.” said Timothy Gianotti, a scholar of Islamic studies, “The love and the reverence and inclusivity that we are going to experience over the coming days is really a reflection of his message.”
Ali family spokesman, Bob Gunnell, declared: “He was the people’s champ and so he wanted that memorial service to reflect that.”
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., in January 1942, Ali started boxing at age 12, and earned the nickname, “The Louisville Lip,” for his quick wit and flamboyant fighting style. Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1960 after joining the Nation of Islam, where he was a friend with minister and activist Malcolm X.
Ali was stripped of his world heavyweight title and castigated in the press for his vocal anti-war stance and refusal to enter the draft of the Vietnam War.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” he famously asked.
Ali declared: “No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end.”
The iconic boxer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, and was hospitalised for complications related to the disease. His family ended life support last Friday. His daughter, Laila Ali, who also became a boxing champion, told the Today Show: “Well, we’re sad. I personally have been sad for a long time. My father’s been struggling with Parkinson’s disease for many years. It wasn’t easy to watch him suffer, so knowing that he’s not suffering any more is what gives me comfort.”
She added: “I know he’s in a better place now. He’s talking again and moving again and doing all the things he couldn’t do in his body.”
Women in Muhammad Ali’s life
Behind the immortal legend of Muhammad Ali lay a distinctly mortal private life that saw the great boxer married four times and have at least nine children – including two love-children – leaving behind a complex and divisive family legacy that threatens to tarnish his memory.
In the years before Ali’s death, family disputes have broken out into the open between his last wife and widow, Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams, and Ali’s younger brother, Rahman, and his estranged only biological son, Muhammad Ali Jr.
A cousin of Ali’s cousin, Charlotte Waddell, also claimed in an interview two years ago that Lonnie “controls everything” that Ali does, admitting to The Daily Mail, that “I can’t stand to be around her. It wouldn’t take me two seconds to spit in her face!”
Lonnie, who married Ali in 1986 after moving to California to be Ali’s full-time nurse three years after his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, is reported to have used her power of attorney over his affairs to estrange unwanted family members from Ali’s complex web of relationships.
In a separate interview, Muhammad Ali Jnr was reported to be living in a garret in a Chicago ghetto, telling a newspaper in 2013 that he had been almost entirely ostracised from his father since 2004.
Rahman Ali, now 72 and himself a former professional boxer who reportedly had six wives and was a main member of the Ali entourage after he finished his own brief career, was reported to have been forced by Lonnie out of their mother’s family home into a “modest flat”.
However over the years, Lonnie’s supporters have credited her with restoring order over Ali’s chaotic life, which saw him make and lose several fortunes until financial stability was restored in 2006 when Ali sold his worldwide image rights for £30million.
Lonnie and Ali never had children of their own, but soon after they got married they adopted a five-month-old boy, Asaad Amin, who they raised as their own.
When the end of Ali’s life finally came, it was reported that Lonnie was at his bedside, along with Hana Yasmeen Ali and her sister Laila, who were the children from Ali’s third marriage to Veronica Porsche that lasted from 1977-1986.
Laila has pursued her own career as a professional fighter, remaining close to her father who would often appear at her fights, including the much-anticipated 2001 bout between Laila and Joe Frazier’s daughter, Jackie Frazier-Lyde.
Ali’s relationship with Porsche – struck up during the 1975 ‘Thrilla in Manila’ fight against Joe Frazier where Porsche was working as a poster girl to add glamour to the occasion – effectively ended his second marriage to Belinda Boyd.
Boyd – renamed Khalilah Camacho-Ali after converting to Islam soon after their wedding – had four children with Ali during their decade-long marriage which began in 1967 when Boyd was only 17, three years after first catching the boxer’s eye while working in a Kentucky bakery.
Together they had three daughters, Maryum (a rapper and author who was also reportedly at the boxer’s death bed), Jamillah, Rasheda, and his only son, Muhammad Ali Jr.
Boyd fought tenaciously to keep her husband from straying, but in the end was unable to break his infatuation with Porsche. After their divorce Ms Boyd herself subsequently married three times, working briefly as an actress appearing in the Jane Fonda film, The China Syndrome.
During his turbulent marriage to Boyd, Ali is also reported to have had two love-children, the first, Miya, came in 1972 with a woman reportedly named Patricia Harvell and the second, Khaliah, in 1974, to a 16-year-old woman, Wanda Bolton, who changed her name to Aaisha Ali.
According to a proposal for her memoir, “Butterflies and Bees: A Woman’s Search for Her Father” reported by the New York Daily News, Khaliah and her mother lived at Ali’s then-training camp where Ali’s then wife, Belinda Boyd, shared the parenting.
There have been several others who have claimed to be Ali‘s children, including in 2014 Kiiursti Mensah Ali, a 35-year-old from Houston Texas who bears a striking resemblance to Ali and whose mother, Barbara Mensah, claims to have had a relationship with Ali in his hey-day.
By the time of his death, Ali has been married four times, including a childless first marriage to Sonji Roi, a 23-year-old model and cocktail waitress, who Ali met in 1964, the year he won his first world title.
The marriage lasted only 16-months. Roi, who died in 2005, later blamed the break up on the insufferable pressure she was under to adopt Muslim dress codes and convert to Islam, later claiming she had been threatened with reprisals if she failed to conform.
“I wasn’t going to take on all the Muslims,” she said after the divorce in January 1966, “If I had, I probably would have ended up dead.”
Why Muhammad Ali converted to Islam
A report on the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali and his relationship with faith and Christianity claims that Western portrayals of Jesus Christ as white was among the reasons Ali was drawn to Islam.
Catholic News Service reported Monday that Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., came from a Christian household, with his father a Methodist and his mother a Baptist. As Ali grew in prominence due to his boxing championships, he also became a vocal civil rights spokesperson, and converted to Islam in 1964.
But he reportedly began questioning his Christian heritage at an early age, and was bothered by Western portrayals of Jesus as a white man.
“As a young man, he had questioned his Christian heritage and its portrayals of a white Jesus and white Apostles. He said one thing that attracted him to Islam was that the faith had no images of God, angels or prophets,” CNS noted, based on Ali’s memoir, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey.
“No single race should be able to identify with God through the colour of its skin,” Ali wrote.
Still, Ali maintained a good relationship with Christians, and met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1982, where they reportedly exchanged autographs. As fate would have it, both men would later in life be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, each bringing a spotlight on the illness.
Ali also is said to have supported Catholic charities, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, where he and his wife served meals to the guests, and made donations.
“It mattered little that Muhammad lost his ability to speak, for he communicated to our guests through his heart and soul,” Executive Director Steve Zabiliski told The Arizona Republic. “At St. Vincent de Paul, we will remember him for his grace, his kindness, his courage and his love. It’s what made him so special.”
Ali’s Muslim faith has been the subject of several articles following his death, with Yasir Qadhi, a Muslim-American scholar and cleric, stating: “There is no denying that Muhammad Ali is the most famous and influential American Muslim, ever.”
Qadhi added: “If the only good that he brought was to bring a positive image of Islam, and to spread the name of our beloved prophet in every household and on every tongue in the world, it is a life that is indeed enviable.”
Prominent evangelical leader Franklin Graham also shared his memories of Ali’s visits with his father, Billy Graham, at the family’s home in North Carolina, which touched on the famous boxer’s faith.
“I had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions, and he visited at my parents’ home in Montreat, North Carolina. Muhammad Ali’s father brought him to visit my father Billy Graham because he was concerned over Ali’s faith in Islam and was afraid that his son had been led astray,” Graham revealed in a Facebook message.
He added: “They had a great visit, and my father had prayer with him. They met together again several years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, when my father was there to preach. My prayers are with his family as they mourn this loss.”
The question of the historical Jesus’ skin colour has stirred controversy in American discourse on a number of occasions, with Fox News host Megyn Kelly receiving criticism in 2013 for claiming that He was white.
Craig Mitchell of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C., told The Christian Post at the time, however, that Jesus most likely did not have white skin color.
“He was Semitic and he was probably of olive complexion or maybe a little darker, but he wasn’t black,” Mitchell explained.
“When you look at the average person of Middle Eastern extraction that’s probably the color of skin that He had; some might say that that’s white, some would say that it’s not.”
– Culled from Christian Post
George Foreman on Muhammad Ali:
‘I keep seeing his face like nothing has happened’
As the world mourns legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, George Foreman is still coming to terms with the passing of the “Greatest of All Time.”
“It’s like a piece of me slipped away … I call it the greatest piece,” Foreman, 67, said in an interview with Omnisport.
Foreman knew Ali better than most after their historic “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. Regarded as one of Ali’s most famous and culturally influential fights, he overcame a previously undefeated world heavyweight champion Foreman by a knockout before the end of the eighth round in Kinshasa, Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo).
The pair formed an unbreakable bond after that night, evident at the 1996 Academy Awards when Foreman helped Ali up the steps to receive his Oscar.
And it is a friendship Foreman holds dearly in his heart.
“What a tremendous man … I keep seeing his face like it hasn’t happened,” Foreman said. “We had this wonderful friendship. It’s like a piece of me slipped away as well. I call it the greatest piece.
“What he did for the world was spectacular. I called him a good fighter but I didn’t apply greatness to him until I saw him light that Olympic torch (at the Atlanta Games in 1996).
“With his Parkinson condition, he went up there, though he had the tremor in his hand, and he was like ‘this is pretty, I’m still pretty’.
“He didn’t hide. When we get a little sickness, we hide, we don’t come back out in the public. But he made it fashionable to show off whatever illness you had.
“I’ve never seen a man who loved life more than Muhammad Ali.”
Reflecting on moments shared with Ali, Foreman — with a chuckle in his voice — said: “There are two memories that stand out, the second one the most important one.
“I’m mean, I’m giving him the stare down in the ring. We didn’t even have a press conference together or anything prior to the fight.
“We get up to the ring and we are in the middle of the ring, I’m giving him the stare down, he looks at me a little bit in the eye with a sly smile on his face and said, ‘George you were in school when I was fighting Sonny Liston for the title, you don’t belong in the ring with me.’
“I almost busted out laughing at him. I thought, are you crazy? I will never forget that. He was just a big kid.”