Ali – The Last Round (1942-2016)

I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.

Muhammad Ali, the “Louisville Lip” iconic boxer and civil rights champion who coined himself “The Greatest” passed away in Phoenix hospital after failing to recover from respiratory complications. He was 74 young.

The man from a poor family only wanted one thing in life – to be the best boxer of his generation, and there were very few who could deny him that prestigious title. Ali had suffered for a lengthy time from Parkinson’s that slowly robbed him of both his voice and his motor movement, rendering himself almost in a vegetative state.

Muhammad Ali

(Image source: Google)

 

EARLY LIFE

Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay on Jan. 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, to middle-class parents, Ali started boxing when he was 12, winning Golden Gloves titles before heading to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal as a light heavyweight. According to his mother, Clay always stood out in school and never back down from a challenge. He hated when his friends used to be bullied. He was like a little bodyguard of his crew. He took up boxing as a way to exercise as he was a chubby boy. His coach then Joe Martin saw potential in him. He beat bigger boys in his camp convincingly with his training. His father always backed his art and at 18 represented the United States, in 1960. Clay was an imposing figure in the ring; defeated Zbigniew Pietrzkowski from Poland to win the light heavyweight gold medal. After his Olympic victory, Clay was heralded as an American hero. That was the first small step towards greatness.

But he was not welcomed back like a hero in his town. He was subject to racist chants and was refused to be served in many of the diners. This really hurt Clay as a person and after a lengthy thought decided to change his name and rebrand himself as Ali “the free and independent man”

ISLAM

Ali later started a different kind of fight with his outspoken views against the Vietnam War. Drafted into the military in April 1967, he refused to serve. Elaborating on this issue, Ali stated, “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America.” Ali said in an interview, “They didn’t put dogs on me.” Ali missed more than three prime years of his athletic career. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction in June 1971.

Muhammad Ali

(Image source: Google)

THE GREATEST MAKES A COMEBACK

Following the conversion to Islam and the speculations behind him, Ali began working his way back to full fitness. He put in hours training in the swimming pool, in the ring and the gym. His mother only saw him on Sunday sleeping on his bed for about 8 hours, and that was all. His first bout was against Frazier, another titan during this period. (Remember at that time boxers used to fight 3 minutes of 15 rounds. Miss those days!) That fight, the two of them went toe-to-toe exchanging jabs, fakes and few blows to the body. But in the 15th, Frazier dropped Ali with a vicious left hook. Ali recovered quickly, but the judges awarded the decision to Frazier, handing Ali his first professional loss. This rivalry ensued for over the few years, with Ali winning the “rumble in the jungle” match in 74’ capturing his heavyweight title back.

But the decider was the “Thrilla in Manilla” bout in 1975, which was filled with rich banter from both sides. I still remember one quote from Ali, “If he wants to go to heaven, I will take him down in the 7th.” Both men delivered and absorbed tremendous punishment. However, Frazier’s trainer threw in the towel after the 14th round, giving the hard-fought victory to Ali. Till date either of them if were alive would not take that defeat against their name.

Outside the ring Frazier & Ali were the best of friends. Rumours said that they even shared a bottle of beer the first time Ali lost after 31 straight wins. Frazier after retirement in a candid documentary said, “I wish I knew him more even before the rivalry and even before he had a speech impediment. Ali is my brother on this Earth and the next.” Tears roll down your eyes to see and hear a different point of view of these great superstars.

Thrilla In Manilla

(Image source: Google)

THE LATER YEARS

In 1984, Ali publicly announced he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and his fight had just begun. Ali supported the Special Olympics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 1996, he lit the Olympic cauldron at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, an emotional moment in sports history. (Considering how the Black Americans were treated in those times). Ali inaugurated the Muhammed Ali Parkinson Centre in Arizona, helping the world try to fight this terrible disease. As the years passed by Ali, became quiet as you could see the disease taking over his day-to-day activities.

THE FINAL CHAPTER

As his health deteriorated, Ali visited the hospital many times getting “fixed” by medicine and other scientific breakthroughs but on June 3rd, 2016, Ali passed away peacefully with his fourth wife beside him and his many siblings, one of whom was Laila Ali (daughter/pro boxer)

_89882040_89882039

(Image source: Google)

To me Ali has been an inspiration, watching his videos, hearing him speak his mind, and doing what he says he is going to do. No one in the world comes close to greatness. This was one fight if he came through would have proudly said, ”God cheated! He knows I’d beat him black and blue.”

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