I’m no boxing expert, and I never watched Muhammad Ali fight outside of the occasional highlight. When I was in eighth grade I read (see as skimmed) a biography about the champ’s life for black history month at school, and I don’t re-call much from it other than his famous win over George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle” and his missing of his athletic prime due to his dodge of the draft.
But my five-year-old cousin can recognize greatness so evident as this.
The record is there for sure, with a 56-5 career mark, 37 of those wins by knockout with Ali only once being knocked out (Sources: boxrec.com and boxing.about.com). Discount the final four bouts of his career when he was past his prime and the record stands at 55-2. He captured his first world heavyweight title belt in 1964 as Cassius Clay when he was just 22 years of age, beating Sonny Liston in an unprecedented upset. 43 of 46 experts picked Liston to win by knock-out, but Clay used his speed and quick hands to produce a win. It was shortly after Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, when he joined the Nation of Islam. In 1967 he dodged the draft and was banned during the prime of his career.
Ali’s second title would come in 1974 when he rope-a-doped a heavily favored grill master with punching power the likes of Ivan Drago would be proud of into exhaustion, and finished off Big George in round 8.
And after successfully defending his title for four years, Ali would be defeated for just the third time in his career by American Leon Spinks. By the end of the year he would beat Spinks in a re-match, winning the belt for a third time in his final career victory.
The list of great fighters Ali defeated is vast in number and includes eight boxers who were either the current heavyweight world champion, previous heavyweight world champions, or who would go on to win a heavyweight world title: Sonny Liston (twice), Floyd Patterson (twice), Joe Frazier (twice), Ken Norton (twice), Ernie Terrell, George Foreman, Jimmy Ellis, and Leon Spinks.
But Muhammad Ali’s accomplishments outside the ring are greater, even to the most colossal of boxing enthusiasts.
I’m not just talking about standing up for what he believed in, dodging the draft of a war he felt was wrong and taking a three-year fighting ban during the prime of his career (whether you agree with Vietnam or not, that takes incredible character). I’m not just talking about a fight he fought for 32 years against Parkinsons, a greater foe than any opponent he faced inside the ropes. I’m not just talking about his key role as the first true black showman in sports, that allowed black athletes after him to actually be proud of their achievements and show a little passion for their craft.
Underneath it all, Muhammad Ali had the true heart of a champion and it showed in some of the greatest quotes I have ever read.
These are all from a quick google search.
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”