Muhammad Ali 1942 – 2016

  • By James Nadel


” I Don’t have to be what you want me to be.”


The death of Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight champion (boasting a 21 year professional career including 61 fights, 56 wins, 37 knockouts) known as much for his political activism, sharp whit and poetic and inspirational quotes as his boxing brilliance, triggered a worldwide outpouring of affection and admiration for one of the best-known and most loved figures of the 20th century.

Muhammad Ali, who had long suffered from Parkinson’s syndrome which impaired his speech and made the once-graceful athlete almost a prisoner in his own body, died yesterday on Friday 3rd June 2016 at the age of 74. The cause of death was septic shock due to unspecified natural causes, following respiratory difficulties the night before, family spokesman said. Muhammad Ali was admitted to a Phoenix-area hospital with a respiratory ailment on Monday 30th May 2016.

“He’ll be remembered as a man of the world who spoke his mind and wasn’t afraid to take a chance and went out of his way to be a kind, benevolent individual that really changed the world.” the family spokesman, Bob Gunnell, said at a news conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Despite Ali’s failing health, his youthful proclamation that he was “the greatest” rang true until the end for millions upon millions of people around the world who respected him for his courage both inside and outside the ring.

61 Fights, 56 wins, 37 knockouts, 31 fight winning streak, 3 world heavyweight titles and an Olympic gold medal but it was his life outside of the ring which really captivated and inspired the hearts and minds of generations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

In 1967, Muhammad Ali took the momentous decision of opposing the US war in Vietnam, a move that was widely criticised by huge numbers of his fellow Americans.

He refused to be drafted into the US military and was subsequently stripped of his world title and boxing licence. He would not fight again for nearly four years.

After his conviction for refusing the draft was overturned in 1971, Muhammad Ali returned to the ring and fought in three of the most iconic contests in boxing history, helping restore his reputation with the public.

He was handed his first professional defeat by Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” in New York on 8 March 1971, ending an epic 31 fight winning streak, only to regain his title with an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) on 30 October 1974.

Muhammad Ali also spoke out against racism, war and religious intolerance, while projecting an unshakeable confidence that became a role-model for African-Americans and Muslim-Americans alike at the height of the civil rights era and beyond.

The Muslim community near Muhammad Ali’s home following his death have dedicated prayers to a man they said became a “voice for Muslims”.

Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Centre of Phoenix said:

“He was a voice for Muslims that was more accepted by many Americans than the voices of other Muslims.

We have lost someone who is a champion of Islam, who is respected and who spoke against violence.

For the last years of his life, he was helping to promote the idea of Islam.

He spoke about Isil to distinguish between Islam and Isis and say those people do not represent Islam.”

 US Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke of his admiration for the anti-war and peaceful views of Muhammad Ali and his admiration for his unwavering faith. Poking at Donald Trump’s hypocrisy Sanders remarked:

“Don’t tell us how much you love Muhammad Ali and yet you’re going to be prejudiced against Muslims in this country.”  

Muhammad Ali invented and created the psychological element to boxing, but his creative pre-fight one liners where often as inspirational and political as they were mere sporting tactics and entertainment. Here are some of the much loved quotes from the man him self:

“When will they ever have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry, and is as tall and extra pretty as me? In the history of the world and from the beginning of time, there’s never been another fighter like me. Eat your words! Eat your words! I am the greatest.”

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it, and I didn’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God – and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me.'”

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.   I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”

“I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I’m in a world of my own.” 

“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise.”

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”  

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.”

“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

“I’m No 1. After me, it don’t matter.”

“I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”  

“That all you got, George?”  What Ali whispered into George Foreman’s ear in a late round clinch during the Rumble in the Jungle. 

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

“I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.”

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?”

“It will be a killer, and a chiller, and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila.” Ali, before the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ against Joe Frazier.

“Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.”

“I always bring out the best in men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I’ll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I’m gonna tell ya, that’s one helluva man, and God bless him.”  

“I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said. Called him names I shouldn’t have called him. I apologise for that. I’m sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight.”

“I was the Elvis Presley of boxing.”  

“Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you.”  

“What’s really hurting me – the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence. Islam is not a killer religion, Islam means peace. I couldn’t just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem.” 

“God’s got me here for something. I can feel it. I was born for everything that I’m doing now.”

“I’d rather be punished here in this life than the hereafter.”   

“Life is short; we get old so fast. It doesn’t make sense to waste time on hating.”

How Muhammad Ali wanted people to remember him

“I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right.

“As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him…who stood up for his beliefs…who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.

“And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”

Fa Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Raji’un

Muhammad Ali 1946 – 2016 May we all learn from and remember his message of peace and equality

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