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Passing Of “The Greatest” – Muhammad Ali 1942-2016

Muhammad Ali - 1942-2016 James Kuslov, via Flickr.


Passing Of “The Greatest” – Muhammad Ali 1942-2016

The world mourns this morning, as legendary boxing icon and former three-time World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali passed away in the late hours of Friday, in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 74 years old. Ali had been hospitalized on Thursday for what was reported as a respiratory issue. The announcement of his passing came just shortly after by family spokesperson Bob Gunnell. Said Gunnell:

“After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening. The Ali family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support and asks for privacy at this time.”

After news of his passing became public, friends, fans and family from all over shared their thoughts and feelings for The Champ. His daughter Hana Ali tweeted:

“Our father was a “Humble Mountain!” And now he has gone home to God. God bless you daddy. YOU ARE THE LOVE OF MY LIFE!”

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., Ali first got into the interest of boxing around the age of 12, after meeting Joe E. Martin, who was a Louisville, Kentucky police officer and a boxing coach. He told Martin that he was going to “whup” the thief who had stolen his bicycle. Martin told him that he better learn how to box first.

Clay would take his advice, going into boxing and never looking back. In the last four years of his amateur boxing career, he would be trained by boxing cutman Chuck Bodak. Clay would make his amateur boxing debut in 1954, winning six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two National Golden Gloves titles, one Amateur Athletic Union National Title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

A medal that, as he claimed in his 1975 autobiography, he threw into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant, a story that had been disputed, and denied by several of his friends, including Bundini Brown and photographer Howard Bingham. He would receive a replacement medal at a basketball intermission at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

With an impressive amateur record of 100-5, Clay would transition into the professional level in 1960, making his debut on October 29th, winning a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker. Following that victory, he would go on a tear in to 1963, amassing a 19-0 record, with 15 knockout victories. One such victory would be against his former trainer, veteran boxer Archie Moore in 1962, which could be considered by some as the ultimate example of “the student becoming the teacher”.

Clay would gain national attention, after reaching the number three heavyweight contender rank, and facing off against the number two contender Doug Jones on March 13th, 1963 in Madison Square Garden. This was considered his toughest fight during the stretch. Clay was staggered in the first round of the fight, but would eventually win by decision, a decision which Jones’ hometown crowd did not agree with, throwing debris into the ring after it was announced.

Sonny Liston, who was the heavyweight champion at the time, watched on closed circuit TV, and was quoted as saying that if he had fought Clay, he might have gotten locked up for murder. The bout would later on be called “Fight of the Year”.

Clay would become a top contender for Liston’s title in late 1963, and the fight was set up for February 25th, 1964 in Miami, Florida. Clay would gain a reputation for trash talking, something that would become a staple of his persona for the duration of his career, and the rest of his life. He would taunt Liston, who was known as an intimidating person, who had a penchant for dominating his opponents.

Clay was a 7-1 underdog going into the fight, but that did not stop him from insulting Liston, calling him “the big ugly bear”, and stating that “Liston even smells like a bear”. Said Clay:

“After I beat him, I’m going to donate him to the zoo.”

Clay would continue his verbal assault at the weigh-in, shouting at the champ “someone is going to die at ringside tonight!” Clay’s outburst had many questioning whether he would show up, especially as his pulse rate was measured at 120, well over his usual measure of 54.

In what was a grueling seven round contest, Clay would upset Liston, winning by TKO after Liston refused to answer the bell for the seventh round. Clay would become the youngest boxer to win the World Heavyweight Championship from a reigning champion at age 22, a record that would later be broken by Mike Tyson in 1986, when Tyson won the title at age 20.

Following his victory, Clay would rush ringside, shouting at the press “Eat your words! I am the greatest! I shook the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived!” Shortly after winning the Liston bout, Clay would change his name to “Muhammad Ali”, this came as he joined the Nation of Islam. After that victory, he would hold onto the title for five years, defending it from a whose who of boxing names of the day, including the champ who lost to Liston, Floyd Patterson. The WBA would strip Ali of the title after he he joined the Nation of Islam, but, he would get an opportunity to fight for it again, agreeing to face off with the WBA heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell in Chicago on March 29th, 1966.

However, the fight would not happen, when in February of that year, Ali would be reclassified by the Louisville draft board as 1-A from 1-Y. Ali refused to serve, stating to the press:

“I ain’t go nothing against no Viet Cong; no Viet Cong never called me n—-r.”

Following a public and media outcry, the Illinois Athletic Commission refused to sanction the fight, claiming there were technicalities. Ali would go to Canada and Europe, winning championship bouts against the likes of Henry Cooper, George Chuvalo, Brian London, and Karl Mildenberger. He would eventually return to the US in 1964, as he fought Cleveland Williams on November 14th. Ali would win in the third round by TKO. Ali would finally get the opportunity to fight Terrell on Feb. 6th, 1967 in Houston.

Terrell would take to calling Ali “Clay”, which Ali found annoying, as he considered Clay to have been his “slave name”. The fight was more so brutal than any could imagine, and Ali would win the 15-round bout by unanimous decision. He would later be stripped of the title due to his refusal to be drafted into the army. His boxing license was also suspended by the state of New York. He was later convicted of tax evasion on June 20th and sentenced to five years in prison, with a $10,000 fine. He would pay the bond, remaining free while the verdict was being appealed.

Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the armed forces would cause him even more of a headache, as he would be denied a boxing license in every state, and his passport would be stripped. He would not fight from March 1967 until October 1970, while his case would work its way through the appeals process. The bright spot for him came in 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction with a unanimous 8-0 ruling, a ruling that Thurgood Marshall abstained from.

Ali would gain some semblance of sympathy from the public on his stance against the Vietnam War, and in the time that he was banned from the sport, would speak at colleges across the country. During his speeches, he would not only denounce the war, but also advocated African American pride and racial justice.

In August of 1970, Ali was granted a boxing license by the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission, a motion which was pushed through by then State Senator Leroy R. Johnson. Ali would be back in the ring on Oct. 26th, facing off with Jerry Quarry, winning after three rounds, due to Quarry being cut. A month before that, the New York State Boxing Commission was forced to reinstate Ali’s boxing license after losing in federal court. He would fight Oscar Bonavena in December of that year, winning a 15-rounder with a TKO.

The victory put him as a ranked contender for Joe Frazier‘s heavyweight championship, and the two would meet up at Madison Square Garden on March 8th, 1971, in what was called “The Fight of the Century”. This would be where Ali would debut his infamous “rope-a-dope strategy”, with Ali leaning against the ropes, absorbing everything that Frazier threw at him. The fight went to the finish, and in the end, Ali would suffer his first professional defeat by unanimous decision.

Ali would gain six more victories after that loss, but would lose to Ken Norton in 1973, receiving a broken jaw for his troubles. Ali would consider retirement, but gave it another crack at Norton, beating him in the rematch, which led to a rematch with Frazier on Jan. 24th, 1974. Ali won the second fight with Frazier, who had recently lost his title to George Foreman.

Ali’s besting of Frazier set up a match with Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire on Oct. 30th, 1974, the fight which would be nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali would go back to his trash talking ways, saying such things to, or about Foreman as:

“If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whup Foreman’s behind!”

“I’ve done something new for this fight. 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, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

The fight was one for the ages, which saw the two titans giving their best efforts, Ali with his “Rope-a-Dope” vs the pure punching power of Foreman. In the end, Ali had tired the more powerful Foreman, winning the title by knockout.

Ali would face off with Frazier a third time, this time with the fight taking place in Manila. It would be called the “Thrilla in Manila”, and would be held on Oct. 1st, 1975. Both Frazier and Ali would not only combat each other, but heat exhaustion as well, as temperatures were said to have been close to 100 degrees. Ali won this time by TKO, after Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch refused to let Frazier answer the bell in the 15th round, due to a cut that bled into Frazier’s eye and limited his vision. Ali, though attaining the victory, said after that the fight “was the closest thing to dying that I know.”

Ali was known as a fierce competitor in the ring, and would actually transition for a one time exhibition boxer vs. wrestler match in 1976 against professional wrestler and martial artist, WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki. Even though the fight was a publicity stunt, Inoki would give Ali some bodily damage, bruising Ali, causing two blood clots and an infection in Ali’s legs. The fight would be declared a draw.

Ali would then retire July 27th, 1979, though his retirement would be short lived, as he came back to fight Larry Holmes for the WBC championship. Holmes didn’t want to face Ali, as he had felt that Ali had no more fight in him. Around this time, Ali started to struggle with his speech and suffered from trembling hands, which caused the Nevada Athletic Commission to order he undergo a complete physical in Las Vegas before being allowed to fight. Ali was cleared on July 31, 1980, and the fight would take place October 2nd later that year.

Ali would lose to Holmes, after Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the fight in the eleventh round. The Holmes fight was believed to have contributed to Ali’s Parkinson’s Syndrome, a disease that Ali would live with until his final days. Ali would fight one last fight, on December 11th, 1981, losing a 10-round decision to Trevor Berbick.

Ali would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, but remained active, even being a guest referee at WrestleMania I. His accomplishments post-boxing career spanned over the years, where he went on to publish an oral history of his life and times, traveled to Iraq to speak with Saddam Hussain during the Gulf War to negotiate the release of American hostages, and went to Afghanistan as a U.N. Messenger of Peace, amongst other things.

He was hospitalized on June 2nd, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he was admitted for a respiratory condition. His condition worsened the following day, where he would be put on life support. He would breathe his final breath just hours before Saturday.

The man was self-proclaimed as “The Greatest”, but in the way he lived his life, with the career that he had, there is little to argue the title of “Greatest”. He was a man of his time, a fantastic fighter, an entertainer, and to his family, a loving father, brother and husband. He leaves behind not just a great career, but a legacy that far and wide could inspire a generation, and, truthfully, has.

The world weeps the loss of not just a great fighter, but a caring soul. We may never have another like him, but, at least to this group of sports writers, we feel grateful, as does the rest of the world, to have been able to experience him. We here at would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family of Muhammad Ali. And to Mr. Ali, God Speed, Muhammad Ali, may your journey be ever blissful.

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