The Greatest…one nickname Muhammad Ali possesed and one that nobody would disagree with.
After blazing his way through the heavyweight division with his unorthodox style, Cassius Clay first became world champion in 1964 when at 22 he upset the odds and beat defending champion Sonny Liston in Miami.
The Louisville Lip was another nickname given to him due his comical and rhyming trash-talk of his opponents.
‘‘15 times I have told the clown what round he is going down but it don’t make a difference because he’s going to fall in eight to prove I am great, and if he keeps talking jive i’ll cut it to five,” he once told reporters pre-bout.
Clay was well known for his unorthodox fighting style.
He often said he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” alluding to his quick-footed ‘Ali Shuffle’, his lightning-fast deliveries and rope-a-dope techniques.
A day after he beat Liston for the heavyweight title, Clay knocked the wind out of most when he revealed he was a member of the Nation of Islam.
He was eventually to adopt the name Muhammad Ali and openly supported controversial leader Elijah Muhammad.
It was the beginning of a roller-coaster ride for Ali who three years later and citing religious beliefs, refused to enlisted in the US Army and fight in Vietnam.
“The so-called Negroes go ten thousand miles away from home here in America to drop bombs and bullets on other innocent brown people that never bothered us. And I will say directly: no I will not go!”
After a three-and-a-half year ban, Ali returned to the ring in 1970.
A year later, in what was billed as “The Fight of the Century”, Ali went toe-to-toe with undefeated champ, Joe Frazier and lost.
He would gain revenge four years later though in the classic ‘Thriller in Manila’.
Several fights followed his first Frazier defeat but all were a dress rehearsal for the biggest match of Ali’s career: The Rumble In the Jungle with heavy hitting George Foreman in 74’ in Zaire.
Ali upset the odds and regained his world heavyweight title.
He was king again.
As well as a sporting legend Ali was also a cultural icon.
He even inspired Sylvester Stallone to write the multiple Oscar-winning “Rocky”.
Ali retired in 1981.
Three years later he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and, despite his illness and progressing disability, he remained an active and influential public figure.
- Oscar de la Hoya: “He always had a sense of humour, this charisma.”
- Lennox Lewis: “He’s the one I missed when he stopped boxing. So a lot of respect for Muhammad Ali for real.”
- Actor Sydney Poitier: “He influenced us all, because he is a courageous individual”.
Ali will go down as arguably the best boxer the world has seen but he was more than that, much more. He inspired millions worldwide and gave people hope.
He truly deserved his self-proclaimed title – The Greatest.