PEOPLE DEBATE. Â What made Muhammad Ali the Greatest?
Was it the 42 years after which Ali hang his gloves and left indelible footprints on the sands of boxing history? Or the last 32 years- where he battled Parkinsons Disease and rose above it.
He died last week at age 74. The last 32 years Ali spent his time not just surviving the disease- but funding its cure, helping those similarly afflicted ,became a global philanthropist who helped others Â and established an academy dedicated to world peace.
“Don’t count the days, make the days count”, Ali said.
Ali had gone philosophical about his ailment that Parkinson was used by his god to slow him down so he can reflect more on his life. And reflect he did.
In 2005, President George Bush awarded the boxing hero the highest recognition for any civilian: Medal of Freedom. Ali received the medal with shaking arms and failing eyesight.
His daughter who also became a boxer had this much to quote: my father was a caring human being who wanted to give back Â to people what he had. Ali had this uncanny ability to connect “with the poor and the disenfranchised.”
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth” Ali said.Â
For the colored Ali to grow to such stature against a backdrop of poverty and racism is simply remarkable. In 1964-after converting to Islam Â he renamed himself Muhammad Ali because his original Â name Cassius Clay “is a name of slave.”
“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong'” Ali said. His main trainer Angelo Dundee is white.
His was a man of true -grit moral conviction who drew a line between right and wrong. And he did what he preached. He said America’s war in Vietnam was morally wrong and he refused to be drafted to the military.
“I ain’t got no quarrel with no Vietcong,” he said in vintage Ali syntax.Â
He was stripped of his heavyweight title (1967) Â in his prime and resulted in his financial ruins . He was in jail. When the tide of the public opinion on Â the war started to veer towards peace- the Supreme Court reversed Ali’s conviction. He fought again. He was a defiant man with dignity.
At age 12, someone stole Ali’s bicycle. He was pissed and started to learn boxing.
But despite his poor academics ( he could hardly spell right)- he had charisma (shown later on and off the ring) and most of all -he had focus. A lesson we must all learn . Listen to him.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said.-“Don’t quit-suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” Ali said.Â And in 1960 he won the Olympic gold medal.
“It is not the mountains ahead that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe,” Ali said.
As a boxer ,Ali was fantastic with a 61-5 record, most wins by knockout. He had fists that thundered and toppled boulders like Sonny Liston and George Foreman. Â His “Thrilla in Manila” was a classic bout of life and death-. with his opponent Joe Frazier and Ali claiming the fight was the nearest “to dying” they could remember.
His hands were as fast as his mouth – and he danced like a featherweight or a ballerina-getting the accolade ” of floating like a butterfly but stinging like a bee” in colorful Ali simile.
Ali in the ring was watching Â “poetry in motion”.” I should be a postage stamp. That is the only way Â I will be licked,” Ali said.
Every one who mattered in boxing including another heavyweight killer named Mike Tyson and the 8th division champion Manny Pacquiao were lost for words to define the true greatness of boxing’s iconic marvel.
In and out of boxing Ali walked tall -and all boxers will walk under his shadow- or is it under his light?
An Olympic and professional boxing champion-Muhammad Ali was. A champion of Islam, world peace and generosity-Ali was.
If Manny Pacman wants topÂ global adulation Â as much – he should emulate Ali.
The ultimate greatness is always outside the ring.
That will define,truly, one’s persona without the glare of stadium lights , flashing cameras and a shouting mob.
Goodbye, Great One.
For comments: email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com