The world, particularly the world of sports came to a halt on Friday, 3rd of June, 2016 with the passing of boxing legend and three-time World Heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 32 years ago; and having retired from professional boxing at the age of 38, he continued various humanitarian and philanthropic causes hinged on bringing relief to the less privileged.
Born on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. he encountered the world of boxing at the tender age of 12 through an odd twist of fate. His bike was stolen, and Ali told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people,” Martin reportedly told him at the time. In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym. Ali was introduced to boxing at the gym as a channel to let out his anger and aggression. He then went pro at the age of 18, winning an Olympic gold medal in Rome in 1960, and the title of Light-heavyweight champion. Four years later at the age of 22, he won the highly acclaimed World heavyweight champion title by knocking out Sonny Liston.
In 1964, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Cassius X, then finally, Muhammad Ali. Under this platform, he spoke against the evils of the Vietnam War and when he was drafted into the military in 1967, he refused to go serve on the grounds that taking human lives was against his belief. He was arrested, found guilty of violating Selective Service laws and sentenced to prison for 5 years in June 1967.
Ali lost the prime of his boxing years and suffered 2 match losses after his release. He reinstated himself as the World’s Greatest and Heavyweight champion by knocking out George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight held in Kinshasa, Zaire (now known as The Republic of Congo). Over his professional career lasting 21 years, he fought 61 fights, won 56 including 37 knockouts, 3 World Heavyweight titles, 1 Light-heavyweight Olympic gold medal and had 31 straight wins before being beaten by Joe Frazier. He retired in 1981.
He announced that he had Parkinson’s disease in 1984 but this did not stop his devoutness to philanthropy. In 1996, an emotional moment occurred in sports history when the world saw him with shaky hands as he lit the Olympic cauldron at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He also carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Games in London.
He was chosen United Nations Messenger for Peace in 1998 because of his works in developing nations. In 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush; he also received an award from President Barack Obama for his public service efforts.
Ali’s health continued to deteriorate until he passed on the evening of June 3, 2016 at a Phoenix, Arizona hospital. He was survived by his fourth wife, Yolanda and 9 children from different relationships.
Even in death, he is still acclaimed as The Greatest and tributes have continued to pour in not only from fans worldwide but also from prominent world leaders and former rivals. He will be laid to rest in his hometown in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday 10th June, 2016.
May his soul rest in perfect peace.