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From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali: Goodbye to the Greatest


​From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali: Goodbye to the Greatest
​By: Eric Lunger

​As a New Year begins, I have been thinking a lot about Muhammad Ali, who passed away last June. I was born two years after Cassius Clay (as he was then) defeated Sonny Liston in Miami to become heavyweight champion of the world. I vaguely remember watching Ali’s last fights on TV, but I didn’t become a serious boxing fan until the 1980s and the emergence of “Iron” Mike Tyson.

​I recently read David Remnick’s KING OF THE WORLD, originally published in 1998. Remnick does an excellent job conjuring the reader into the world of the Jim Crow South with its crippling segregation.

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However, the strength of Remnick’s book, in my view, is the way it shows how the white boxing media (in those days, mainstream media) delineated the identities of Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Liston was cast as the villain, the dangerous criminal Black man with shadowy ties to the Mafia, while Patterson was the accommodating, polite, Christian “Negro,” who articulated the slow aspirations of the burgeoning integrationist civil rights movement.

​By defeating Liston, converting to Islam and changing his name, and then beating Patterson, Ali exploded both stereotypes. He refused to be a Liston-type villain or a Patterson-type “Uncle Tom,” as Ali later lambasted some of his opponents, notably Joe Frazier. Ali was saying to himself and to America, a Black man can be whoever he wants to be. Ever eloquent, Ali said it best at a press conference: “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.” I am free to be what I want – with that phrase, much more than his ability to dance in the ring and his unprecedented skills, Ali the boxer broke the boundaries of what was expected from an African-American athlete, or any athlete for that matter.

​If that were all, Ali would be remembered as a great champion and a great human being. But his opposition to the Vietnam War, so principled and so self-negating, catapulted Ali into a different realm. Again, Ali’s words:

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

Without gratuitous self-aggrandizement, without self-referential praise, Ali articulated the hypocrisy of the war, as he saw it, and the hypocrisy of a segregated Nation. Some fifty years later, it’s easy to underestimate the personal damage that Ali was inflicting on himself. As expected, he was sentenced to prison and fined, stripped of his titles, and barred from boxing. In all, Ali lost more than three years at the peak of his powers, and his reputation was shattered. Eventually vindicated by the Supreme Court, Ali resumed his boxing career in 1970, and the great bouts with Joe Frazier and George Foreman followed. But for many, Ali’s opposition to the draft and his refusal to compromise his principles made him “The Greatest.”

​Muhammad Ali died on June 3rd, 2016. He had grown up in segregated Louisville, Kentucky, but when he passed, an African-American was president of the United States. Being a symbol is perhaps too heavy a burden for any human being to carry, and Ali had his faults like all of us. But I still watch Ali’s fights with wonder at his preternatural skill in the ring, and his courage beyond it.

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Muhammad Ali In Hospital As Reports Of Grave Condition Abound


Muhammad Ali In Hospital As Reports Of Grave Condition Abound
By: Sean Crose

The Greatest is in the hospital. That much is certain. Indeed, Muhammad Ali, who for years has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, has been hospitalized for respiratory issues. Although rumors of the former heavyweight champion’s eminent demise are emerging online, nothing can be confirmed or denied as of this writing – other than the fact there is cause for concern among Ali’s loved ones and fans. While there’s little doubt that Ali’s health has declined progressively over the years, the news of the man’s hospitalization has been major news. And for good reason, for – honestly – Ali may not only be the most famous boxer in history, but the most famous athlete, as well.

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Still, rumor can quickly be taken as fact where the famous are concerned. Therefore, it’s advisable to simply stick to the facts as they are known at the moment:

•· Ali is reportedly being treated in a hospital around Phoenix for respiratory issues
•· According to the AP, Ali’s spokesman, Bob Gunnel, originally claimed that Ali’s condition was “fair,” and that the hospital stay would be brief.
•· However, unknown sources have told the AP Ali’s condition is of a grave nature
•· Communicating with the AP on Friday, Gunnel declared there were no further developments to pass along
•· Still, English tabloid The Mirror reported Friday that Ali is on life support and that his family is gathering
•· Several outlets also reported Friday that Ali’s respiratory issues are being aggravated by Parkinson’s.

Ali shot to fame in the early 1960s as Cassius Clay. He won the heavyweight title by beating the frightening Sonny Liston, who quit on his stool, and then won their rematch the follow year via a stunning – and controversial – first round knockout. By that time Clay had converted to Islam and had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Controversial to begin with, Ali solidified his reputation as either a rogue or a hero (depending on one’s opinion) by refusing – on ethical grounds – to enter the military. This decision cost Ali his title and possibly his prime. Upon his return to the ring, however, the man grew in fame and stature, battling such formidable opposition as George Foreman and arch foe Joe Frazier, and recapturing the heavyweight crown not once, but twice.

By the 80s, Ali had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and his slow decline was in progress. Yet he was also now universally recognized and respected as an iconic athlete, personality and civil rights activist. Although few If any would call the man perfect, his reputation had grown to the point where he was now endeared rather than loathed. His battle with Parkinson’s, which he went on to publicly wage for decades, further garnered Ali admiration, both at home and abroad.

Boxing Insider will continue to update this story.

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