"I'mma show you how great I am!"
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Muhammad Ali, originally known as Cassius Clay, at the age of 22 shocked the world in 1964, by defeating Sonny Liston, becoming the undisputed heavyweight boxing championship of the world. The reigning champion Sonny Liston was 35-1 with 24 knockouts. Liston had knocked out former champion Floyd Patterson in two fights, both in the first round. Ali had two lackluster performances leading up to the title fight. Ali was a 7-1 underdog. No doubt, no fear, no pity, only armed with self-belief, Ali declared:
After the fight, a triumphant Ali pointed to the ringside press and shouted:
In 1967, Ali refused conscription into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title. Ali lost everything. Branded a traitor by his country. His fans turned against him.
In 1971, Ali's conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.
In 1974, an older and slower Muhammad Ali challenged George Foreman for the undisputed heavyweight title. Foreman was 7 years Ali's junior, with a perfect 40-0 record, with 37 knockouts. This included knockouts over men who had previously bested Ali, Ken Norton, and Joe Frazier. It took Foreman 2 rounds to take both men.
Again, no one gave Ali a chance. No one other than Ali. When faced with adversity, there are those who think: Why I can't. For men like Ali, they ask themselves: Why can't I?
In typical Ali fashion, Ali told the world:
Without his speed, Ali outsmarted George Foreman. Knowing he couldn't escape the younger fighter, Ali yielded to Foreman's punishment against the ropes with the now famous, "rope-a-dope." American tai chi master Cheng Man-ch'ing said, "Invest in loss." What he meant was, sometimes you will be losing. Do not fear this loss, it is only temporary. For a while, suffer. You must persevere, and when the moment is right, prevail!
In the eighth round, in the center of the ring, Muhammad Ali knocked, an exhausted George Foreman, out. Against the odds, Ali had regained his title.
George Foreman said of his fight with Ali:
To test himself further, in 1976, Ali fought in the first-ever internationally televised mixed styles fight (the precursor to mixed martial arts) with Japan's Antonio Inoki. In many ways, Ali was not only the best, he was also the first — always ahead of his time.
In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome. Against all medical expectations, Ali still went strong. He outlived many of his opponents. Overcoming the odds had become a tradition for the man with self-belief.
In King of the World, Remnick writes:
With the passage of time, Ali's actions, along with his larger-than-life character, has made him an American hero, an inspiration to all, and the greatest of all time.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born January 17, 1942 and died on June 3, 2016. Yet when Cassius Clay gave up his name, he set himself free. Muhammad Ali will live on forever.
Useful Companions to This Article:
- King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero - David Remnick