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The greatest of all time
More than just a sportsman...Muhammad Ali
Posted Aug 25, 2010 by Jeff Dawson
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It's often the simplest of things that set about a chain of events but when 12-year-old Cassius Marcellus Clay's bike was stolen in Louisville, Kentucky in 1954, no-one could have predicted the impact that moment would have on sporting history.
Not just sporting history, but history of modern man. Clay, later to become known as the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, has affected and influenced so many people to go on and achieve their dreams. To fulfil their potential. To be all they can be. And that's why he'll always be The Greatest.
He stood for more than just being a professional sportsman, for being more than the best at his chosen sport. He embodied so much more than just boxing. He brought people together. He spread love. He spread peace and stood up for what he believed. This was highlighted by his refusal to join up for National Service during the Vietnam War. He did so on religious beliefs and it led to his famous quote: "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong..."
He didn't fight for three-and-a-half years following this, he was stripped of his championship title, his passport was taken, all his boxing licences were cancelled, and he lost an initial court battle and was facing a five-year-prison term.
However, in 1970, with the mood of the country beginning to turn, he was able to make a comeback with a bout against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, then Oscar Bonayena at Madison Square Garden and then a fight billed as 'The Fight of the Century' at the Gardens against undefeated champ Joe Frazier on March 8th 1971. This was their first match up.
Fighting valiantly, Ali suffered defeat as his legs had gone. Those three-and-a-half years out had cost him dearly. He could no longer dance, the Ali shuffle had gone.
However, just a few months later he won his biggest fight of all when the Supreme Court reversed his conviction meaning he was free from the threat of jail and free to travel to box anywhere in the world.
Several fights followed including the unexpected loss to ex-Marine, Ken Norton, followed by a win in their next bout, and an uninspired win against Frazier. These matches were nothing but stepping stones to the biggest fight of his career when he stood toe-to-toe with the younger, stronger, ferocious, fearsome champion George Foreman. A fight that was hailed as 'The Rumble in the Jungle'. Foreman had power and destruction in both hands and he had easily KO'd Norton and sent Frazier flying of the canvas with one almighty blow.
'The Rumble in the Jungle' was staged in Zaire after promoter Don King persuaded the government of the African nation to guarantee the unheard of sum of 10 million dollars for the fighters. And this is where Ali was at his best. The people of Zaire adored him and he gathered his strength from the African people. They chanted 'Ali Bomaye' (Ali kill him) and going into the fight The Greatest was a 3-1 underdog. Even his doctor Ferdie Pacheco had a jet on standby should the worst happen.
But Ali had other ideas. Because of the blazing heat he knew he couldn't out manouveur and dance his way past Foreman so instead, he invented the 'Rope-a-Dope' tactic - a strategy that enabled Foreman to beat on him until the bookies' favourite tired. Ali, having not even told his corner what he planned, spent seven rounds on the ropes getting pounded by all Foreman had and then in the eighth, with the champion tired, Ali came off the ropes and knocked Foreman out. He was number one again. He was the rightful champion.
The legendary 'Thrilla in Manila' with Frazier followed and this has been deemed the greatest boxing match in the history of the sport. Ali, of course, won.
He then fought and lost to Olympic champ Leon Spinks before a rematch saw Ali regain the title for a third time and in doing so become the first man ever to win the heavyweight crown three times. He ended his career with 56 wins, 37 by the way of knockout, and five defeats.
I could spend hours talking about the man. The legend. But we all know he is the greatest. We all know there will never be another like him. We all know that those lucky enough to see him fight in his prime or to ever meet him are blessed and others, like myself, who are too young to have had the privilege of seeing him fight and who will probably never meet the great man, will have to make do with archive video footage and websites dedicated to the best. Muhammad Ali.