Long Live the Chief Mr. Muhammad Ali

"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." Muhammad Ali

Before Cam Newton disturbed the masses with his smile, famous Dab dance, and giving footballs to give young fans after each touchdown there was Muhammad Ali. Before Allen Iverson incited discomfort among NBA coaches and team owners for merging hip-hop culture with the sport of basketball there was Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali just like Cam Newton and Allen Iverson was a popular black athlete that refused to conform to the standards of mainstream society. This post is dedicated to my hometown hero and favorite athlete of all time.

Muhammad Ali celebrating with local fans in his hometown of Louisville, KY in the Smoketown Projects

Back When ( Where It All Started):  Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. later known to the world as Muhammad Ali was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942. He grew up the city's West End. Young Cassius witnessed and experienced racism in Louisville. Socially and politically his childhood and adolescence was dominated by Jim Crow Laws. The murder of Emmett Till had a profound affect him he understood the brutality of racism. When he was twelve years old his father purchased a red-and-white Schwinn bike and it was stolen. Young Cassius stated the following " I'm gonna whoop who stole my bike!" Joe Martin, a local policeman suggested that Cassius should learn how to fight before he challenged anyone. He took the office of Joe Martin and developed an interest in the sport of boxing and trained in the gym with Martin for six months. After long hours and days of training Cassius won his first fight in a three-round-decision. Following his victory he became dedicated to the sport. According to Joe Martin young Cassius was sassy and outworked his peers.

As a teenager he attended Central High School Louisville's first and only all black high school. Cassius Clay continued to hone his skills as a boxer. Initially he fought in the light-heavyweight  class Golden Gloves tournament in 1956. Three years later he was named Golden Gloves Champion and earned the Amateur Athletic Union's national title in the light heavy-weight division. He set his sights higher and trained for the 1960 Olympics in Rome after graduating from Central High School. Cassius became known as "The Mayor of the Olympic Village." Most people do not know that he was actually afraid to travel on airplanes and almost missed him trip to the Olympics. Cassius Clay took the spotlight center stage at the 1960 Olympics by participating in the Light Heavyweight Boxing Division. He fought and defeated Zigzy Piertrykowski of Poland, earning the Gold Medal. Sports writers acknowledged and complimented both his confidence and incredible dance steps.

Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

Moving on Up: Cassius Clay began training for the heavyweight championship title fight against Sonny Liston in 1964. During this time he met and befriended controversial, articulate, and black separatists Malcolm X. He mentored then twenty two year old Cassius and brought him to the Nation of Islam. Many sportswriters and commentators argued that that Cassius would not be able to last in a fight with Sonny Liston let alone defeat him. He shook up the world and proved everyone wrong. Following his victory in the fight he announced that he joined the Nation of Islam ( NOI) and would his name to Cassius X, and eventually become Muhammad Ali. Malcolm X would leave the Nation of Islam due to internal conflicts and their friendship ended. Ali stated in many interviews that he was ashamed and unhappy that their friendship ended. Ali's conversion to Islam angered and frightened mainstream America and some portions of the black community. Howard Cosell was one of the only few journalists that respectfully called him Muhammad Ali.

When It All Falls Down: In 1967 Muhammad Ali was drafted to participate in the Vietnam War and refused the induction. He was opposed to the conflict based his personal beliefs as a black man. He did not condone what he deemed to be American hypocrisy and he did believe in compromising his religious beliefs. He was considered to be a traitor to the United States of America. For his non-patriotic rhetoric and actions he was stripped of his titles, boxing licenses, and passports. He lost a major court battle and was sentenced five years in prison. He never served prison time. In this moment Muhammad Ali stood by his convictions was not enticed by money and fame he wanted to remain authentic to himself and the community that supported him. Ali was the first public figure to reveal his opposition to the Vietnam Conflict. Ali spoke at many colleges around the country to earn a living and support his family.  He was hated by mainstream society but became a counterculture hero.

Muhammad Ali in Zaire 1974

Don't Call it a Comeback: In 1970 Muhammad Ali would return to boxing. Ali fought in Atlanta, GA against Jerry Quarry he won the fight. After the fight Quarry gave Ali a long hug and the crowed cheered with support. Following this fight he would battle against Oscar Bonavena, and then he ultimately challenged the new heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in "The Fight of the Century" in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Unfortunately he lost the fight but did not give up. However, he did win the battle he was fighting since 1967 which was battle against the federal government. Ali wanted to return all of his previous titles, boxing licenses, and passports initially he wanted to get his life back. The Supreme Court voted on his behalf and he was exonerated he was now allowed to fight anywhere in the world. In 1974 Muhammad Ali would face George Foreman a young boxer that dethroned Joe Fraizer as the heavyweight champion. Many sports commentators, fans, and even members of Ali's family believed he would die or be seriously injured if he fought George. Muhammad Ali accepted this challenge the same way he intended to prove the naysayers wrong ten years earlier with his first heavyweight championship title fight.  Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman. He would win the heavyweight title two more times before retiring in 1981 he would retire after another brutal loss.

Career Totals
Total fights: 61
Wins: 56
Wins by KO: 57
Losses: 5
Draws: 0

Life After Boxing: Muhammad Ali vowed to remain true to his passion as an activists for social justice.  He was diagnosed with Parkinson disease in 1984 his health would diminish overtime due to complications from the disease. Despite this many friends and family say that he was still a fighter and embraced all people. He raised money to find a cure for Parkinson's disease and remained active in politics and sports as well.  Most importantly Muhammad Ali remained involved in his spiritual and religious beliefs. On June 3, 2016 he succumbed to septic shock and passed away. According to his daughter Hanna Ali her father's vital organs shut down but his heart beat lasted for another thirty minutes. This brought tears to my eyes he fought until the very end.

Toni's Thoughts: I am truly sad to see my champ pass away. I never had the opportunity to meet this great man but he had an impact on my life. As a former athlete I channeled him as my muse and as a scholar I listened to his interviews and read his words as my source of inspiration on my long nights of studying and writing papers. Muhammad Ali showed me it was okay to confident and embrace my blackness. He was source of pride for the world, the black community and most importantly our hometown Louisville, Kentucky.  Muhammad Ali showed me that any kid from Louisville, KY could pursue their dreams and impact the world. My favorite Ali fights are the battle against Sonny Liston in 1964 and his bout with George Foreman in 1974. Those fights resonated with me because everyone believed and said he would lose but he proved them wrong and won.  I know what is like to be in that position and have people expect you fail and the greatest reward is proving them wrong. The image above displays the champ in his last days. But I want to remember him as the young, vibrant, tall, and handsome man with that outspoken bravado. Muhammad Ali was charming, intelligent, and had a great sense of humor. I am posting links to some of my favorite Muhammad Ali interviews and commercial clips.  My heart, prayers, and thoughts are with his family. In the words of Jidenna "Long Live the Chief."

Rest in Power
#G.O.A.T. ( Greatest of All-Time)

1. Muhammad Ali's  Interview Before the Fight Against Liston in 1964

2. Muhammad Ali's Greatest Speeches

3. Muhammad Ali Training in Zaire 1974

4. Muhammad Ali vs. Laila Ali "Impossible is Nothing" Adidas Campaign Commercial

5. "Tomorrow " Salief Keita a great song featured in the "Ali" biopic film the song plays while showing the highlights of his fights



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