R.I.P. Muhammad Ali – This Saturday, June 4th the boxing world awakens for the first time without the great Muhammad Ali. Ali had been hospitalized near his home in Phoenix, Arizona with difficulties breathing on Thursday, June 2nd and he passed away late on Friday evening June 3rd.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on January 17th, 1942 he went on to win the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics as a light heavyweight. He first won the heavyweight championship of the world on February 25th, 1964 when he upset feared champion Sonny Liston. After the win Clay formally changed his name to Muhammad Ali, setting off a chain of events that saw him go from being the heavyweight champion of the world to one of the iconic figures of the 20th century.
Ali defended the belt nine times before he was stripped of the title for his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. Ali never wavered from his stance on the war and his conviction and strength of character inspired millions around the world.
Ali returned to boxing after a hiatius of three and a half years and it was in the 1970’s that Ali fought his titanic battles with rivals George Foreman and Joe Frazier, among others. Ali re-captured the world heavyweight title on October 30th, 1974 when he defeated Foreman in a fight that took place in Kinsasha, Zaire (now the Congo) with the eyes of the entire world watching. Ali did the impossible, defeating the dominant Foreman with his now famous “rope-a-dope” strategy. Ten more title defenses followed, and when he lost the belt to Leon Spinks in February of 1978, he would return to take it back after seven short months. That win makes Ali the only three time lineal heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Through it all, Ali carried himself with a confidence that had never been seen before. He will be remembered as “The Greatest,” a nickname he gave himself, famously saying “I said I was the greatest even before I knew I was.” That the nickname, born of bombast when he was at the peak of his boxing powers, stuck, is a testament to the man and his enduring legacy.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Syndrome in 1984, three years after his final bout. He would live the rest of his life as a beloved public figure while battling the deterioration that comes with the disease.
Muhammad Ali is survived by his nine children and Lonnie, his fourth wife. Today, the entire world will reflect on the life that just passed. We here at The Sweet Science want to say “Thank You, Muhammad” on this sad day.
Read author Thomas Hauser’s poem paying homage to the legendary Ali.