Boxing Legend + Cultural Icon Muhammad Ali Is Dead At 74
It is really super hard to write these words, but the Greatest has left his mortal coil. Three-time world champion Muhammad Ali died late Friday night, after being hospitalized in Phoenix, Az. on June 2 with respiratory complications, according to NBC News. He was 74.
For those well-versed in Ali lore, the champ is generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the history of the sport. A controversial and compelling figure during his early career, Ali showcased poise, skills, deftness, dopeness and an entertaining flair, as he even called out the round he would win in rhyme. Outside of the ring he exemplified values matched and appreciated by people of color the world over: religious freedom, racial justice and the triumph of principle over expedience.
An amazing video on Muhammad Ali giving dawah.
May Allah ease his suffering.https://t.co/wqdvKCzUuN
— . (@Alhamdhulillaah) June 3, 2016
His friendships with the black elite such as Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Howard Cosell, Bundini Brown and Jim Brown endeared him to his fans as the new type of athlete: conscious and connected. Wherever Ali went in the world someone, somehow, somewhere would know him. According to Sports Illustrated, he was one of the most recognized sports figures of the past 100 years and deemed “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC.
Ali’s career began at 12-years-old after experiencing his bicycle being stolen. Trained by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin and Chuck Bodak, Ali’s amateur career earned him six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union National Title and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. Clay’s amateur record was 100 wins with five losses. In his 1975 autobiography, Ali claimed that he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a “whites only” restaurant and fought with a white gang.
A verbal jouster as much as he was a pugilist, Ali would vocally belittle his opponents and those who doubted his abilities. Clay would eventually convert to Islam and would be a source of contention amongst those who were afraid of black radicalism and pride. He would go on to become a member of Sunni Islam in 1975, and 30 years later he would adopt Sufism. Before all that, but after his conversion to Islam, he refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title.
He lost four years of his prime fighting performance, yet in 1971 his conviction was overturned. His actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation. After that, Ali found himself in the ring against his arch-nemesis Joe Frazier in 1971 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Nicknamed the “Fight of the Century,” Ali vs. Frazier was broadcast to 35 foreign countries and resulted in Ali suffering his first lost after 15 rounds. Three years later, he was in the ring again against Frazier in a rematch where Ali won an unanimous decision.
“The Fight”; “The Rumble In The Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manila,” cemented Ali’s legend and lore as the greatest heavyweight boxer in the universe. He will forever remain the only three-time lineal world heavyweight champion after winning the title in 1967, 1974 and 1978. Inspired by “Gorgeous” George Wagner, Ali thrived in the spotlight, where he would control the press conferences and confuse his opponent with his rhyming rhetoric. How most boxing events and UFC pressers are now was thanks to Ali’s confidence and imagination.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984 limited Muhammad Ali’s speech, but it didn’t stop him from making statements. He served as our black king and transformed the role and image of a black man that was maligned by white America. Ali defined the terms of his public reputation, as said by the writer Joyce Carol Oates, and his lost is a sad day in human history.
Our condolences go out to his family, friends and fans who are saddened by the proclamation of Muhammad Ali dead at 74.
We love you, thank you for everything and will see you again, Champ!