Muhammad Ali – Before He Was Dead

Before They Were Dead

Before Muhammad Ali would ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’, and shock the world by beating the reigning heavy weight champ Sonny Liston against 7-1 odds.

Before the people’s champion became an icon for the counterculture, standing with Malcolm X, refusing to fight in Vietnam and inspiring black voices to speak out against oppression

Before Muhammad Ali trash-talked his opponents and fought in some of the biggest boxing matches the world had ever seen, bringing his net worth to 80 million dollars.

Before a feature film would be made of the fighter starring Will Smith titled Ali.

Before he married four times and fathered nine children, one of whom went on to become an undefeated pro women’s boxer.

Ali was born Cassius Clay, and grew up in the heavily segregated south. He was a second-class citizen in his own city, even after bringing home Olympic gold for boxing. His mistreatment would make the man passionate about civil rights, and an outspoken member of the nation of islam. In the ring he was a beast, but throughout his life the heavyweight champ fought just as hard for charity, peace, and the rights of others. Sadly the legend passed away on June 3rd 2016 at the age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. His great granddad came to America from Ireland living in Ennis County Claire. In the 1860’s he moved and settled in Kentucky there he married a freed African slave. His father Cassius earned a living painting signs while his mother Odessa was a maid. They weren’t poor, but racial segregation was still in full swing and it’s effects would shape young Cassius forever.

He got into boxing when one day his bike was stolen and he went to report it to a police officer. He told the cop if he found the guy who took it he was gunna whoop him. The officer suggested he actually learn how to fight first, and started training young Cassius. Within weeks he was winning boxing matches.

At 6 foot 3 Cassius had no trouble matching the size and power of his opponents, but it was his speed that set him apart. His unique style won him 8 Golden glove titles, and an impressive 100 wins with only 5 loses. After graduating from Central High School in 1958 he was lined up to compete in the summer Olympics in Rome.

He took home the gold and started his professional career in 1960 at the age of 18. He quickly gained notoriety for being outspoken and bragging before fights also for correctly predicting in which round he would defeat his opponent. But it was his poetic, hilarious trash-talking that gained him his most notoriety early on.

June 18, 1963 was the day Cassius was set to fight Sonny Liston, the only man standing in between him and the title of heavy weight champion of the world.

The undefeated champ earned the nickname ‘The Greatest’ along with the new title, and continued to shake things up when the morning after confirmed rumours that he had converted to the Nation of Islam. After his win, with his mentor Malcolm X by his side, he denounced his ‘slave name’ and went as Cassius X for a short time, before being given the name Muhammad Ali by their spiritual leader.

Then in the late 60’s America began it’s draft for the Vietnam war, and Ali refused to fight for religious reasons. But draft evasion is a serious offense. He had his boxing license suspended, his title taken away, and was arrested. However, his courage inspired others to speak out and challenge establishments, like Martin Luther King Jr. He may have been stripped of the title, but the bold move made him the People’s Champ.

It would be almost 4 years until he was allowed to box again and in this time he showcased his other talents. He released an album called “I Am the Greatest” as well as a cover of Stand By Me, and was in a musical called ‘Buck White’. He also enjoyed performing magic tricks for a crowd, levitating, and making scarfs and coins disappear.

Another passion he picked up with the writing and reciting of poetry. On a trip to his native Ireland he broke into a story about a prison riot live on television.

By this time Ali had divorced his first wife and moved on to the next one. He would hop from marriage to marriage a total of 4 times, and father 9 children. Then in 1970 the New York Supreme Court reinstated his boxing license. In the next 5 years he’d fight in some of the biggest matches the world had ever seen. 1971’s ‘fight of the century’ against Joe Frazier had the two undefeated fighters go head to head. Although Ali lost, his signature name-calling made a lasting rival out of Frazier.

Then there was the ‘rumble in the jungle’ against George Foreman, and ‘the thrilla in manilla’ where he defeated his old rival Frazier in one of the most brutal fights of his life. In 1975 one of his fights inspired a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone to write a screenplay about an underdog boxer. Yeah you know who I’m talking about.

In 1980 Ali noticed trembling in his hands but was declared fit for fighting. He fought 2 more times, but was clearly not in fighting shape. He lost both matches and retired from boxing.

But the man was still a champion outside of the ring, and later that year he made national news when he talked a suicidal man out of jumping off a roof after the police had failed to do so. In 1984 Ali was diagnosed with parkinsons’ disease, something many believe to have been cause by repeated blows to the head. Despite his deteriorating movement and trouble speaking, he continued to make appearances at charities and humanitarian events.

He was offered a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at the age of 59 which he refused stating.

“I bear the name of our Beloved Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), and it is impossible that I allow people to trample over his name”

so instead they made an exception and had his star placed on the wall.

In his later years he would be remembered for his generosity, compassion, and being a man of action. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work and inducted into the boxing hall of fame. Then in 2013 at the age of 71 Ali ran into a number of health issues that resulted in frequent hospitalization. Finally in June 2016 he went in with respiratory problems, and passed away from septic shock just days later.

His legacy lives on from both his work inside and outside the ring. As for the rest of the story, well we will have to wait and see but undoubtably his story will carry on through the countless stories of people he touched and inspired.



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