Boxing legend Muhammad Ali dies – level 3
“I am the greatest!”
He said it first but it wasn’t long before many agreed — Muhammad Ali, world champion boxer, often political activist, and eternal icon.
“This will be no contest. This will be a total annihilation!”
He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay and grew up in the Deep South during a time of segregation between the races. It was difficult to keep Ali quiet. His fight for equality was one of his many memorable battles. But perhaps most of all, Ali became known for his fast fists, swift step and wicked wit.
“I’m going to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. George can’t hit what a guy can’t see.”
Just 22 years old, Ali took up his mantle as the new heavyweight champion of the world after a stunning upset over Sonny Liston. He changed his name and joined the Nation of Islam, later converting to the Sunni sect of the faith.
“In Islamic religion we have a saying ‘Allahu Akbar’. ‘Allahu Akbar’ means ‘God is the greatest’. So I’m not God, I’m just the greatest in the sport of boxing.”
Ali defended his title nine times before being banned for refusing – on religious grounds – to serve in Vietnam.
“Why should we and other so-called Negros go 10,000 miles away from home here in America to drop bombs and bullets on other innocent brown people who’ve never bothered us?”
After three years of legal challenges during his prime boxing years, he won a high court appeal and made his return to the ring.
“They might put my tail in jail and get me out on bail after what I do to Joe Frazier. I’m going to do something to Joe Frazier. This will be such a good whooping, such a dynamic beating, such a superior whooping!”
But it wasn’t to be. Joe Frazier won the so-called Fight of the Century on points in the 15th round – Ali’s first-ever professional defeat.
Then came the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Central Africa. Unveiling his new tactic, the ‘rope-a-dope.’ Ali wore down his opponent George Foreman and was once again world champion, at the age of 32.
“I injure a stone and I hospitalise a brick. I’m so bad I made medicine sick.”
But along with the victories came a heavy price. In the early 1980s, Ali developed noticeable tremors and slurs in his speech. Four years later came his Parkinson’s diagnosis – a disease linked with head trauma.
Over time, he began to devote himself to charitable causes, sometimes up to 200 days a year.
“All my life growing up as a little boy, I always said if I could get famous, I would do things to help my people that other people won’t do.”
For a man, who has often dominated the world of sport, politics and celebrity, it’s fair to say there was and will always be something magical about Muhammad Ali.
Difficult words: activist (a person that fights for changes in society), annihilation (when something is completely destroyed), wicked (clever), mantle (a role), upset (a surprise win), Negro (a black person), tail (a person’s body), whooping (a beating), trauma (injuries), dominate (to control).
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