On Friday night the world learned of the tragic passing of Muhammad Ali. His fight against Parkinson’s disease came to an abrupt end in Phoenix. The world of sports was orphaned of one of its greatest icons. Few have ever rivaled Mohammed Ali’s stature in sports and few can claim the spot he had as a cultural icon really for the entire world. A truth too painful to admit would be that we might never see a person of his kind ever again. However, we remember him now as a legend athletically, socially and historically.
Muhammad Ali was a World Heavyweight Champion and what a true champion he was. He fought with every inch of desire. The “Thrilla in Manilla” against Joe Frazier was one of, if not the, greatest fights of all time. Ali later said it was as close as he ever “got to dying in the ring”. Throughout his career, he epitomized a ‘never-give-up’ attitude that every athlete can and should look up to.
He was also box office gold and a one-of-a-kind entertainer who drew the adoration of sports fans from around the globe. Ali’s magical era of boxing included Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Leon Spinks, Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. Whether he was executing his brilliant and stunning rope-a-dope strategy or demonstrating how he could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” Ali epitomized calm under pressure and limitless self confidence backed by immeasurable courage. In every respect as a fighter and as a larger-than-life persona, he was simply awesome.
On a cultural side of things, Muhammad Ali fought bravely and outspokenly against racial discrimination. In the face of nationwide civil unrest over the Vietnam War and rampant bigotry left over from the Jim Crow era, Ali was uniquely proud of his heritage and his people. The 1960s are of course remembered for the civil rights movement, and the rise of historic figures like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Elijah Muhammed. It was under their influence that Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay, declaring “Now that I am free, that I don't belong anymore to anyone, that I'm not a slave anymore, I gave back their white name, and I chose a beautiful African one.”
Even the greatest athletes of our time would dream to have the legacy of Muhammad Ali. For sure, many years have passed since Ali’s magnificent accomplishments in and out of the ring captivated our attention, but the legend that was Muhammad Ali will forever live in our minds.
What athletes can do by remembering Ali is to never give up in their sporting journey.Ali famously once said “I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”. This mentality is the epitome of a great athlete, determined to achieve their maximum potential.
Muhammad Ali will forever be known as among many things, the People’s Champion. He fought not just for himself but for millions of supporters around the world who were inspired by him. Ali and the definition of athletic greatness will always be intertwined. He wasn’t just a part of history, he literally made it. Rest in Peace, Champ!
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