Special Tribute to Muhammed Ali
by Amandla’s Editor in Chief Kwabena Opong
He was just a prize-fighter, come to think about it. But his prize was not those millions he made in the boxing ring. It is the rewards he garnered from his life in and out of the ring. It is the inspiration he exuded. It is what he said he was: the Greatest.
His championship was not over Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Leon Spinks, et al. Muhammad Ali born Cassius Marcellus Ali was the world’s champion. Champion for the down trodden. The Champ as he was often called was the world’s only true champion. A man born in humble circumstances, Muhammad Ali got his inspiration from the theft of his bike. When he went to the police precinct to make a report of his missing bike, he told the officer, “I’ll whup the guy who stole my bike if I catch him,” and the policeman told him, “son you got to learn how to fight first.” From that time the world had its champion. Ali was not the first black man to win a world championship in boxing. They range from Tom Molineaux, a slave who won freedom and fame in the ring in the early 1800s; to Joe Gans, the first African American world champion; to the flamboyant Jack Johnson, deemed such a threat to white society that film of his defeat of former champion and “Great White Hope” Jim Jeffries was banned across much of the country. Nigeria’s Dick Tiger won the WBA world welterweight and the light heavyweight championships a few times in his career too. And there was Joe Louis. Time and history might have been on his side, maybe. There was the Vietnam war which he refused to fight. “Shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me.” America promised him five years in jail for objecting to fight, and when he flexed his muscles the nation flinched. The Civil Rights struggles were in heat, while internationally, the Cold War had divided the world into ideological blocks. In Africa, the wind of change was blowing as colonies morphed into sovereign states. Ali shaped his country and the world in much the same way as the world in his time occasioned his role.
Boxing took him to the palaces of the world’s kings and leaders. The charisma of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah gave him a “jolt” with the words, “I thought I was the greatest but he is,” when he met Nkrumah in 1963. He was given the welcome of a world statesman even in Ghana when he visited. The young nation of Ghana was making strides in a world mired in the cold war and Kwame Nkrumah was giving the first world a headache. He was impressed with Leonid Brezhnev’s constant quest for peace, something that America construed as Russia’s quest for war.
Muhammad Ali was a wit. Poetry came to him like rap came to Tupac Shakur. CNN writes he could be fearsome: “I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail, I’m bad man….Last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick,” he said to laughs ahead of his famous “Rumble in the Jungle” with George Foreman in 1974. The following year, Ali used another play on words to promote the predicted pummeling of Joe Frazier at the “Thrilla in Manila.”
“It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila.” He could be arrogant too: Ali took the art of talking himself up to new levels, reminding rivals that there was only one king of the ring.
‘If you even dream of beating me, you better wake up and apologize.’
“It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
“Not only do I knock’em out , I pick the round.”
“I’m a poet, I’m a prophet, I’m the resurrector, I’m the savior of the boxing world. If it
wasn’t for me, the game would be dead.”
“It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”
And he could be inspiring…
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
“Live every day like it’s your last because someday you’re going to be right.”
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
Ironically, he also said, “I don’t like fighters who talk too much.” – CNN
He would predict when British boxer Henry Cooper would be knocked out.
“Henry, this is no jive. The fight will end in five,” and it did. The man Muhammad Ali brought finesse to a sport many derided as violent and dangerous. He made boxing a choice sport.
“I will not miss boxing. Boxing will miss me,” he said and indeed with his retirement the color in the sport faded. Boxing to Ali was a science and an art. There is not enough ink to eulogize the Champ. He was a cut above all. His life out of the ring was exceptional. He made champions out of the down and out. He had a thing with children nobody ever had. He is reported to have lifted a paraplegic hild into his arms and danced with him telling him he could be anything he wanted to be even in his state. He gave hope to the hopeless. He was not a politician but he influenced many of them, black and white. On race, he condemned prejudice by all, black on white, white on black. He inspired the young and old, those in trouble, the sick and infirm…and he gave with abandon. His nickname was the Greatest. And who could deny him that. Howard Cosell, his journalist friend on Muhammad’s 50th birthday, tearfully told him he was great. And it was a great compliment coming from Cosell. Ali himself called himself the Greatest and so he was. His seventy-four years on earth was spent fighting in the ring, fighting a just cause, fighting for the weak and infirm, inspiring and giving. What more could a man live for? There is no fitting tribute to Ali than the description of his final moments by his daughter. Hana Ali, one of Ali’s nine children, shared an anecdote from the scene at her father’s bedside as he died. “We all tried to stay strong and whispered in his ear, ‘You can go now. We will be okay. We love you. Thank you. You can go back to God now.’ All of us were around him hugging and kissing him and holding his hands, chanting the Islamic prayer. All of his organs failed but his HEART wouldn’t stop beating. For 30 minutes…his heart just keeps beating. No one had ever seen anything like it. A true testament to the strength of his Spirit and Will!” – msn.com
Ali is survived by his wife Lonnie and his children.