DAR Sports: RIP Muhammad Ali

By @TrueGodImmortal

I'm certain that Speed, Porsha, Peagle, Nate, Apollo, Joe, and many others would have loved to participate in this article. I'm 100% certain. Sorry team, but for me, this is beyond personal. Just some weeks ago, the world felt devastating loss when we learned of Prince passing away. As an artist, that hurt me, especially him being one of my biggest influences musically and as a long time fan, I still can't get over the fact that Prince is gone. There are some legends that transcend culture, transcend the profession we come to know them for, and inspire a generation beyond belief. If there was one legend that fit that description, it would have to be Muhammad Ali. The former Cassius Clay, who would captivate the world through his amazing and one of a kind ability in the boxing ring initially, became known for his charisma, his verbal prowess, and so much more.

When I heard the news of him passing away last night, I was sitting in the studio. I had followed his health and condition throughout the day and when I saw that he was on life support, I really didn't believe it. This is one of the strongest men I've had the pleasure of watching and observing through my entire life. He was, to me, invincible. Immortal. I knew of his health issues, but when I heard he was on life support, it felt as if Ali was just setting up for his greatest comeback yet. He might have been on the ropes, but he was sure to come back and whoop this illness for even forcing him to have to depend on some machine to keep his breathing going. It was the perfect story and I had hope that he would pull through. It's our naivety when we think about our heroes, perhaps? Maybe, but Ali wasn't like the average hero. He could do anything. This man could tussle with a whale, so a sickness would never hold him down. Unfortunately, just because he was feeling a bit tired, Ali decided to let the opponent to win, but in essence, it's still a victory for Ali. He never loses. No matter what his boxing record said, he never loses. He never will.

My first time seeing Ali came as a very young child, when I would have the pleasure of seeing him in one of his classic pre-fight interviews. As a kid, you absorb so much so fast, that I began quoting and talking like Ali, much to the chagrin (though secretly she found it funny) of my mother. The man who was on the screen seemed larger than life. He seemed to be so charismatic, so sure of himself, that it instantly made me a fan. We didn't have the access to the internet in the same way during the early 90's that we do now, so I couldn't just go and watch YouTube clips of this legendary figure, I had to catch only glimpses of his wisdom, poise, and amazing talent. Eventually, old VHS tapes of the classic fights would make their way into the home of some of my closer family members, and I would sit up and watch them multiple times. I was raised in the era of Tyson and Holyfield, but yearned for the shot to actually get to watch Ali, Frazier, Foreman, and etc to live it. I didn't know all the details about this man that I now know. All I knew was that he was something special and that much like my favorite basketball player at the time, Michael Jordan, he meant something to the world of sports.

In retrospect, Ali was beyond special to the sports world. In fact, he was probably the most special athlete in the history of sports. At a time, when most of his peers weren't nearly as outspoken and aggressive as he was, Ali was brash, opinionated, and stood for something. That is a rarity, not only in today's athlete, but period. There weren't many athletes that truly would stand up to the government, the police, for oppression, or even go against one of the favorite activities of the United States, war. While young True may not have seen the significance of Ali standing up for what he believed in, I truly see it now and understand it. I respected him then, but knowing what that meant to this world, to our people, and how it impacted us, my respect became infinite. Right at that moment. However, we will get into that a little later.

For now, what I wanted to start with, is what we know Ali for essentially: boxing. The man born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr on January 17, 1942, was a Louisville, Kentucky native who found his way into boxing at an early age, for a myriad of reasons. The biggest story that is told is that Clay wanted to whoop the thief who took his bicycle. A police officer told Clay that in order to whoop him, he would have to learn how to box first. That way of thinking is a far cry from so much of what occurs today in general, but it is admirable in many ways. Frustrated with having his property stolen, Clay set out to train as a boxer, and the journey of the greatest to ever do it began. As an amateur boxer, Clay won 6 Golden Glove titles in Kentucky, two national Golden Glove titles, an Amateur Athletic National Union title, as well as the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. At that time and age, to accomplish what he had, was almost unheard of. Clay was unstoppable in the ring, learning how to dominant bouts every time, and with an amateur record of 100-5, he seemed ready to go out there and make a name for himself as a professional.

His professional career was where we watched the man go from being great to legendary. His professional debut was a win (in a 6 round decision) over Tunney Hunsaker. After this first victory, Clay began a winning streak of 19 wins, with 15 knockouts. While he won convincingly in most of these fights, he would show small signs of weakness, being knocked down in fights against Sonny Banks and Henry Cooper. His fight with Henry Cooper would be his closest, as he was knocked out by a clean left hook as the fourth round was ending, and seemed to be saved by the bell. This was a lucky break for Clay, and through victories in that 19 win stretch over guys like Doug Jones and Archie Moore, he would have some controversy arise, mostly over the Doug Jones fight. On March 13, 1963, Clay would go out there and put on a great fight with Jones, though Clay clearly won, some felt (mostly the hometown crowd for Jones) as if Jones staggering him in the first round should have been enough to sway the judges, but Clay held a firm handle of the contest that was later named "Fight Of The Year". With his victory, Clay moved up in the rankings, backed by his trainer Angelo Dundee. Clay was inching closer to being the no. 1 contender for that Heavyweight Championship, but he would have to go through Sonny Liston to get it.

This is where the story of Clay becomes great. In his previous fights, Clay had become much more loud and abrasive, calling his opponents out and insulting them in pre-match interviews, as well as in the ring during the fight. While some felt this was childish and disrespectful, it embodied in many ways, what boxing was all about. The trash talking from Clay was mostly strategic, a way to get inside the head of his opponent before the fight and gain an advantage. Boxing requires more than just punching, it takes skill, psychology, preparation, conditioning, stamina, and core strength. Clay was impeccable in all these areas, and as he got ready to go against Sonny Liston and get a shot at the Heavyweight title, he would have to bring his A game, as he was the severe underdog. After Clay had what was seen as weaker performances against Jones and Cooper, people thought Liston, who had just destroyed former champion Floyd Patterson in two first round knockouts, would have an easy day on the job with Clay. They were not aware of what Clay brought to the table, or perhaps they were, but just felt it would not be enough to take Liston out. Whatever the case may be, as the fight neared, people labeled Clay as scared of Liston, despite Clay talking his best trash talk, saying that Liston smelled like a bear, and when he beat him, he was going to donate him to the zoo. It made for interesting headlines, and built the fight up to matter even more than before.

When the fight arrived, however, people were in for a rude awakening. Those who predicted an easy Liston win were shocked as the bout began. Liston, seemingly letting the personal attacks from Clay get into his head, rushed after Clay, attempting to knock him out early. Clay had the advantage of speed on Liston, and he used it to his advantage, eluding all the big punches from Liston, and had Liston looking off his game. Psychologically, Clay was already winning the fight easily. As the first round ended, Clay began unloading jabs and trying to soften Liston up some. Liston would respond with a solid second round, however, the third round is where Clay began to go to work, hitting Liston with a flurry of punches, including a deadly combination that buckled Liston's knees and opened a cut below his left eye. This would lead to a controversial moment, as after round four, there is the rumor, which might be true, that Liston's corner used ointment that would seal his cuts, on his gloves deliberately to make it tougher on Clay. Clay seemed to be blinded some, and asked for his gloves to be cut, but his trainer refused. Clay fought through the fifth round, eventually getting over his temporary blinded state, and in the sixth round, he went in the kill, as Liston would not answer the bell for the 7th round and Clay won by TKO.

For fans of Ali, this moment is forever immortalized by the sound of him triumphantly stating "Eat Your Words! I Am The Greatest! I Shook Up The World! I'm The Prettiest Thing That Ever Lived'! The world was watching now more than ever and Cassius Clay had become the biggest thing in boxing instantly. It was after the Liston fight that he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He would join the Nation of Islam, a move that many saw as controversial. In reality, the man was practicing his faith and wanted to be called the name that he had been given. Ali had begun a friendship with the brilliant Malcolm X, who was his spiritual and political mentor, and by the time he had fought Liston, Ali had his brothers by his side from the Nation, though he wasn't officially a member. After Ali won the fight however, he would then be allowed membership (I wonder why), and officially join. The views of the Nation are interesting and their methods are as well, but their ideology appealed to Ali. As flawed as the Nation is in reality, in theory they present a lot of solid points, thought processes, and critical thinking. One flaw that the Nation exhibited was its ability to divide and conquer amongst themselves and their own people, as they led to Ali turning his back on his brother Malcolm, shortly after Malcolm walked away from the Nation. This would be one of his biggest regrets, and a sad end to a great and inspiring friendship over a disagreement.

As the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Ali had a lot of responsibility now. Interviews with Howard Cosell were always entertaining, press appearances, and more would see Ali become more and more visible to the public eye. But nothing could have him more visible than the moment he stood up to the United States government. When the Vietnam War was taking place, there were a lot of questions that never really got answered. The American people just blindly supported the troops and the government, figuring that they knew best and that we faced a threat. As the draft took place to call upon people to serve in the war, Ali would make it be known that he refused to serve, considering himself a conscientious objector. His quote would be a landmark moment in not only sports history, but world history:

"War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don't take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers".

Profound words rooted in his religious beliefs. However, he would expand on this thought, with even more jaded wisdom towards the United States, with one of his more infamous quotes of all time:

"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong- no Viet Cong ever called me nigger"

This statement in many ways, would be the biggest statement to make for many. Why should we go to war against these people? What did they do to us? Better yet, what have they done that's so bad that our own government and country hadn't done to us before? Ali stood up for what he believed in. Stood up for his rights as a man to decline the draft and not risk his life to go to war for something he doesn't understand or really know. Of course, the public wasn't happy about it, and he was subsequently arrested, fined, and stripped of his title. He had his boxing license suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission, and other boxing commissions began to do the same.

Imagine that. Having your life ripped away from you just because you stood up against fighting an unnecessary war. Imagine being the greatest fighter in the world, only to have your title stripped and your career ruined because you don't believe in a war. His talent had nothing to do with anything. His profession had nothing to do with anything. At that moment, he wasn't Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer in the world. He wasn't one of the best athletes anymore, he was just Ali, the man. He took a stance that many were privately sharing in their homes, influencing more people to speak out, including Martin Luther King. Ali was an inspiration. He was an influence. He was an athlete that would drive home the cold hard truth that he was unapologetically black, and he wasn't going to change for anyone. It was truly something special. He would not be able to fight for some years as a result of his decision, but when the decision was overturned and he was able to fight again, to many, it was bittersweet.

After a hiatus from March 1967 to October 1970, Ali returned to the ring for a bout against Jerry Quarry on October 26, 1970, after the Atlanta Athletic Commission granted him a license to fight. During his three years off, Ali would become more outspoken against the Vietnam War, earning speaking engagements at various colleges through the nation as the Civil Rights Era was in full swing and gaining more sympathy. In his first fight back, Ali won in 3 rounds over Quarry, and would gain a victory over Oscar Bonavena to earn himself a title shot against the champion Joe Frazier. This is where the Ali story hits the peak. Sure, the Ernie Terrell bout, the Liston bouts, the Cleveland Williams bouts, and Floyd Patterson matches had garnered Ali much attention and success, but after his exile from boxing, the dramatic return, his stance on Vietnam, and everything surrounding it, his rivalry with Joe Frazier is what truly leads the defining of his boxing legacy.

March 8, 1971. Madison Square Garden. Thousands of screaming fans. Ali and Frazier are preparing for the "Fight Of The Century", and the boxing world is thrilled. The excitement of that bout was beyond anything that boxing has likely ever seen, and with it being broadcast to 35 foreign countries during the early 70s, that is a testament to how vital and important that fight was. Both Ali and Frazier were undefeated in their professional careers, with both men having a legitimate claim to be the Heavyweight Champion, as Ali never lost the title. However, what made this fight even more epic, was the trash talk from Ali. Ali would attack Joe as being stupid, too dumb to be champ, too ugly to he champ, and even referred to Frazier as an Uncle Tom. This would anger Frazier and his camp, as Ali got into the head of them both amazingly before the fight. As the fight drew near, the buzz was whether or not, it could live up to the hype, and who would walk away from this fight no longer undefeated.

The fight is truly one of the greatest ever, showing both men at their best, but perhaps for the first time, Ali's arrogance caught up to him some. This is the fight where we would see the rope-a-dope strategy applied, or should I say attempted, because it didn't seem to work as well as expected. Ali looked great in his first truly challenging bout in 4 years, and Frazier looked determined to kill Ali at any chance he got. In the end, Ali would lose by unanimous decision, as Frazier began dominating in the later rounds, and tensions continued even after the bout. On an interview shortly after the first fight, Frazier and Ali got into a small scuffle on ABC's infamous Wide World of Sports, and you could instantly see the stage being set for a rematch. Before that rematch could happen, NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain made a challenge to Ali, and they scheduled a fight shortly after. Ali utilized his gift of gab to have Wilt call off the fight before it went down, and Ali would move on to other fights on his path back to avenging his Joe Frazier loss.

Ali would fight Jimmy Ellis soon after the Frazier fight and win that by TKO to win the vacant NABF Heavyweight Title. He would then go on to best Buster Mathis, Jurgen Blin, Mac Foster, George Chulavo, and Alvin Lewis in mostly forgotten bouts, before winning rematches against Jerry Quarry and Floyd Patterson. After a big victory over Bob Foster and Joe Bugner, Ali would hit a roadblock on his path to redemption. Winning 10 straight fights in less than 2 years is no easy feat, but Ali did it. However, at age 31, he ended up having his jaw broken by Ken Norton in a stinging loss, as he would drop his NABF Title. In a controversial rematch, Ali would beat Norton and move on to earning a rematch with Joe Frazier, who had lost his title to George Foreman. Before his big rematch with Frazier, Ali would gained a victory over Rudie Lubbers out in Indonesia to prepare. As Ali-Frazier II was approaching, the buzz was yet again sky high.

The second fight was a near repeat of the first in the early rounds, as it was mostly even, but Ali seemed to be a tad bit more in control. The middle of the fight saw Frazier gain momentum and Ali looked like he might be on the verge of a loss, especially after two straight dominant rounds from Frazier. However, Ali managed to get it together and he would walk away with an unanimous decision, avenging the loss after all these years had passed. Now, with the Frazier demon having being exorcised, as well as avenging his loss to Ken Norton prior, Ali had his sights set on one thing: winning the Heavyweight Championship from George Foreman. And for the first time ironically since he won the title from Sonny Liston, Ali was an overwhelming underdog. Foreman was one of the hardest punchers in the history of heavyweight boxing, and having watched Ali struggle with Ken Norton and Joe Frazier, who Foreman easily defeated, many saw the writing on the wall and an impending loss for the greatest to ever do it. Ali was now 32 years old, slower than his prime, and had lost some of the reflexes from his greatest period. No one seemed to give Ali a chance to win this fight, but you couldn't tell that to Ali, and rightfully so.

The greatest boxer knew what he had left in the tank and he knew that he was an underdog. This was a familiar position to Ali years ago. After all his success and the countless wins, could Ali overcome the odds and show he still could hang with the toughest? He responded to all of this with one of his greatest quotes ever:

"I've done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator. I done tussled with a whale. Handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail. Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean, I make medicine sick".

This sticks out as my all time favorite Ali quote. I used it on my first album and it is still an amazing quote now, even more so. With the Foreman fight taking place in Zaire, it was dubbed "The Rumble in the Jungle", and it would be one of the final highlights of Ali's boxing career. Ali went in seemingly at a disadvantage, yet he controlled the whole fight. He was fueled by the love of the people in Zaire, who seemed to believe in Ali more than any other athlete ever, showering him with the now iconic chants of "Ali, Bomaye", which stood for "Ali, kill him" whenever he was seen. That support from the people reinvigorated Ali, and he would be magnificent against the smashmouth styled Foreman, employing the Rope-A-Dope strategy to perfection here, earning an eighth round knockout and a victory for the title. Back on the throne, Ali was seen as in his 2nd and final prime to speak, but he would begin showing more weakness as his career continued.

Though he defeated Chuck Wepner, it was in his fight that Ali would get stunned and knocked down in the 9th round before getting a victory. Ali claimed he tripped on Wepner's foot, but regardless, he suffered a knockdown against someone that conventional wisdom would tell you shouldn't knock Ali down. After victories over Ron Lyle and Joe Bugner, there would be one last highlight in the career of Ali. One final fight to close out the greatest trilogy in the history of boxing. After losing to Joe Frazier in the first bout and then redeeming himself with a victory in the second bout, the time seemed right for one final contest between two of the greatest fighters to ever live. Ali agreed to the fight, and the fight would take place in Manila. This is where the greatest rivalry in boxing history and the end of an era would occur.

Titled "Thrilla in Manila", this third bout was held on October 1, 1975, with temperatures almost reaching 100 degrees, making for a very rough environment in some way. The temperature and weather disparity are visible through the fight, as Ali comes out swinging, attacking profusely, exchanging blows with Frazier and going toe to toe first, looking strong. However, as the fight continues, Ali utilizes the Rope-A-Dope strategy again, absorbing blows from Frazier and attempting to counter-punch until Frazier began tiring out. As Frazier began tiring out, Ali went on the offensive, staggering Joe with some heavy blows in the 12th round that would close Frazier's left eye and open up a cut over his right eye. In rounds 13 and 14, Ali dominated, seemingly landing almost every punch on Frazier until Frazier's trainer decided to stop the fight. Frazier wanted to continue to fight, but it was obvious at this point that he had nothing left in the tank and with both eyes swollen shut, Ali won this fight by TKO to close the trilogy and the rivalry, but not before calling Frazier the greatest fighter of all time, right next to him.

That's something that's always stuck to me about Ali. Sure, he would talk down on you, belittle you when the fight was leading up, but through the hell and fire that he and Frazier went through, they gained respect for each other as fighters (though Joe still hated Ali until he passed away rumor has it), and Ali bestowed a heavy distinction on Frazier after a victory. It was a rare moment of being humble for Ali, but a glimpse into the man behind the talking, the persona, and the athlete. Sure, he will always put himself up there as the greatest, as he should, but he was man enough to know that his toughest opponent and a man who made him better was Joe Frazier.

After the Manila bout, Ali would end up going through what I'd consider a huge decline, despite racking up victories against fighters like Jean-Pierre Coopman, Jimmy Young, and Richard Dunn, before retaining his titles in yet another victory over Ken Norton. I won't get too much into his decline, or detail how bad it got, but after a solid victory over Alfredo Evangelista, Ali struggled to walk away with a win against Earnie Shavers afterwards, and it was seen as the fight that truly changed his career and life forever. His longtime doctor Ferdie Pacheco quit after he faced criticism from the Ali camp when he told Ali to retire. He had seen a report that troubled him about Ali's kidneys, and one would assume that after tons of blows to the body, especially during his Rope-A-Dope routine in his later years, that it had all caught up to him now. Ali ignored the doctor and his orders, and experienced a tough loss to Leon Spinks in a split decision to lose his title.

Ali was never the type to take a loss and not come back, and that he did. He would come back and regain his title from Leon Spinks and seemingly ride off into the sunset and retire, vacating his title soon after. If the story of Muhammad Ali ended there, anyone could have been happy and satisfied. However, when you live with as much as pride, competitive drive, and desire to keep going, nothing in your mind tells you to stay down. Nothing tells you to stay away. Ali was way out of his prime, and though he could still hang in there for a full fight, he was nothing like himself. This showed when he got coaxed into coming out of retirement for one last big payday against Larry Holmes, a bout that went as expected as Ali was only in it for the money. After being dominated by Holmes, Ali would lose his final fight in a 10 round decision to Trevor Berbick.

It was a sad loss and a frustrating way to end the greatest boxing career ever, but Ali went out on his terms, for better or worse. With 56 wins, 5 losses, and 37 knockouts, Ali had solidified himself as the greatest in every aspect from in ring capabilites, trash talking, influence, and most of all, legacy. His boxing career is hands down legendary, and probably the biggest focus of his legacy, and rightfully so, but there was so much more to Muhammad Ali, the man. He was a loving and devoted father, fueled by his love for his kids and wanting to do better for them. He was a humanitarian, a social activist, an actor for a brief period, and even released a spoken word album at one point. He has been the architect of many books about him and his life, as well as documentaries. His unorthodox style as a heavyweight boxer was another unique thing about him. His superior hand speed, quickness with his movements, and amazing reflexes, he could cut down any opponent, and his style would be an inspiration to many after him.

His legacy is as the greatest heavyweight boxer in his era, and the greatest fighter of all time. He defeat every top heavyweight in his own era, had been named Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine more times than any other fighter, and had the most "Fight Of The Year" awards as well. He became one of three boxers to be named Sportsman of the Year for Sports Illustrated, and he is a Boxing Hall of Famer. He has always been one of the most recognized athletes ever, with popularity exceeding just about any athlete in the history of sports. Earning the 1997 Arthur Ashe Courage Award, as well as receiving multiple Athlete of the Century awards as the 1900s came to a close, Ali continued to rack up accolades long after he retired. One of his most significant moments is being awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Otto Hahn Peace Medal of Gold. It shows how he transcended his profession and carved such a legacy. Making history isn't easy, but Ali made it look like it was, and that's what I'll forever love about him.

Before the Parkinson's, before the pneumonia, and the various health complications, Ali excelled at doing what he does best: winning and making history. He was fearless, he was aggressive, he was confident, he was aware. He was everything you wanted in a hero, in an idol, with his lovable demeanor, yet complete awareness of what he is capable of. He is truly the greatest, and a model of expression, in a time now where people are scared to be themselves or speak honestly. While his battle on earth may be finished, his spirit and his legacy will forever live on. I thank you Muhammad Ali for the inspiration, the influence, your honesty, your fight, your trash talk, everything you did to make this world and the boxing arena a much better place. You are appreciated beyond belief. Rest easy, and once again, thank you for what you brought to us daily. You will be forever missed. RIP.



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