‘This is the legend of Cassius Clay,
The most beautiful fighter in the world today,
He talks a great deal in rhymes and deedy,
A muscular punch that’s incredible and speedy,
This brash young boxer is something to see,
And the heavyweight championship is his destiny.’
~ Cassius Clay
Personality traits associated with Loose Leaf Tea drinkers include a ‘community-spirit, an inner-strength of convictions, robustness, dedication and devotedness’. Cassius Marcellus Clay had each of these traits in spades.
Cassius Clay was born into a lower middle class Presbyterian family in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942. He was a good looking ‘young fella’ and when aged 12 suffered a disappointment which would set in train his route to become arguably the greatest boxer of all time. Upon a visit to a local fun-fair, his push-bike was stolen. The Young Clay was incandescent with anger. He told the nearest policemen, Joe E. Martin, that he was going to ‘whup’ whoever had stolen his bike. The policeman, asked him ‘how are you going to do that, without any training?’ And so, this policeman, took Clay under his wing and into the boxing gym.
Six years later, at the Rome Olympics in 1960, Cassius Clay won gold for the USA under the guidance of Martin. (Despite being an Olympic champion, upon his return to America, Clay would still have to use segregated washrooms, public transport etc. Clay, was later to discard the medal in protest at the ‘white establishment’.)
On February 25th, 1964, at the age of 22, Cassius Clay fought and beat the renowned champion Sonny Liston, convincingly. It was prior to this fight, that people began to learn the confident side of Cassius Clay. His wit and mouth were as sharp and stinging as his punches. He coined the trademark phrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’. This outspoken, insolent ‘man-child’ was ‘box-office, baby’! You couldn’t take your eyes nor ears off him.
Upon winning the Championship, Clay confirmed to the world that ‘he must be the Greatest (I said that even before I knew I was)!!!’ The next day, all hell broke loose. Clay declared he was to be no longer referred to as Cassius Clay, but Muhammed Ali. Be mindful, that this was a 22 year old ‘negro’ declaring his dedication and devotedness to another minority group, Muslims. He had become a member of the ‘Nation of Islam’. The Nation of Islam were a militant, radical organisation, and their main contribution to Ali of the 60’s was ‘racial identity’. The magnitude of this conversion should not be under-estimated, and he potentially could have alienated himself and polarised his community.
Ali remained steadfast in his convictions. America in the 60’s was a nation eating itself from within with the cancer of racial segregation tearing apart the fabric of society. Ali, was challenging and fraying this fabric, strand by strand. In his own imitable way! ‘My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world’.
Muhammed Ali, became the representative of the Black Muslim minority communities in the US. His outspoken-ness catapulted him into the world of celebrity. Not unlike the manner that ‘trash-talk’ coupled with sporting victories has launched the stratospheric rise of a certain MMA fighter, Conor McGregor. However, unlike McGregor, Ali in 1960’s America was fast becoming a ‘menace to society’ and the white establishment per se. Dangerous Times? Remember, in November, 1963, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
Ali was brave. ‘We can’t be brave without fear’. As a Muslim, he continued to live clean, free from substances such as cigarettes and alcohol. He also began to distance himself from ‘disrespectful’ habits and cultures he would have witnessed whilst growing up in his Louisville community.
Opponents began to target his conversion to Islam as a way ‘to get under his skin’. Opponents such as Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell continuously referred to him as Cassius Clay, rather than ‘Ali’ during the pre-fight build ups. It was during the Terrell fight, that people first witnessed a depth to Ali that had not been seen before. Like a masochistic puppeteer, Ali dominated the fight, hurting and insulting Terrell at every opportunity ‘What’s my name?’ was the call to his opponent. Ali refused to deliver the ‘knock-out’ blow, but chose to control his prey and consistently inflict pain on him. It was a venomous display.
In 1967, as the Vietnam War raged across the globe, Ali, again, exhibited his bravery, inner-strength, steadfastness and conviction by refusing the draft conscription into the US military to go fight ‘the White Man’s War’. ‘Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs’. He angered many Americans who detracted from his ‘People’s Champion’ tag, labelling him unpatriotic. He was subsequently stripped of his WBA title and his boxing license was revoked. The Establishment forced him to ply his trade on foreign soils, but he never wavered. Boy, was he stubborn!!!!
As a result of the political squabble culminating in his ban from boxing, the sporting world would never get to see him at his true agile peak. Upon his return to the boxing ring he had lost the speed of evasion which had served him so well in previous, ‘his hands cannot hit, what his eyes can’t see’. The power was always there and it was this physical conditioning which enabled him to continue fighting beyond the late seventies.
Epic fights, such as those with George Foreman (The Rumble in the Jungle), Smokin’ Joe Frazier (Thriller in Manilla), and Nigel Spinks deserve their own dedicated articles. The other sides of Ali character also deserve their stand-alone acknowledgement, for he was a complicated and compelling figure. We have already touched upon his ‘nastier’ side, and like all geniuses, Ali had significant flaws.
However, taking everything into account, we must be grateful to people like Muhammed Ali. Muhammed Ali stood by his convictions, never wavering. He always put ‘his shoulder to the wheel for his community’. He challenged established societal boundaries. People like Ali bring about cultural evolution. They inspire others. And they give so generously.
‘Truly great people in history never wanted to be great for themselves. All they wanted was the chance to be good to others and be close to God’. – Muhammed Ali