Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, passed away Friday at the age of 74 in Phoenix, Arizona. Heavyweight multi-champion, entertainer, civil rights activist, Muhammad Ali symbolized the greatness of humanity, freedom, and self reliance.
Born Cassius Clay, he became a Muslim and adopted the long-lasting name of Muhammad Ali. In rejecting the name of Cassius Clay, he said: "Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name, and I insist people using it when speaking to me and of me."
When it came to fighting for what he believed in he did not hesitate to stand firm for his principles. When his number came up for serving in
Vietnam war, he refused to enlist.
"Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger, " Muhammad Ali said. He got arrested and lost three years of his boxing career. He was eventually cleared after lengthy court battles. He never gave up.
Known for his street raw communication rhetorics, he was an entertainer to watch even before the game starts. He taunted his opponents with raw humor, such as, talking of his boxing opponent Joe Frazier , "Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head, " or of Floyd Patterson "I'll beat him so bad, he'll need a shoehorn to put his hat on."
He was a cosmopolitan too. When he was invited by the Zairian dictator Mobutu Sesse Seko, he put Africa on the boxing map, with his "Rumble in the Jungle" fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa on October 30, 1974. Don King, the promoter had made the event the most important on the planet at the time. “The prodigal sons will be returning to Africa,” Don King had declared. “This will be a spectacular such as has never been staged on Earth.”
Muhammad Ali was the underdog. But he, at the end, proved his greatness. He told the media, after the match: " I kicked a lot of asses – not only George's. All those writers who said I was washed up, all those people who thought I had nothin' left to offer but my mouth, all them that been against me from the start and waitin' for me to get the biggest beatin' of all times. They thought big bad George Foreman, the baddest man alive, could do it for them, but they know better now.”
That was Muhammad Ali. A man who defined himself, along with greatness. He viewed himself like many in America and around the World: a self-made man.
"I am America. I am the part you won't recognize, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me, " he often told the media.
He was, arguably the most influential athlete, the cosmopolitan celebrity, and one of the greatest communicators, whose voice had a far reaching impact even after he stopped speaking, due to Parkinson's disease he suffered for the last 32 years of his life. No doubt that the lasting impact of his voice will remain for generations to come. Reflecting on his life and God, he said:
"Maybe my Parkinson's is God's way of reminding me what is important," he said. "It slowed me down and caused me to listen rather than talk. Actually, people pay more attention to me now because I don't talk as much."