By Eruke Ojuederie
The demise of America’s renowned boxer, Muhammad Ali has left a huge scar in the hearts of his ardent fans and all those who have come across his very inspiring quotes which spell out the keys to success in every sphere of life.
The multi-faceted American boxer was widely referred to as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century. Ali was known as an inspiring, controversial and polarizing figure both inside and outside the ring.
Ali remains the only three-time lineal world heavyweight champion; he won the title in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Between February 25, 1964, and September 19, 1964, Ali reigned as the Heavyweight boxing champion with the nickname “The Greatest”, he was involved in several historic boxing matches. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. He also participated as a guest referee at Wrestle Mania 1.
Following his refusal to be inducted into the armed forces in March 1966, Ali was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. As a result, he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeals process before his conviction was overturned in 1971.
During his time of inactivity as opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow, Ali spoke at colleges across the nation, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African American pride and racial justice. On January 19, 1981, in Los Angeles, Ali talked a man down from jumping off a ninth-floor ledge, an event that made national news.
Though from a descendant of slaves, he was determined to be great in life and this rare determination got him the well deserved fame which is now inspiration to many the world over.
As a world champion boxer and social activist, Ali was the subject of numerous books, films and other creative works and appeared on the cover of Sport Illustrated on 37 different occasions.
A man of many talents, Ali had a cameo role in the 1962 film version of Requiem for a Heavyweight, and during his exile, he starred in the short-lived Broadway musical, Buck White (1969). In 1963, he also released an album of spoken word on Columbia Records titled I Am the Greatest, and in 1964, he recorded the song “Stand by Me” which received a Grammy Award.
In 1984, Ali announced his support for the re-election of United States President Ronald Reagan. When asked to elaborate on his endorsement of Reagan, Ali told reporters, “He’s keeping God in schools and that’s enough.”
Around 1987, the California Bicentennial Foundation for the U.S. Constitution selected Ali to personify the vitality of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Ali rode on a float at the following year’s Tournament of Roses Parade, launching the U.S. Constitution’s 200th birthday commemoration.
Ali published an oral history, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser, in 1991. That same year, Ali traveled to Iraq during the Gulf War, and met with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to negotiate the release of American hostages. In 1996, he had the honor of lighting the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Ali also contributed an on-camera segment to the America: A Tribute to Heroes benefit concert.
In 2002, Ali went to Afghanistan as the U.N. Messenger of Peace. He was in Kabul for a three-day goodwill mission as a special guest of the UN.
On July 27, 2012, Ali was a titular bearer of the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He was helped to his feet by his wife Lonnie to stand before the flag due to his Parkinson’s rendering him unable to carry it into the stadium.
Amidst the mourning of this great man in the sport world and beyond, there remains the consolation that his life and times indeed reflected the beauty of his nickname “the greatest”. He will be greatly missed by family, fans and the whole world.