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Marysville, OH– The life and legacy of Muhammad Ali is one that stands out in history. He was a complex figure that captured the hearts of millions and inspired a generation to stand up for what they believe in. As a boxer, his unorthodox style of relentless attacking and “rope-a-dope” technique caught the attention of crowds around the world and transformed him into a phenomenon.
Beyond his remarkable career in the ring, Ali had a paradoxical personal life. He was a devoted family man, yet perpetually involved in controversy and legal issues. His outspoken views and uncompromising beliefs in civil rights further landed him in trouble with the authorities. Yet these same convictions won him adoration from fans around the world who saw him as an inspiring leader for oppressed people.
The boxing style of Muhammad Ali was highly unorthodox for a heavyweight. He brought unprecedented quickness and grace to his sport. Instead of relying on power punches, he utilized superior hand speed, quick reflexes and constant movement to dodge punches. Ali’s strong footwork made it virtually impossible for his opponents to cut down the ring and corner him against the ropes. His style epitomized Ali’s signature catchphrase:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”
His accomplishments in the ring were the stuff of legend. Beginning as a 22 years old, Ali became the youngest boxer to beat a reigning Heavyweight Champion.
Ali’s next milestone manifested in two memorable fights with Sonny Liston. In this fight, he proclaimed and proved himself as “The Greatest”. Indeed, after battling three epic wars with “Smokin” Joe Frazier, posting a stunning victory over George Foreman in Zaire, and dethroning Leon Spinks solidified Ali as a World Heavyweight Champion.
Ali and Joe Frazier were the first undefeated boxers to fight each other for a World Heavyweight title. Though Ali was defeated for the first time in his professional career, the event was billed as the “Fight of the Century”, and has been rated by many as the biggest sporting event in history. Ali was later victorious over Joe Frazier when they fought the epic battle at the “Thrilla in Manila”, which was viewed by a record global television audience of 1 billion viewers.
To this date, Muhammad Ali remains the only three-time, lineal World Heavyweight Champion, winning 22 World Heavyweight Championship fights and nineteen successful title defenses. He also won a total of 56 bouts, including 37 by knockout, with only 5 losses. Ali was also the first World Heavyweight Champion to come back from retirement and regain the title. In 1999, Muhammad Ali was named the “Greatest Heavyweight Boxer of all Time” and the “Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” by Sports Illustrated. In the same year, in a poll conducted by the BBC, Ali was named as the “Sports Personality of the Century”. In 2015, Sports Illustrated renamed its “Sportsman Legacy Award” to the “Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award” to honor his boxing and social achievements.
Humanitarian and Activist
Ali was at heart, a humanitarian and a natural activist. His early embrace of Islam and his insistence on being called Muhammad Ali, instead of his “slave-name”, Cassius Clay, heralded a new era in Black pride. His refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army anticipated the growing “anti-war” movement of the 1960’s. Ali’s willingness to stage his much promoted and publicized fights in such far flung locales as Kinshasa, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur signaled a shift from a superpower dominance towards a growing awareness of the developing world.
“His insistence on being called Muhammad Ali, instead of his “slave-name”, Cassius Clay, heralded a new era in Black pride.”
Championing the causes of the developing world was always a major focus of Ali’s life. After his retirement, Muhammad Ali continued his work as a humanitarian and social activist. He was always willing to take the dare, to go against political policy to help people in need.
He donated millions of dollars to charity organizations, and helped provide over 232 million meals for an estimated 22 million people affected by hunger across the world. He went to places such as the Harapan Kita Hospital for Children in Jakarta, Indonesia and Sister Beltran’s orphanage for Liberian refugees in the Ivory Coast, to name just a few. In addition to his international efforts, Ali was devoted to helping charities at home. He visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals. He advocated new laws to protect children in schools across America. He taught children the virtues of tolerance and understanding through his book, “HEALING”.
In 1970, Ali was honored with the annual Martin Luther King Award by Civil Rights leader, Ralph Abernathy. In 1997, he was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for being an example of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the Civil Rights Movement.
On January 8, 2001 Ali was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton. In 2005, President George W. Bush honored Muhammad ALi with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States. In December 2005, Ali received the Otto Hahn Peace Medal from the U.N. Association of Germany, in Berlin, for his work with the Civil Rights Movement and the United Nations. In 2012, he was awarded the Philadelphia Liberty Medal in recognition of his lifelong efforts in activism, philanthropy, and humanitarianism.
Muhammad Ali had a heart for those suffering beyond the U.S. borders. In 1988, he visited Sudan to raise awareness about the plight of famine victims. The following year, he participated in a charity event in Kerela, India. In 1990, Ali traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 U.S. hostages during the First Gulf War. He also journeyed to South Africa on a benevolent mission upon Nelson Mandela’s release.
In 1994, he campaigned to urge the United States government to come to the aid of refugees afflicted by the Rwandan genocide. In 2002, he traveled to Afghanistan as the “U.N. Messenger of Peace” for a three-day goodwill mission. Ali also traveled to Afghanistan, North Korea and delivered medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba.
Muhammad Ali’s Legacy
Muhammad’s dream to share his inspiration with the world continues to be realized through the Muhammad Ali Museum and Education Center in Louisville, Kentucky, the city where Ali’s story began. The Center embraces Muhammad’s fame and boxing career. Its mission is to explore the beliefs and convictions that allowed Muhammad to become the person he is. The Center appeals to the heart, spirit, and imagination. It also challenges both children and adults to grow in areas of personal integrity, and respect.
The legacy of Muhammad Ali will stand throughout the history of boxing. His courage and defiance in the face of authority, along with his remarkable boxing career, made him one of the most iconic figures in sports history. He remains one of the most recognizable men that walked the earth. Even in death, he is still known and loved throughout the world. We may never again see a figure as influential and inspirational as Muhammad Ali. His contributions will be forever remembered.