Volume 93, Issue 12
Wednesday, March 18, 1999
"I'll terrorize a stone, I'll pulverize a stick, I'm so bad, I make medicine sick."
This charismatic, brash and almost cocky statement sums up not only one of the greatest professional boxers in the history of the sport, but a man who later become an icon in the black movement during the 1960s and '70s.
The life of Mohammed Ali will only be a brief moment in the history of time. However, he will remain one of the millennium's greatest leaders both inside, where he pummeled his opponents, and outside of the ring with his brash political stance.
Ali created a style of boxing in which a large-sized man could borrow the tactics of a smaller boxer, mixing strength with incredible speed to destroy the competition.
The Louisville youth, whose motormouth equaled the speed of his hands and feet, was said to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee when facing opponents. He won his first split decision at the age of 12 and almost at once declared himself the greatest of all time.
Ali first captured the hearts of America after winning the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in convincing fashion. He later went on to fight in some of the most famous bouts in boxing history against colleagues ranging from George Foreman to Sonny Liston. These bouts will forever live in American boxing lore. Ali's bout against Joe Fraiser would later inspire the original Rocky movie.
It wasn't, however, the champion boxing that moved Ali from the pages of the sports section to the front page everywhere. It was his stance on human rights and his refusal of the Vietnam draft which really marked his place as more than a sports icon.
Ali represented a black hero who didn't grow up idolizing other great black leaders like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Booker T. Washington.
He was actually born Cassius Clay and it was only later that he embraced Elijah Mohammed's black separatist nation of Islam, striking back against the white power structure saying, "I don't have to be what you want me to be."
Ali's conversion shocked fight fans with his spiritual change but solidified his legend among Vietnam activists both black and white. The heavyweight captured the imagination of his generation and in turn the people who adored him gave him the courage to refuse the draft, thereby sacrificing his precious championship belt and bringing him up on criminal charges.
Who would have predicted that Ali, once portrayed as a black racist and mouthy troublemaker, would be the obvious choice to light the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta?
Ali represents a symbol of international understanding, peace and love. Arguably, he did more fighting outside of the ring than he did inside the squared circle.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999