THE GREAT­EST 1942-2016

MUHAM­MAD ALI AC­TIVIST LEG­END ICON FIGHTER

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ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Muham­mad Ali shouts at the fallen Sonny Lis­ton to get up and fight af­ter he (Ali) knocked his foe out in the first round of their con­tro­ver­sial sec­ond World Heavy­weight Cham­pi­onship fight in Lewiston, Maine in May 1965. In what was ranked one of the short­est heavy­weight ti­tle bouts in his­tory – last­ing just two min­utes and 12 sec­onds – Ali was de­clared the win­ner af­ter de­liv­er­ing what he called his “an­chor punch”.

One of many iconic pic­tures of three-time world heavy­weight cham­pion Muham­mad Ali was on the cover of Sports Il­lus­trated in 1964. Ali is seen pos­ing with a stack of cash in­side a bank vault. The money in the photo is of a one-night win. Many might re­gard the photo as one of those colour­ful, flam­boy­ant and showy stunts the man, who died on Fri­day aged 74, was wont to pull.

But it was way beyond that. Ali started the cul­ture of ne­go­ti­at­ing his own purses. This move is largely cred­ited for the megabucks to­day’s sports stars make.

Be­fore then, it was un­heard of for a boxer, or any sports­man, to name his prize. Ali changed all that.

The first in­di­ca­tion of Ali’s de­fi­ance and hard-head­ed­ness came in 1964, soon af­ter he beat Sonny Lis­ton for the world heavy­weight cham­pi­onship belt – at the ten­der age of 22.

Born Cas­sius Mar­cel­lus Clay Jr on Jan­uary 17 1942, the young lad soon an­nounced his con­ver­sion to Is­lam and a name change to Muham­mad Ali. His friend­ship with Mal­colm X al­most cer­tainly in­flu­enced him. From then on, he took of­fence to any­one call­ing him by his pre­vi­ous “slave name”.

His name change struck a huge blow for Mus­lims world­wide. It also gave im­pe­tus to Is­lam in the US.

Ali soon joined the Na­tion of Is­lam. He was later to con­vert to Sunni Is­lam in 1975, and then Su­fism in 2005.

Three years af­ter win­ning the world cham­pi­onship, Ali caused an­other stir by re­fus­ing to be con­scripted into the US mil­i­tary, cit­ing his re­li­gious be­liefs and his op­po­si­tion to Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in the Viet­nam War.

“My con­science won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker peo­ple, or some poor hun­gry peo­ple in the mud for big, pow­er­ful Amer­ica. And shoot them for what? They never called me N*gger; they never lynched me; they didn’t put no dogs on me; they didn’t rob me of my na­tion­al­ity, rape and kill my mother and fa­ther … Shoot them for what? … How can I shoot them poor peo­ple? Just take me to jail,” he said.

The US au­thor­i­ties re­acted by strip­ping him of his ti­tle and fin­ing him $10 000. He ap­pealed against his guilty ver­dict and the case even­tu­ally went to the Supreme Court of the US in 1971 – where his con­vic­tion was over­turned. He per­formed hajj in 1972. Two years later he was in­volved in the epic Rum­ble in the Jun­gle against reign­ing world heavy­weight cham­pion Ge­orge Fore­man in Kin­shasha, Zaire (now the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo).

On his ar­rival in the cen­tral African coun­try, Ali preached brother­hood and won lo­cals to his side, por­tray­ing Fore­man as a “for­eigner”. He won back the ti­tle there.

As the world cham­pion, he vis­ited sev­eral African coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ghana, where he went around dressed in the fa­mous Kente cloth.

On one of his trav­els, he had to stop over at the OR Tambo In­tra­na­tional Air­port, then known as Jan Smuts Air­port, and re­fused to leave the air­port, take pic­tures or speak to any­one. He even­tu­ally vis­ited South Africa on the eve of democ­racy in 1994.

In 1979 he made his first trip to China where he was to pro­mote box­ing, a sport that had been banned in 1959. The sport was later un­banned.

Dur­ing one of his trips to China, Ali prayed along­side 1 000 of his fel­low Mus­lims at the Great Mosque of Xi’an in Shaanxi prov­ince.

Ali fought in the Philip­pines, Jakarta, Dublin, Lon­don, Tokyo and Congo, be­sides the US.

In one act of hu­man­ity, he saved an un­known man in Los An­ge­les from com­mit­ting sui­cide in 1981.

To sum him up, one should read the epi­logue he penned at the 02 Cen­tre in Lon­don: “I would like to be re­mem­bered as a man who won the heavy­weight ti­tle three times. Who was hu­mor­ous and who treated ev­ery­one right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him. And who helped as many peo­ple as he could. As a man who stood up for his be­liefs no mat­ter what. As a man who tried to unite all of hu­mankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much, then ... I’d set­tle for be­ing re­mem­bered as a great boxer who be­came a leader and a cham­pion of his peo­ple. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks for­got how pretty I was.”

PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER / SPORTS IL­LUS­TRATED / GETTY IM­AGES

South Africa’s leg­endary pho­to­jour­nal­ist and anti-apartheid ac­tivist, the late Alf Ku­malo, shares a light mo­ment with The Great­est while cov­er­ing the fa­mous "Rum­ble in The Jun­gle" 1974 box­ing match be­tween Ali and Ge­orge Fore­man in what was then Zaire, no

BROTH­ERS IN ARMS

PHOTO: LEON.BONTHUYS

THE CHAMPS For­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela en­joys a play bout with Muham­mad Ali

PHOTO: BETTMANN ARCHIVE / GETTYIMAGES

FLOATING Pres­i­dent Joseph Mob­uto (right) shows his elab­o­rate walk­ing stick to heavy­weight chal­lenger Muhammed Ali dur­ing a stroll in the gar­dens of the pres­i­den­tial palace. Ali re­gained the ti­tle from Ge­orge Fore­man

PHOTO: GARY AL-SMITH / HUFF­IN­G­TON POST

1964: Muham­mad Ali pop­u­larised Kente cloth. On a visit to Ghana, the then heavy­weight cham­pion of the world wore the cloth through­out his visit and press stops

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