Ali: the man who fought for free­dom and re­spect

The world may have lost an icon, but his legacy will live on

7 Days in Dubai - - SPORT - By Adrian Back @aidy­back adrian@7days.ae

F rom a young age I was drawn to Muham­mad Ali. I sim­ply couldn’t read enough about the enig­matic fighter who was will­ing to sac­ri­fice so much in or­der to take a stand for what he be­lieved in.

I may have been born more than a year af­ter his fi­nal bout against Trevor Ber­bick, but I was hooked on all things Ali. I en­grossed my­self in his life story, des­per­ately search­ing for footage of The Great­est both in­side and out­side the ring.

Here was a supreme ath­lete who was charis­matic, witty and pas­sion­ate. In­side the ring he was ma­jes­tic to watch. His foot­work was flaw­less, his hand speed in­cred­i­ble. In what can be a bru­tal sport, Ali brought artistry. There was grace and beauty in the way that he fought.

SIM­PLY THE GREAT­EST

As a box­ing fan there was so much to ad­mire. Ali was fight­ing in an era when there was only one heavy­weight cham­pion. The di­vi­sions had not been di­luted and who­ever held the heavy­weight ti­tle aloft was a global su­per­star.

Yet at the ten­der age of 22 the then Cas­sius Clay shocked the world by beat­ing the cham­pion Sonny Lis­ton. No one had given him a hope, yet the Louisville Lip ran rings around an in­creas­ingly an­gry Lis­ton.

In the end Ali’s speed, mo­bil­ity and ac­cu­racy forced Lis­ton to quit on his stool. It was these char­ac­ter­is­tics that made Ali unique. Here was a heavy­weight who could move like a man half his size. You couldn’t un­der­es­ti­mate his power ei­ther; 37 of his fights were won in­side the 12 rounds.

Ali was a grace­ful fighter, yet he did not shy away from a war. Against the thun­der­ous shots of Ge­orge Fore­man, he lay against the ropes soak­ing up the pun­ish­ment be­fore his ex­hausted op­po­nent could sim­ply throw no more. Then Ali de­liv­ered his on­slaught and the seem­ingly in­vin­ci­ble Fore­man had been con­quered.

At the Thrilla in Manilla, both fight­ers were sim­ply ex­hausted af­ter 14 rounds of sheer bru­tal­ity. Fra­zier was pulled out of the fight but Ali, too, had noth­ing left. Af­ter the fight Ali said it was the clos­est he ever felt to death. But words can­not do jus­tice to Ali’s skills in the ring and I urge you to gorge your­self on videos of him in ac­tion. He can be mes­meris­ing to watch.

THE LOUISVILLE LIP

But it wasn’t just his abil­ity in the ring that made me des­per­ately want to be in­volved in box­ing. He was a jour­nal­ist’s dream thanks to his quick wit and in­cred­i­bly sharp mind. He was the ul­ti­mate show­man. At the time many felt he was ar­ro­gant, yet Ali made those who crit­i­cised him eat their words. He was also in­cred­i­bly brave, will­ingly sac­ri­fic­ing the best years of his ca­reer in or­der to high­light civil rights is­sues in Amer­ica.

Here was a man who had won an Olympic gold medal for his coun­try, yet would be re­fused ser­vice in restau­rants and din­ers be­cause of the colour of his skin. It was an in­cred­i­ble sac­ri­fice and one that did so much for black peo­ple not just in Amer­ica, but across the world.

De­spite work­ing in box­ing for sev­eral years I never got to meet the great man him­self. I spoke to many who had spent time with Ali and they de­scribe a man who was larger than life. Some­one who could light up a room and could en­gage with any­one and ev­ery­one.

I was, how­ever, for­tu­nate enough to visit the 5th Street Gym in Mi­ami where he trained un­der An­gelo Dundee. In­ti­mate pic­tures from Ali’s ca­reer dec­o­rate the walls and his most fa­mous quotes are there for all to see.

To this day I still keep goose­bumps just re­mem­ber­ing the sen­sa­tion of be­ing in a gym Ali once called home. He was the great­est fighter that ever lived, but much more than that, he was a civil rights cham­pion who de­liv­ered a mes­sage of free­dom and re­spect to all cor­ners of the world.

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