What makes Muhammad Ali the greatest boxer

Muhammad Ali - from loudmouth to hero


A stolen bike to start your career

The career of the greatest boxer of all time begins in 1954 with a bicycle theft. Cassius Clay, twelve years old, drives to a bazaar in his hometown of Louisville. He hopes that someone will buy him an ice cream or some popcorn. After roaming around the stalls for some time, it's time to head home.

But when he leaves the bazaar, he bursts into angry tears: his brand new, red and white bike has been stolen. He runs to a police officer, demands a nationwide manhunt and threatens the brazen thief with a heavy beating. "Do you even know how to fight?" Asks police officer Joe Martin, who runs a boxing center in his spare time. "No, but I would do it anyway," Clay replied.

Martin suggests that the young hothead take part in a trial training session. The boy is making progress and just six weeks later he is fighting his first fight. He wins just on points, and when the referee holds up his arm, he yells across the hall: "Look at me well. Soon I'll be the greatest of all time!"

Words are quickly followed by actions. Clay is making a name for himself and is considered one of the most talented young boxers in the USA. In 1960 he represented his country at the Olympic Games in Rome and won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division in his last amateur fight.

World champion with unconventional means

After switching to the professional camp, Clay has to prove himself again. Bit by bit he works his way up the ranking to get the chance he thinks he deserves: a world championship fight. From 1960 to 1963 he competed in 20 fights, all of which he won. He is attracting more and more attention, and especially his unconventional boxing style is causing a stir.

Clay usually refrains from holding up his arms for cover. Instead, he relies on his extremely fast footwork and his good eye, which allows him to recognize many strokes in the approach. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" - that's how he describes his fighting style.

In February 1964 he got his chance. He challenges the world title holder Sonny Liston. Clay is considered a blatant outsider, but he firmly believes in himself. Before the fight, he makes fun of Liston's reading weakness and insults him: "You are shivering with fear, you ugly bear. You have no chance against me!"

The psychological warfare is fruitful: Liston finds no means to use his superior power against the fast Clay and gives up in the seventh round, exhausted and unnerved. Clay is the new world champion and underpins his status when he knocked Liston out in the first round rematch. beats.

Cassius Clay becomes Muhammad Ali

Clay takes the title win as an opportunity to fundamentally change his life. He converts to Islam and joins the "Black Muslims" who pursue radical political goals and do not shy away from violence. He also announces that he has given up his "slave name" Cassius Clay. From now on he only wants to be called Muhammad Ali.

For many black people he becomes a symbolic figure, the white public largely reacts with incomprehension. Boxing is going well for Ali. By 1967, he won all of his fights with ease, demonstrating his technical superiority. But then his political views get in the way.

Ali is to be drafted as a soldier and sent to Vietnam. But he refuses. "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong" is his much-cited reason. The consequences for him are drastic. A five-year prison sentence, which he can avoid thanks to a high bail, is pronounced.

In addition, the boxing federations revoke his world championship title and issue a boxing ban. Since his passport is confiscated, he cannot box abroad either. Ali, 25 and therefore the best boxing age, is condemned to inactivity. But he does not give in, gives political lectures and continues to stand up against the war and for the rights of blacks.

They never come back? That doesn't apply to Ali

As public opinion turns and more and more people speak out against the Vietnam War, the boxing associations cannot maintain their hard line. Ali can box again. But the three and a half year break shows traces. The lightness in the ring has disappeared.

In 1971 he suffered his first defeat as a professional. Young, strong boxers like Joe Frazier and George Foreman rule the action. Ali is considered the champ of yesterday, but he still has a good reputation and can be made a lot of money with.

In 1974 boxing promoter Don King Ali and Foreman offered five million dollars each for a world championship fight. For tax reasons, the fight takes place in Zaire and becomes a turning point in Ali's career. He goes to the "Rumble in the Jungle" as an outsider, but he surprises Foreman with a new tactic. Instead of prancing, he lifts cover. He boxed passively and took dozens of punches.

The plan works: When Foreman gets tired, Ali knocks him out with a quick combination. Ali succeeds in the impossible, he makes his comeback as world champion and is celebrated on the streets of Kinshasa like a folk hero. Ali has become the most important figure of identification for blacks worldwide, and most whites now also show respect for the boxer, who was once decried as a "loudmouth".

End of career and illness

In 1975 Ali had one last big fight against Frazier with the "Thrilla in Manila", after which he mostly competed against technically limited and harmless boxers. Rumors of financial problems are growing. It is said that Ali boxed only to finance his dissolute lifestyle and to support his eight children and two ex-wives.

In 1979 he returned his title, and in December 1981 he entered the ring for the last time in the Bahamas. He loses after ten rounds against the second-rate Canadian Trevor Berbick.

But the athletic worthless fights could have had consequences. In 1982 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Ali denies, however, that the disease had anything to do with his struggles. He sees it as a "test of God" and deals with it aggressively.

Although he is trembling more and more and can hardly control his speech and facial muscles, he seeks a public appearance and encourages so many sick people. In 1996 he lit the fire at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. At least now it is clear: the man who polarized and provoked the public like no other has become an icon that is admired around the world.

Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016 at the age of 74 in a Scottsdale hospital. He had been admitted there the day before because of respiratory problems. However, his illness, which lasted for decades, has weakened him so much that he dies as a result of septic shock.

Author: Ingo Neumayer

Status: 06/20/2018, 3:36 pm