By Mohamed Zefzaf
By Mohamed Zefzaf
Boston – Muhammed Ali was a singular man who forever changed the world, a beautiful light that shone so brightly in the darkness of the 1960’s. Nothing could stop him from telling his truth, or from being completely himself. He was a giant among men-the best in us.
No one had ever seen a boxer like him before. He confused his opponents and dazzled boxing fans with lighting speed- his impressive footwork, a thing of beauty. But Ali wasn’t jus a boxer; he was also an icon for justice and a symbol of our common humanity.
He made history with his hands and feet, but with his supreme poetry too. Called variously by such sobriquets as the “Louisville Lip,” or “The Mouth that Roared;” this is the man who said of himself, “I am pretty…I fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”
Ali was an elegant butterfly- a man of principles who transcended race, color, and religion- an icon to people across the world. When drafted into the US army in 1967, he refused to be inducted on account of his religious beliefs.
For standing for his principles, he was stripped of his world Boxing heavyweight Championship. In the prime of his career, Ali was not allowed to box. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in the landmark 1971 decision Clay Vs. The United States. Ali was finally allowed to box again.
In 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire-today Democratic Republic of Congo-Ali’s opponent was the younger and bigger George Foreman. The heavy favorite, Foreman, a force of nature, ruled the boxing world, a fierce boxing machine- a cyborg of the 70’s. In what became known as “The Rumble in the Jungle,” Against the seemingly unbeatable Foreman, Ali resorted to a new style of boxing.
Ali employed the now famous “rope-a-dope” strategy; a defensive boxing plan cleverly designed to allow Foreman to tire himself. In doing so, Ali was able to exhaust his formidable opponent. In the eight round, Ali pounced on a spent Foreman, hitting him with a powerful right.
As Foreman fell, the artist in Ali restrained himself from throwing any more punches; instead, he waited, thus allowing the mighty and confused Foreman to fall in a spectacular and unexpected way.
There were also the mythical boxing matches between Ali and the underappreciated Smokin’ Joe Frazier. In 1971, a heavier and less nimble Ali faced the aggressive Frazier, in what was dubbed The fight of the century. The world lost its breath when Frazier hit Ali with a devastating left hook, sending him tumbling to the canvas of the ring at Madison Square Garden. Ali lost to Frazier on their first bout.
For a certain generation at the time, it seemed the dream had died. But Ali would come back, again and again. In their grueling third and final match in 1975, known as “The Thrilla in Manila”, the greatest boxing match ever, Ali won by outlasting Frazier in a dual of pure exhausting endurance in the suffocating humidity of the Araneta Coliseum in Manila, The Philippines.
Hajj Muhammed Ali’s greatest battle was yet to come.
Over three decades ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson disease, a progressive degenerative disorder that slowly eats away the central nervous system. He bravely battled the debilitating disease.
Several years later, he lit the Olympic flame at the opening of the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia. Though Parkinson’s had weakened him, Ali walked with trembling hands and legs before a packed audience at Centennial Olympic stadium and lit the Olympic fire. The emotion of that moment is still engraved in the memories of all those who remember it.
When he died, he left instructions for his funeral arrangements. He wanted an interfaith service. He wanted people of several faiths to take part, not in mourning his death, but in celebrating his life.
Ali was a shinning example of a man who used the time he was given and his prodigious talent to speak for those who couldn’t. He was a true human being: Kind, just, flawed, loving; his legacy will continue to live on. In a divided world, Ali is an inspiration, an example for us.
Upon learning of the death of Hajj Muhammed Ali, George Forman simply said “Part of me passed with him…He was the greatest man I ever knew.”
In the Arizona night of Friday June 3, 2016, surrounded by his family, Hajj Muhammed Ali died. A man, a father, a grandfather, a champion of the people is no more. His daughter Hana wrote on Twitter, “ Our hearts are literally hurting…But we are so happy daddy is free now.”
It was his wish to be buried where he was born, in Louisville, Kentucky. Yes, the prodigal son does return.
Rest in peace Hajj Muhammed Ali.