A True Champion
Muhammad Ali held his ground as true champions do, winning his appeal all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and coming back to regain his Heavyweight Belt in a fight against George Foreman, promoted by Don King as the “Rumble in the Jungle.”
Ali’s combination of speed and grace, along with is poetic tongue-in-cheek humor, humanized boxing to the masses while still holding them in awe of his raw strength and talent. With 56 victories and only 5 losses, he truly did walk the walk!
At the height of his fame, Ali was played out all over the television news, radio interviews, newspaper stands, sports pages and front-pages. This was no more evident when, after becoming the Heavyweight Champion, he publicly demanded to no longer be known by his birth name, Cassius Clay, but by his spiritual name, Muhammad Ali, meaning “beloved of God.”
He also joined the many African-Americans who fought for civil rights in the U.S.A., which included Malcolm X and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With his public profile, Ali helped fuel the movement’s momentum as he found himself also becoming a political figure, championing the causes of freedom and civil rights with his fellow brothers and sisters.
Quotes on Refusing to Fight in Vietnam
Ali sparked controversy when he stood by his decision not to be drafted into the Vietnam War as a U.S. Army soldier. This refusal to be drafted fueled a public uprising and strong sentiments against both the U.S. government and the war. Ali famously said:
"I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a ‘n****r.’ Why should they [the army] ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so–called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?"
For his refusal to join the U.S. Army and his legal battle against the government, the World Boxing Federation banning him from boxing anywhere within the country. Since U.S. Customs confiscated his passport, he also could not leave to fight anywhere outside of the U.S.; however, after the final appeal five years later, the 8-to-2 vote ruled in his favour. He had won another significant battle, but this time against the U.S. government.
Muhammad Ali reengaged his boxing career with passion, flare, and his signature wit in matchups against other elite boxers throughout the 1970s. World Championship bouts in places such as Kinshasa in Africa, Manila in the Philippines (Rumble in the Jungle) and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia began the building of a worldwide fan-base – not just for Muhammad Ali as “The People’s Champion,” but for boxing as professional sport. His fights in these countries also started the grassroots power shift of boxing from existing predominantly in western countries to also becoming popular in developing nations.
In 1978, Muhammad Ali retired from boxing as the champion of the world; however, he continued to go against political policy to help people in developing countries whom he had grown to love and appreciate. He has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea, and also assisted in the delivery of desperately-needed medical equipment and medicine to Cuba, which still faced U.S. trade sanctions and embargos. He travelled to Iraq to help secure the release of 15 American hostages during the first Gulf War in 1990, and, upon Nelson Mandela’s release as a political prisoner, he journeyed to South Africa to meet him and celebrate his freedom.
Today, Muhammad Ali champions his foundation and cause, which provides over 232 million meals to the world's hungry. These issues in the developing world have become a major focus of Ali’s life; traveling across continents, he still participates today in hand-delivering food and medical supplies to children in Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco and Cote D'Ivoire. He also devotes his time to charities he supports in the United States. Some of these include the “Make a Wish Foundation,” the Special Olympics, hospital visits and helping out at soup kitchens.
Getting Parkinson’s and Helping its Victims
In 1980, after his retirement from boxing, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he continues to battle to this day. In support of finding a cure, he participates each year in an annual event called “Fight Night,” in which the proceeds are donated to the “Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center” at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ever the showman, Muhammad Ali has been the inspiration of filmmakers, writers, artists, poets, world leaders and aspiring sportsmen and women. He appeared in “The Greatest,” playing himself, which depicted his rise to greatness. He was also played by famous Hollywood actors, such as Will Smith in the movie “ALI,” and other films including the Academy Award-winning documentary “When We Were Kings.”
Throughout the years, the world has seen Muhammad featured on shows like “Different Strokes,” “Freedom Road Broadway” musicals and “Touched by an Angel” – all popular TV series in the United States. He has also recently published his autobiographical memoir: “The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey.” The book allows the reader an up-close and personal encounter with The People’s Champion in which he discusses the meaning of religion and forgiveness and the defining moments of his life and career. He has also co-authored other books, including “The Greatest: My Own Story” and “Healing: A Journal of Tolerance and Understanding.”
The “Muhammad Ali Center” Opens in 2005
The Muhammad Ali Center was opened in his hometown in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2005. The Center exhibits themes of social responsibility, respect and personal growth, and showcases Ali’s boxing memorabilia.
Ali’s family life has also been peppered with challenges – he was married three times and has nine children: Maryum, Rasheda, Jamillah, Hana, Laila, Khaliah, Miya, Muhammad and Asaad. Today, he is married to Lonnie Williams.
Muhammad Ali’s legacy, as we know, lies in boxing; however, we believe his greatest legacy is one of being a true champion: a “People’s Champion;” a heavyweight champion; a champion of human rights promoting tolerance and understanding and reaching out to people in need. Muhammad Ali has stood tall and fought with all his might for what he believes is right, and is devoted to making the world a better place not only for himself, but for all people.
Muhammad Ali, we are proud to celebrate you as an extraordinary human being.
- 1959: National Golden Gloves Title
- 1960: Olympic Gold Medal in boxing and six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles
- 1964 - 1967: Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World
- 1970: Received the “Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Award”
- 1974 - 1978: Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World and Fighter of the Year, named by Boxing Writers Association
- 1978- 1979: Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World, finishing with a record of 56 victories and only 5 losses. Received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Texas Southern University
- 1983: Inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame
- 1985: Recognized for “long, meritorious service” by the World Boxing Association
- 1987: Ring Magazine named Muhammad Ali “The Greatest Heavyweight Champion of all Time”
- 1990: Inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame
- 1992: Received the “Lifetime Achievement Award”
- 1995: The Muhammad Ali Museum opens in Louisville, Kentucky
- 1996: Olympic Torch carried for Opening of the Atlanta Olympics
- 1997: Awarded “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated
- 1998: Named “United Nations Messenger of Peace” for his work with developing nations
- 2000: Named “International Ambassador of Jubilee” for relieving debt in developing nations
- 2005: Received Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States of America (Highest Civil Award)
- 2005: Received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by Amnesty International and the “Otto Hahn Peace Medal” for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement
- 2012: Received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Leaders Magazine and the American Leadership Development Association