The lyrical heavyweight showman Muhammad Ali who thrilled the globe with his sublime boxing style, unpredictable wit, and gentle generosity sadly died yesterday after a long brave fight with Parkinson's disease. Tragic news. He was 74. Ali, the former Cassius Clay, was not just an athlete who embodied the times in which he lived. He shaped them. His conscientious objection to the Vietnam war, and reasoned rants against a country fighting for freedom on the other side of the globe, while its own black citizens were denied basic rights of their own, energized a generation. Ali refused to serve in Vietnam,and in 1967, three years after Ali had won the heavyweight championship, he was publicly vilified for his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges; he was stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was eventually successful. Ali had changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975. By the late 1960s, Ali had become a living embodiment of the proposition that principles matter. His power no longer resided in his fists. It came from his conscience. He would become a tireless human rights ambassador and philanthropist, his devotion to charitable causes would feature prominently for the rest of his life whose impact has been felt worldwide.Being a person who championed humanity, justice and civil rights.
Ali would go on to become the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion.
Nicknamed "The Greatest", Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were three with rival Joe Frazier, which are considered among the greatest in boxing history, and one with George Foreman, where he finally regained his stripped titles seven years later. Ali was well known for his unorthodox fighting style, epitomized by his catchphrase "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee", and employing techniques such as the Ali Shuffle and the rope-a-dope. Ali brought beauty and grace to the most uncompromising of sports and through the wonderful excesses of skill and character, he became the most famous athlete in the world.
Growing up Muhammad Ali had such a huge empowering impact on me . A beautiful man. His brave stand against U.S. imperialism and the vile institutional racism that was in the U.S that still sadly exists, but Ali. was an inspiration for millions fighting injustice and oppression across the world. No doubt the U.S. establishment will now try and bury their systematic and brutal attempt to silence him.
Muhammed Ali belongs to the oppressed. Let's not let his oppressors rewrite our history.
"What Muhammad Ali did—in a culture that worships sports and violence as well as a culture that idolizes black athletes while criminalizing black skin—was redefine what it meant to be tough and collectivize the very idea of courage. Through the Champ’s words on the streets and deeds in the ring, bravery was not only standing up to Sonny Liston. It was speaking truth to power, no matter the cost." Dave Zirin (in the nation)
But for me he was also also a poet. His passing has reminded me of the time when I was about 7 or 8 in the mid 1970's when I first first became aware of him, I remember his passion and energy his lyrical playfulness, and even though I subsequently never got that into boxing or fighting and have always tried to avoid violent conflict whenever I can, even though my nose is bent out of shape, and other tell tale signs , tells another story,of my own inability to duck and dive, I loved the fact that Ali was able to wax lyrical spontaneity without rhyming in the usual traditional settings, using an almost beat phraseology to release rhymes from his heart with an unpredictable wit that made him a lyrical heavyweight too.
The world famous boxing champion when not jesting, could be undoubtedly serious too, who once appeared in an interview which was televised in Ireland, in which he recited a poem he wrote about the 1971 Attica prison riots.
These riots which took place 46 years ago resulted in the death of 39 people, including some prison guards. It all started on September 9, 1971, when a black inmate was killed while trying to escape the prison. Over the following four days, up to 2,200 black prisoners rebelled against the prison guards, taking 42 of them hostage. Nelson Rockerfeller, the then governor, refused to negotiate with the prisoners demands for better treatment and conditions. Soldiers raided the prison facility on September 13, dropping teargas and then shooting randomly into the smoke for two minutes non-stop. 29 prisoners were killed on the spot. 9 prison guards were also killed on that day, some with slit throats, suggesting that the prisoners had killed their hostages in retaliation for the raid. 1 hostage died of a gunshot wound later on.
After reading the poem, Muhammad Ali related the struggle of the Afro-Americans for freedom and justice to the struggle of the Irish against British imperialism. The transcript of the poem can be read as follows :-
Freedom - Better Now
Better far— from all I see—
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?
Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I'm led
Lingering until I'm dead
Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees
Better than a heart attack
or some dose of drug I lack
Let me die by being black
Better far that I should go
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know
Better than the bloody stain
on some highway where I’m lain
Torn by flying glass and pane
Better calling death to come
than to die another dumb,
muted victim in the slum
Better than of this prison rot
if there’s any choice I’ve got
Kill me here on the spot
Better for my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage
Less it cool with ancient age
Better violent for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie
Better now that I say my sooth
I’m gonna die demanding Truth
While I’m still akin to youth
Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone
Never mind another dawn.
Powerful stuff indeed, which leaves me to remind you of his other often light hearted rhymes that he often used in his pre-match hype, to try and 'trash talk his opponents, which I am grateful to an acquaintance named Barac Zita whose facebook post earlier today inspired this post :-
'Float like a butterfly
Sting like a bee
The hands can't hit
what the eyes can't see'
"Everyone knew when I stepped in town,
I was the greatest fighter around.
A lot of people called me a clown,
But I am the one who called the round.
The people came to see a great fight,
But all I did was put out the light.
Never put your money against Cassius Clay,
For you will never have a lucky day."
— In 1962, when Ali was still Cassius Clay.
"Now Clay swings with a right, what a beautiful swing.
And the punch raises the Bear clear out of the ring.
Liston is still rising, and the ref wears a frown.
For he can't start counting 'til Sonny comes down.
Now Liston disappears from view.
The crowd is getting frantic,
But our radar stations have picked him up. He's somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who would have thought when they came to the fight
That they'd witness the launching of a human satellite.
Yes, the crowd did not dream when they lay down their money
That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.
I am the greatest."
— Part of a poem before his upset title victory over Sonny Liston Feb. 25, 1964.
"Joe's gonna come out smokin',
But I ain't gonna be jokin'.
This might shock and amaze ya,
But I'm going to destroy Joe Frazier."
— Before losing to Joe Frazier in their first fight March 8, 1971.
"You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?
Wait 'til I whup George Foreman's behind.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
His hand can't hit what his eyes can't see.
Now you see me, now you don't.
George thinks he will, but I know he won't.
I done wrassled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale.
Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I'm so mean, I make medicine sick."
— Before regaining the title by upsetting George Foreman Oct. 30, 1974.
"I got speed and endurance.
You'd better increase your insurance."
— To Larry Holmes before his one-sided loss in a bid to become a heavyweight champion for the fourth time Oct. 2, 1980.
Then there is this one about his famous rumble in the jungle with George Foreman, Ali and Foreman may have been adversaries in the ring but became firm friends.
Last night I had a dream - Muhammad Ali
Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble,
I had to beat Tarzan's behind first,
For claiming to be King of the jungle,
For this fight, I've wrestled with alligators,
I've tussled wih a whale,
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I'm bad,
just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, Hospitalised a brick,
I'm so mean, I make medicine sick,
I'm so fast man,
I can run through a hurricane and don't get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He'll pay his debt,
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree,
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.
I'll leave you with this rather nice one :-
He took a few cups of Love - Muhammad Ali
He took a few cups of love,
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness,
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern,
And then he mixed willingness with happiness,
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well,
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met.
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them, a desire, a dream, a vision.” - Muhammad Ali
Undoubtedly the greatest, Boxing poet, and champion of civil rights of our time.
Rest in Power Muhammad Ali