Cassius Clay, who later became Muhammad Ali, born in Lousiville (Kentucky) on January 17, 1942, is undoubtedly the most famous boxer in history and the one who contributed to elevating boxing as a background for social and racial debates. His passion for boxing begins almost by accident, when, looking for his stolen bicycle, Cassius finds himself in a gym and is noticed by Joe E. Martin, an Irish policeman, who becomes his mentor.
His first victories when he was twelve
Cassius begins to train steadily and just he starts to conquer his first victories in the ring at twelve, increasing his fame within the circus. At eighteen he obtained the gold medal in medium-heavyweight at the Rome Olympics (1960), but Clay himself, six years later, with a blatant gesture threw the medal in the muddy waters of the Ohio River.
Only in 1996 CIO returned the award to Muhammad Ali, after the boxer had been the last torchbearer for the lighting of the Olympic torch in Atlanta (click here), moving the whole world for his fragility caused by Parkinson’s disease.
Racism and media
Cassius Clay was not only a great boxer, but also and above all a media personality, capable of becoming a bearer of peace, throwing himself against wars and racial hatred. While fighting on the ring, his graceful and provocative moves were well known, but Clay’s statements to the press and public releases were certainly no less powerful than his fists.
Clay embraced Islam, taking the name of Muhammad Ali, which triggered a media storm in the United States; in favor of the Vietcong also aggravated his position, after he refused to leave for Vietnam in 1966, being himself a minister of the Islamic religion, he said “I ain’t got no quarrel against Vietcong, they never called me a nigger”. Sentenced by a white-only jury, Ali decided to quit boxing, to support the struggles of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King against racial discrimination.
The theme of racism was very important for Ali, who had mixed Malagasy and Irish origins. He also promoted several messages of peace, including a meeting in Baghdad with Saddam Hussein in 1991 to ward off the impending war against the United States.
Ali’s most known matches
Ali returned fighting in 1971, after the accusation against him was withdrawn following some irregularities found in the process, but was defeated in the so-called “Match of the Century” on points by Joe Frazier, who won the world title. Only in 1974 Muhammad Ali managed to conquer the title again, beating George Foreman, in Kinshasa, Zaire. This match, known worldwide as “The Rumble in the Jungle” is one of the most fascinating sport events in the world, as it has been followed all over the planet. Images of the African audience screaming “Ali boma ye!” (Ali, kill him!) are in the historical memory of all sports fans, thanks to the documentary film “When We Were Kings”.
Muhammad Ali died in Phoenix in 2016, after being hospitalized due to his Parkinson’s disease complications.