Week 23: Hero – Mohammed Ali

by Ray_North on June 9, 2016

hero_icon2Last week’s Hero without doubt, former Heavy Weight Champion of the World, Mohammed Ali.

Mohammed Ali died last week. A man who has been a hero in three decades of illness as he was in the previous three decades of near physical perfection.

Mohammed Ali is one of those few sportsmen who managed to transcend their sport – they are few and far between, I think of perhaps, Pele, Diego Maradona, Michael Jordan, perhaps George Best or Eusebio; Carl Lewis or Bjorn Borg also come to mind. But, even the likes of Pele pale into insignificance when one considers the life and career of Mohammed Ali.

In his chosen sport he was magnificent, sure Boxing aficionados may suggest that Joe Louis, Jack Johnson or Rocky Marciano may have been better as boxers, but, what Ali did was leave us, the fan, the worshipper, with great stories and moments of magic that remain with us long after the contest is over. The young Cassius Clay bating Sonny Liston, the older Mohammed coming back to defeat Frazier in Maddison Square Gardens when he lost on points, and then after winning the decider, prevailing in the third bout in Manilla; then, the epic battles in Zaire when he allowed himself to be beaten for twelve rounds by the huge George Foreman, whispering at him throughout ‘is that the best you’ve got George, you can’t hurt me with that,’ before knocking him down in the eighth round. A moment of sporting genius.

But, as I say, Ali transcended his sport – his story is a story of twentieth century America: born in Louisville, Kentucky after the war, his was a childhood enjoyed amidst the prejudice and racism of the South of America, indeed, the story of Ali coming back to his home town after winning the gold medal for his country at the Tokyo Olympics and being forbidden from eating in the best restaurant in his home town is astonishing. Then, once he was crowned World Champion he had his licence taken away from him for refusing the draft – his reason for refusing to fight in Vietnam was pure unarguable genius ‘no Vietcong ever called me Nigger.’

His come-back split America into those who supported ‘the good Nigger’ Frazier, and the ‘bad Nigger’ who had supported civil rights and the Nation of Islam and who was happy to talk trash and would never ever know his place.

Ali didn’t just impact upon sport and politics, his performances on TV had a massive influence on the culture of the 1970s, his quick fire wit and ability to articulate his feelings some say, influenced early rap artists and musicians.

In short, the legacy of Mohammed Ali has been huge.

We don’t normally see death as an act of heroism, but in the case of Ali, his life was that of a hero and his death deserves to be acknowledged.


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