Cover Story

Muhammad Ali The Black Superman

  Sing, Muhammad, Muhammad Ali,
He floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee,
Muhammad, the Black Superman
Who calls the other guys "I'm Ali'
Catch me if you can.
--Johnny Wiklins.
Muhammad Ali, the boxer who took the sport beyond the ring for his own conviction of dignity, equality and human rights is no more. The legend who earned the nickname of Black Superman and icon of the deprived over the privileged fought like a true fighter throughout his life elevate human dignity from the clutches of racism and deprivation to live with heads held high was a personality that dominated the world arena for good reasons.
Born Cassius Clay in the impoverished Louisville, Kentucky in 1942 during the period of segregation in American down south, Ali grew up facing racism and deprivation and poverty despite having immense talent. He won a gold medal in 1960 Rome Olympics in the Light Heavyweight category. By the time he started a professional boxer, the Civil Rights movements were at the peak in America. Ali became the youngest boxer to be crowned World Heavyweight title at the age of 22 in 1964 in which knocked out in 1964. Immediately after that win, which made Ali a celebrity, he got converted to Islam and took the name Muhammad Ali. The conversion was imitated by the Nations of Islam, a black American organization founded by Elijah Muhammad and activated by Malcolm X, a resistance movement against white supremacist and segregated system. Ali famously said that Cassius Clay was his "slave name' when many journalist refused to use his new name after his conversion. Immediately after this America declared war against the Communist Vietnam—the Vietcong drafting young men to enlist in the armed forces. Ali, who had earlier drafted in the army in 1962, refused to go to Vietnam to fight for the new draft of conscription in 1967. He said, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong—no Viet Cong ever called me nigger." Consequently Ali was arrested and faced trial. The jury found him guilty but a Court of Appeals upheld the verdict and his case reached the American Supreme Court. The rest is history.
Despite being stripped off all his championships and titles by various American boxing bodies and cancellation of his professional boxing by all American states at the peak of his career, Ali became the symbol of protest, an anti-war activist and a person to inspire millions of Americans. He lost four invaluable years of his professional career during that time and returned victorious as the Supreme Court 8-0 jury verdict overturned Ali's conviction in 1971. Ali thereafter returned to the ring with bang. He knocked down undefeated champion Joe Frazier in the "Fight of the Century" at Madison Square Garden, New York on 8th March, 1971. By then Ali became the darling of the black people around the world—the most suppressed, deprived and exploited people, mostly from Africa. Taking this point in account, the next heavyweight championship between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was scheduled in Kinshasa, Zaire. Famously known as the "Rumble in the Jungle" the bout was the symbol of black supremacy so far as human strength was concerned the entire African continent, irrespective of their faith and ethnicity began to regain their lost confidence and dignity. After defeating Foreman, Ali again faced Frazier in 1979 in Manila, the Philippines. Remembered as the "Thrilla in Manila", that fight was one of the longest boxing duels in the history where Ali had the last laugh. After the match Ali acknowledged Frazier as "the greatest fighter of all times next to me."
After his retirement from professional boxing Muhammad Ali dedicated his entire life for charitable works across the globe and voicing support to all legitimate demands of the people worldwide. He was an ardent supporter of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and poor people in Latin America. He came twice to India, first as a state guest and lately to Kerala in late 1980s for charity drives. The man who once stripped of his sports honours was given the task of lighting the Olympic Flame in 1996 Atlanta games. He was also awarded the highest civilian honour in America; the Medal of the Union by President George W. Bush in 2005 apart from named the "Sportsperson of the Century".
Now after his departure, Muhammad Ali will always be remembered as a person who stood against the establishment—walking beyond the arena for a cause that matters million. He has proved that if a sports celebrity steps up anything his entire fun would follow him or her and create more followers outside sporting world to make this world better. This is what the legacy of Muhammad Ali so far has been and would continue to be. And that is why he is "The Greatest".
(The writer is a freelance journalist based in Assam) E;mail:

Muhammad Ali is known for his wit, humour and poetry in the Rings. He would take jabs at his opponent before and after the fight. Some of his quotable quotes are presented here:
After his victory in Olympic games in Rome in 1960
"To make America the greatest is my goal, so I beat the Russian and I beat the Pole. And for the USA won the medal of gold. The Greeks said you're better than the Cassius of old." "Hey Floyd - I seen you! Someday I'm gonna whup you! Don't you forget, I am the greatest!"
Before fighting Sony Liston
"I'll hit Liston with so many punches from so many angles he'll think he's surrounded."
After defeating Listion
"I shook up the world! I shook up the world!"
After losing to Ken Norton in 1973
"I never thought of losing, but now that it's happened, the only thing is to do it right. That's my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life." "You say I'm not the man I was 10 years ago. Well, I talked to your wife and she says you're not the man you were 10 years ago!"
Before his fight with Foreman:
"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick
After defeating Foreman in their famed 'Rumble in the Jungle' fight in 1974.
"I've seen George Foreman shadow boxing and the shadow won."
"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."
"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."
Ali's poetic one-liners about his opponent Joe Frazier
"Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head."
"Frazier is so ugly he should donate his face to the US Bureau of Wildlife."
"Any black person who's for Joe Frazier is a traitor. The only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs and members of the Ku Klux Klan. I'm fighting for the little man in the ghetto."
Before the fight called Thrilla in Manila in 1975
"It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila."
"I always bring out the best in men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him
After his victory against Frazier
"I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn't have said. Called him names I shouldn't have called him. I apologise for that. I'm sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight."
Muhammad Ali's political thoughts
"Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up."
"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name, and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me."
"Nobody has to tell me that this is a serious business. I'm not fighting one man. I'm fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of 'em, here is one man they couldn't defeat, couldn't conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30m black people.
"I am America. I am the part you won't recognise, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me."
"We were brought here 400 years ago for a job. Why don't we get out and build our own nation and quit begging for jobs? We'll never be free until we own our own land. We're 40m people and we don't have two acres that's truly ours."
"I'm gonna fight for the prestige, not for me, but to uplift my little brothers who are sleeping on concrete floors today in America. Black people who are living on welfare, black people who can't eat, black people who don't know no knowledge of themselves, black people who don't have no future."
"I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin' hell, but as long as they ain't free, I ain't free."
Muhammad Ali's defense of Islam after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
"What's really hurting me - the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence. Islam is not a killer religion, Islam means peace. I couldn't just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem."
On his refusal to join Vietnam War
"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
"Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger."
"I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over."
His philosophy
"Champions aren't made in gyms, champions are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."
"Will they ever have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry and is as tall and extra pretty as me?"
Muhammad Ali's Kolkata connection
The legendary boxer Muhammad Ali had a special bond with Kolkata as he had visited the city and spent three days here in December 1990. Sports lovers still fondly remember his wit and sorcery tricks.
Muhammad Ali had come to Kolkata on a special invitation from Kolkata's famous football club, Mohammedan Sporting. Its President, Mir Mohammad Umar was instrumental behind bringing the three times world champion boxer to the City of Joy.
He had mesmerized his fans with his sorcery tricks and enchanting manners. Famous footballer Shabbir Ali recalls meeting him. He says "He was the greatest sportsman of the century. I do not want to compare but he was something else. He was very soft spoken. I was really fortunate to have met him".
Another b0xing official Asit Banerjee, who was a referee, recalls his meeting with Ali. Mr Banerjee was impressed by his humility despite the fact that he was the greatest sportsman of the world. When Asit Banerjee asked him, "Are you the greatest?", Ali had replied, "No, I am not the greatest, Man is not the greatest. Allah is the greatest."
During his three day visit, Muhammad Ali had visited a number of mosques in the city. He also went to Kalighat temple.
A road in Kolkata should be named after Muhammad Ali: Sultan Ahmad
A special condolence meeting was held for Muhammad Ali at the Mohammedan Sporting Club tent in Kolkata on June 12. President of the club, Mr Sultan Ahmad (MP), acting President Jamil Manzar, Iqbal Ahmad (Deputy Mayor) among others attended the meeting. Expressing his grief at the demise of the legendary world champion boxer, Muhammad Ali, Mr Sultan Ahmad recalled Ali's visit to Kolkata on the invitation of Mohammedan Sporting Club and it was a special honour for the club. He said that Muhammad Ali stood tall not only due to his performance in the ring but also as a great human being. He said that the club will request the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to name a road of the city after Muhammad Ali. He also announced that a boxing ring would also be set up where children would be given training in boxing.