Useful Notes: Muhammad Ali

Get up and fight, sucka!

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see."

"When you are as great as I am, it is hard to be humble."

Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky) is a retired heavyweight boxer famous for combining strength, skill, brilliant tactics, and elegant but incredible braggadocio. He was named "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated in 1999. He took up boxing as a teenager after a police officer and boxing coach advised the 12-year-old Clay to learn how to box before he tried to "whup" the guy who stole his bike. Fighting for several years as an amateur, he won gold at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome at the age of 18; he decided to leverage that medal into a professional career. He fought professionally for 18 years (with a three-year sabbatical when his license was suspended due to draft resistance. The U.S. Supreme Court would overturn his conviction) in 61 bouts, retiring with 56 wins, 37 by way of knockout. Three of his five losses came in the last three years of his career, when he was well past his prime and starting to show early symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Along the way, Ali won three heavyweight titles, defeated every top heavyweight contender from 1964 to 1975, and earned the distinction of being called one of the greatest boxers (if not the greatest) of all time. Although he fought with an orthodox stance, Ali fought with an unorthodox style, relying on his agility to dodge punches, rather than blocking them outright, and possessed incredible hand speed and stamina. Ali was also a hard puncher, as his 37 knockouts can attest. He was also a master of the psychological elements of boxing, frequently taunting his opponents and 'calling' his knockouts (by stating the round he believed the KO would happen before the fight). In the latter half of his career, Ali slowed and began to demonstrate his ability to hang in with tougher punches. Along with an ill-advised fight with a martial artist, misdiagnosis of a thyroid condition, and misguided attempts to fight top heavyweights while far removed from his prime, this contributed to Ali's decline and later Parkinson's disease.

Aside from his achievements in the ring, Ali is a noted philanthropist and social activist. His name change came from his conversion to the Nation of Islam, and he was good friends with Malcolm X (he would convert to orthodox Sunni Islam in 1975, just over ten years after Malcolm X, and would later become a Sufi). Ali was convicted of draft resistance in 1967 due to his refusal to fight in Vietnam (although in all likelihood, he would have served his time entertaining troops in exhibition matches like Joe Louis did in World War II), and referred to himself as a 'conscientious objector'. His boxing license was suspended, causing his involuntary hiatus for three years before the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction and he was reinstated. Lesser known are his contributions to his hometown of Louisville, which has come to embrace him wholeheartedly.Meaningless aside 

Eventually, Ali had his shot to reclaim his title in 1974 when he took George Foreman in a championship bout staged in Zaire that Ali nicknamed "The Rumble in the Jungle." In that fight, depicted in the Oscar winning documentary, When We Were Kings, showed that although Ali had slowed down, he was able to outwit the younger challenger with his famous rope-a-dope strategy to wear Foreman until Ali downed him like a oak tree.

Ali still makes periodic appearances in public, but Parkinson's disease has ravaged his body and repeated head trauma has ravaged his mind. He is no longer the eloquent, witty speaker he once was (in fact, he can't speak at all anymore), and is largely restricted to a wheelchair. His most famous post-retirement appearances were the 1996 Olympic Torch lighting and holding the Olympic Flag for the 2012 games.

There have been numerous books, movies, magazine articles, advertisements and video games that have featured Muhammad Ali or depicted him. He was even the star of a Saturday Morning Cartoon in the 1970s, and had his own pinball machine in the 80s. In one of his most famous pop culture appearances, he literally gave Boxing Lessons to Superman! The most prominent work to feature Ali was an ESPN documentary about the buildup for his fight with Larry Holmes in the twilight of his career.

His daughter, Laila Ali, is also a boxer.

Above anything else, Muhammad Ali was a fierce competitor, to Determinator levels. In the most iconic photograph of Ali (seen above) he really is shouting at Liston, "Get up and fight, sucker!"

Appears in the following works:

  • Ali is a biopic about his life starring Will Smith, who first didn't want to play the part, until Ali himself convinced him.
  • On Another Side Of Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan Ali is mentioned under his original name Cassius Clay in "I Shall Be Free No.10".
  • A 1978 comic book by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams, Superman Vs Muhammad Ali has him be The Rival of Superman
  • In the liner notes of Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia we read: Ali is still champ!
  • Faithless named the track "Muhammed Ali" (2001) after him.
  • "Ready Or Not" from The Fugees' The Score
    Dancing on the border like I'm Cassius Clay.
  • Ali battles Michael Jordan in Epic Rap Battles of History.
  • "Professional Widow" by Tori Amos also namedrops him:
    Beautiful angels calling
    We got every re-run of Muhammad Ali
  • Ali appeared as himself in a 1979 episode of Diff'rent Strokes
  • The 1980 pinball Ali, by Stern.
  • Apollo Creed from the Rocky franchise is a rather obvious analog to Ali, to the point that Ali came out on stage declaring himself to be the real Apollo while Stallone was collecting an Oscar for the first film, much to the delight of Stallone. Ali also said later on that he wished he had thought up one of Apollo's many nicknames ("The Master of Disaster") and used it himself.
  • Ali and a fictional son of his make a number of appearances in Baki the Grappler.

I shook up the world! I shook up the world!