When growing up, we were taught a cardinal principle that it is bad manners for children to disobey house rules set by our own parents such as reporting home late.
But this guy called Muhammad Ali had a powerful spell on us that we went against this rule.
You see, in Kitwe’s Mindolo-Miseshi Mine Township where I spent my teenage days in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a communal black and white television set supplied by the mine company and mounted in the welfare hall overlooking the basketball court.
Each time Ali was scheduled to take to the ring, we filled the hall to more than full capacity as early as 19:00 hours for the fights that were usually beamed live around 04:00 hours.
He was a marvel to watch as he danced around the ring and jabbed his opponents while we shouted waa waa waa in unison until he sent most of them to the floor.
As this was happening, my pals and I totally forgot about the parental rule and ended up sleeping out and only to return home the following mornings.
Surprisingly, as I went home after the fights with my tail down expecting to receive some jabs to the jaw, uppercuts and straight punches to the forehead from my furious dad, nothing of this sort happened other than mere cautions.
The head of the household I belonged to must have discovered that these sleep outs were devoid of mischief and that they were instigated by Muhammad Ali who, sadly went to be with the Lord last Friday, June 3. The three-time world heavyweight champion died at the age of 74 years from an ailment most likely unheard off by most Zambians called septic tank sorry septic shock after battling Parkinson’s Syndrome for more than three decades.
I dedicate this column today, as a tribute to this great citizen of the world whom I once tried to emulate as a teenager until I was beaten badly by a friend, the late Eddie Chileshe who later became a professional Zambian boxer.
In adulthood, Chileshe went on to become a sparring partner for the late Lottie Mwale whom he accompanied to the United States of America for a fight against American boxer, Saad Muhammad on 28 November 1980 for the World Boxing Council light-heavyweight title fight in which the Zambian lost.
So, as you can see, I was vanguished by a worthy boxer.
Thereafter, I never boxed again and instead I chose to become a scribe, one of the many careers which does not inflict physical pain on a practitioner.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky to Cassius Clay Sr. a signwriter and Odessa Grady Clay, a house maid, Ali took to boxing at a tender age.
When Muhammad Ali was 12 years old, he and a friend went to the Columbia Auditorium to take take in eating free hot dogs and popcorns available for visitors of the Louisville Home Show.
When the boys were done eating, they went back to get their bicycles only to discover that Muhammad Ali’s bike had been stolen.
Furious, Muhammad Ali went to the basement of the Columbia Auditorium to report the crime to police officer Joe Martin, who was also a boxing coach at the Columbia Gym.
When Muhammad Ali said he wanted to beat up the person who stole his bike, Martin told him that he should probably learn to fight first. A few days later, Muhammad Ali began boxing training at Martin’s gym.
From the very beginning, Muhammad Ali took his training seriously. He trained six days a week. On schooldays, he woke up early in the morning so that he could go running and then would go workout at the gym in the evening.
When Martin’s gym closed at 20:00 hours, Ali would then go train at another boxing gym.
Over time, Muhammad Ali also created his own eating regimen that included milk and raw eggs for breakfast. Concerned about what he put in his body, Ali stayed away from junk food, alcohol, and cigarettes so that he could be the best boxer in the world.
Even in his early training, Muhammad Ali boxed like no one else. He was fast. So fast that he didn’t duck punches like most other boxers; instead, he just leaned back away from them. He also didn’t put his hands up to protect his face; he kept them down by his hips.
In 1960, Muhammad Ali, then 18 years old, had already won national tournaments such as the Golden Gloves and so he felt ready to compete in the Olympics.
On September 5, 1960, Muhammad Ali (then still known as Cassius Clay) fought against Zbigniew Pietrzyskowski from Poland in the light-heavyweight championship bout at the Olympic Games in Rome. In a unanimous decision, the judges declared Ali the winner, which meant Ali had won the Olympic gold medal.
Having won the Olympic gold medal, Muhammad Ali had attained the top position in amateur boxing and it was time for him to turn professional.
As Muhammad Ali started fighting in professional boxing bouts, he realized that there were things he could do to create attention for himself. For instance, before fights, Ali would say things to worry his opponents. He would also frequently declare, “I am the greatest of all time!”
Often before a fight, Ali would write poetry that either called the round his opponent would fall or boast of his own abilities. Muhammad Ali’s most famous line was when he stated he was going to “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
His theatrics worked. Many people paid to see Muhammad Ali’s fights just to see such a braggart lose. In 1964, even the heavyweight champion, Charles “Sonny” Liston got caught up in the frenzy and agreed to fight Muhammad Ali.
On February 25, 1964, Muhammad Ali fought Liston for the heavyweight title in Miami, Florida.
Liston tried for a quick knockout, but Ali was too fast to catch. By the 7th round, Liston was too exhausted, had hurt his shoulder, and was worried about a cut under his eye.
Liston refused to continue the fight and Muhammad Ali became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
The day after the championship bout with Liston, Muhammad Ali publicly announced his conversion to Islam and the public was not happy.
Ali had joined the Nation of Islam, a group led by Elijah Muhammad that advocated for a separate black nation. Since many people found the Nation of Islam’s beliefs to be racist, they were angry and disappointed that Ali had joined them.
Up to this point, Muhammad Ali was still known as Cassius Clay. But when he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, he shed off his “slave name” (he had been named after a white abolitionist that had freed his slaves) and took on the new name of Muhammad Ali.
Followers of this legenderly boxer may recall that during the three years after the Liston fight, Ali won every bout and he was the most popular athletes of the 1960s. He had become a symbol of black pride.
Then in 1967, Muhammad Ali received a draft notice into the United States government o fight in the Vietnam.
Since Muhammad Ali was a famous boxer, he could have requested for special treatment just to entertain fellow troops but his deep religious beliefs forbade killing, even in war, and so Ali refused to go.
In June 1967, Muhammad Ali was tried and found guilty of draft evasion. Although he was fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in jail, he remained out on bail while he appealed.
In response to public outrage, Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing and stripped of his heavyweight title.
For three and a half years, Muhammad Ali was “exiled” from professional boxing. While watching others claim the heavyweight title, Ali lectured around the country to earn some money.
By 1970, the general American public had become dissatisfied with theVietnam War and was thus easing their anger against Muhammad Ali. This change in public opinion meant Muhammad Ali was able to rejoin boxing. After participating in an exhibition match on September 2, 1970, Muhammad Ali fought in his first real comeback bout on October 26, 1970 against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia. During the fight, Muhammad Ali appeared slower than he used to be; yet before the start of the fourth round, Quarry’s manager threw in the towel.
Ali was back and he wanted to reclaim his heavyweight title.
On March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali got his chance to win back the heavyweight title by fighting Joe Frazier at the Madison Square Garden. This fight, billed as “the Fight of the Century,” was viewed in 35 countries around the world including myself in Kitwe and was the first fight Ali used his “rope-a-dope” technique.
Ali’s rope-a-dope technique was when Ali leaned himself on the ropes and protected himself while he let his opponent hit him repeatedly to quickly tire out his opponent.
Although Muhammad Ali did well in a few of the rounds, in many others he was pounded by Frazier. The fight went the full 15 rounds, with both fighters still standing at the end. The fight was unanimously awarded to Frazier. Ali had lost his first professional fight and had officially lost the heavyweight title.
Shortly after Muhammad Ali had lost this fight to Frazier, Ali won a different kind of fight. Ali’s appeals against his draft evasion conviction had gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, who unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision on June 28, 1971. Ali had been exonerated. On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali had another chance at the championship title. In the time since Ali lost to Frazier in 1971, Frazier himself had lost his championship title to George Foreman.
While Ali had won a rematch against Frazier in 1974, Ali was much slower and older than he used to be and was not expected to have a chance against Foreman. Many considered Foreman to be unbeatable.
The bout was held in Kinshasa, Zaire and was thus billed as “the Rumble in the Jungle.” Once again, Ali used his rope-a-dope strategy – this time with much more success. Ali was able to tire out Foreman so much that by the eighth round, Muhammad Ali knocked Foreman out.
For the second time, Muhammad Ali had become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Joe Frazier really did not like Muhammad Ali. As part of the antics before their fights, Ali had called Frazier an “Uncle Tom” and a gorilla, among other bad names. Ali’s comments greatly angered Frazier.
Their third match against each other was held on October 1, 1975 and called “Thrilla in Manila” because it was held in Manila, Philippines.
The fight was brutal, both hit hard and both were determined to win. By the time the bell for the 15th round was rung, Frazier’s eyes were swollen nearly shut; his manager wouldn’t let him continue. Ali won the fight, but he himself was badly hurt as well.
Both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought so hard and so well, that many consider this fight to be the greatest boxing fight in history.
After the Frazier fight in 1975, Muhammad Ali announced his retirement. This, however, did not last long as it was just too easy to pick up a million dollars here or there by fighting one more bout. Ali did not take these fights very seriously and became lax on his training.
On February 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali was extremely surprised when novice boxer Leon Spinks beat him. The bout had gone all 15 rounds, but Spinks had dominated the match. The judges awarded the fight – and the championship title – to Spinks. Ali was furious and wanted a rematch and Spinks obliged. While Ali worked diligently to train for their rematch, Spinks did not. The fight did go the full 15 rounds again, but this time, Ali was the obvious winner.
Not only did Ali win back the heavyweight champion title, he became the first person in history to win it three times.
After the Spinks fight, Ali retired on June 26, 1979. He did fight Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick in 1981 but lost both fights. The fights were embarrassing; it was obvious that Ali should stop boxing.
Muhammad Ali had been the greatest heavyweight boxer in the world three times. In his professional career, Ali had won 56 bouts and lost only five. Of the 56 wins, 37 of them were by knockout. Unfortunately, all of these fights took a toll on Muhammad Ali’s body.
After suffering increasingly slurred speech, shaking hands, and over-tiredness, Muhammad Ali was hospitalized in September 1984 to determine the cause. His doctors diagnosed Ali with Parkinson’s syndrome, a degenerative condition that results in decreased control over speech and motor skills.
As seen, Muhammad Ali had a sharp tongue filld with humour. For instance, after he lost to Joe Feazier, the press interview went like this:
Frazier: ….. Ali is my good friend…..
Ali interjects: If I’m your good friend, why did you whup (beat) me so hard?
However, the rivalry between the two world boxers extended to their families.
On the evening of 8 June 2001, in a bout nicknamed “Ali-Frazier IV” Ali’s daughter Laila and Frazier’s daughter Freeda fought for the World Boxing Council (WBC) light-heavywight title. Laila won on unanimous points decision.
A public funeral will be held for the boxer Muhammad Ali tomorrow (Friday) in his hometown of Louisville in Kentucky.
May the Soul of the geatest of them all Rest in Eternal Peace. ENDS/KAP/05/06/2016