News about Boxing legend Muhammad Ali shocked and saddened the world today, following confirmation that he had passed away after spending two nights in hospital with a respiratory illness.
To watch Muhammad Ali in the ring was to watch raw power, unrivalled skill and incredible elegance. Ali’s greatness and mastery of his craft were lauded across generations (even those who had not been born yet whilst he was competing) – unmistakable whatever your gender or skin colour.
Muhammad Ali proved that no matter what you do, if you do it with purpose and dedication you can reach great heights and leave a mark to inspire others. He broke the barriers of mainstream sport, managing to influence and amaze even those without a partiality for boxing.
Smart-mouthed Ali riled up his opponents, and was known for being an eloquent and passionate speaker. His spirit resonated with the people. You could feel that it was more to him than being a champion boxer; he was fighting to demonstrate what he was worth to the world.
Most inspiring was his declaration “I’m the greatest”, and what made him so captivating was this absolute confidence and belief in himself. He was the definition of bravery, bold enough to describe exactly how mean, fast, “pretty” and unbeatable he was – and then going on to prove it.
And his bravery was shown both in and out of the ring. Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth”. As this article put so perfectly, Ali displayed ‘power at a time when many black people looked upon themselves as being powerless’ when segregation, racism and poverty were rife.
In 1964, he embraced the Nation Of Islam and denounced his ‘slave name’ ‘Cassius Clay’. In 1967, he was stripped of his title due to his refusal to be drafted to army service, stating that the Vietcong “never called me nigger”. He helped cultivate black pride by speaking up about injustice at a time when it was dangerous to do so.
Because Ali was so charismatic, he made you want to learn about black spiritual teachings, in a different manner to a middle-aged preacher in a church suit. In terms of bringing black ‘knowledge of self’ to a public platform and speaking up in the face of white American oppression, to say I personally looked up to him is an understatement.
Most of all, the champion boxer’s legacy, career and example influenced millions through his ideals of morality, dedication and self-determination. People of colour in America who were suffering and in despair, were able to look to a figure of hope – and because of this he is so important to the world.
He is part of the reason why I, as a person of colour, grew up to believe in my abilities. All the steps Muhammad Ali took to take ownership of his freedom and rights underpin this new generation’s social justice battles. His story continues to let people know what can be achieved, and how brave a single man can be.
Muhammad Ali will live on as the greatest of all time – the legendary champion of the world who touched everyone’s souls.