By Becky Holland, email@example.com
Friday night, June 4, the world became quiet, as news spread of the death of legendary boxing champion and civil rights advocate, Muhammad Ali, at the age of 74.
Celebrities and fans alike took to social media declaring their sympathy at the loss of one of boxing’s greatest.
The Internet filled with articles and photos about Ali causing him to be a ‘trending topic’ – something he will be for several days.
For some of us, who have been fans of Ali’s even before he became Muhammad Ali, he has been a trending topic for years. Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Ky, 74 years ago, he began boxing as an amateur at the age of 12, won a gold medal in the U.S. Olympics, and got his first championship belt when he knocked out Sonny Liston in 1964.
Shortly after was when he became Muhammad Ali, and joined the Nation of Islam. For around three years, due to religious convictions, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army, and was convicted of draft evasion. During this time, he couldn’t box. Later, it what has been called Ali’s ‘greatest fight victory,’ the Supreme Court overturned that conviction.
In 1970, Ali came back with a vengeance – losing to Joe Frazier once in 1971, but defeated him in 1974. Ali got the world heavyweight title back when he won by a knockout against George Foreman in the fall of 1974. In Ali’s third battle against Frazier – in Manila, Ali was the victor after 15 hard-fought rounds. In 1978, Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks, but won it back in a rematch six months later.
That victory made Ali the first fighter ever then to win the heavyweight title three times.
At his retirement in 1981, Ali finished an outstanding career with 56 wins and five losses – with 37 of those wins to be by knockout.
For me, at the ages of 4-11, I remember Ali not so much for all of his fights – but for his appearances on Sesame Street, his conversations on sports tv and his verbal sparring with Howard Cosell. I do remember his televised matches with Frazier and Foreman and Spinks. When he came back and fought in 1981, we rooted for him because he was the champion, and in a sense, the underdog in some cases due to his age.
People all over the world have been quoting Ali for years – using him as their muse of inspiration and motivation. His skill with words made him a champion just as his boxing skills did.
As I sit here, looking through all of the pictures and reading quotes, and wipe away the tears, a memory popped in my head. The story goes that I wrote to Muhammad Ali when I was little. He sent me back an autographed photo. That photo through the years wore out – years later, I wrote another one. I still have it. I look at it, and he looks back at me.
I can almost hear him say:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, you can’t hit what the eyes don’t see.” or
“”I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.” (My butterfly tattoo on my right shoulder is partly due to Ali.)
Two of the most influential things that Muhammad Ali said – that touched me life, and I use as a reminder when need be.
The first was paraphrased by my mentor, Bertie Mae Garrett. Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
The final has to do with opportunities and challenges.
Ali said, “Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
He was right.
Ali, rest in peace. Thank you for being the everyman, everywoman, every child’s hero. You were the greatest.