There are not too many people who really justify the word legend. Most often it's usually the fans and followers who carry the hype to such a point where others just accept it. Then it sticks. For a while. And then they're forgotten.
Muhammad Ali was not one of those people.
He was one man who was perhaps the most loved and the most hated public figure at the same time. Was a he a polarizing icon? Yes, undoubtedly. But what no one can deny is that Muhammad Ali was of the most inspirational athletes to have ever lived. Not just for people in combat sports, Ali's attitude towards life inspired people outside the ring as well.
Now that Ali has passed, we could not help but point out some of the reasons why we salute the man.
1. When he was just 18, he won Olympic Gold
Yes, that's right. In the 1960 Olympics, an 18-year-old boy from USA fought his way to win a gold medal, and that too in the light heavyweight division.
2. Once he turned pro, he fought and beat some of the best fighters of that time
Ali was not some random boxer who won the championship when there were no other great fighters around. He defeated Sonny Liston to win the Heavyweight belt and then beat him in the rematch too. He then went to fight other amazing fighters like Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
3. He refused to fight in the Vietnam War. He was arrested for standing by his principles, thereby becoming a counterculture icon
Watch this video to understand why Ali decided not to fight in the Vietnam War.
Here's what he said -
I ain't draft dodging. I ain't burning no flag. I ain't running to Canada. I'm staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I've been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain't going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I'll die right here, right now, fightin' you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality.
4. His Heavyweight title was stripped off him, but he made an amazing comeback and eventually retained the belt in 'Rumble in the Jungle'
Because he did not fight in the war, they took away his boxing license and stripped off his title from 1967 to 1970, a time that could have been the prime years in Ali's career. But his case went to the Supreme Court, who ruled in his favour. He started fighting again and then the 32-year-old Ali regained his title from a much younger and stronger 25-year-old champion George Foreman.
5. He was very accessible to his fans. Once he even indulged a young kid inside the ring by pretending to get knocked down by him.
Muhammad Ali was a loud mouth. That is actually an understatement. But what you'd call a loud mouth, some of us would call a brilliant fight seller. Boxing is a sport that depends on people buying tickets. At least back then. Now it's more about pay-per-views. But the logic is still the same. Ali knew that. He used his off-ring insults towards his rivals to ensure that everyone involved made good money. But, when he was with his fans, it's like he was a whole other man.
Watch him getting 'knocked out' by a kid
6. He was the champion of the oppressed and the marginalized
Unlike most fighters of that time, who let their managers do the talking, Ali knew that he had a story to tell. A story of an African American man who was about to take the world by storm. He missed no chance to lay down that narrative anytime he was in public. He openly talked about white privilege at a time when not too many really understood the concept, he changed his named because he believed Cassius Clay Jr. was a name that was given to him to suit the world of the 'white masters'. For an athlete to be so fiercely political, was unusual for that time, but if there was one person who could pull that off, it was Ali. Even when his boxing license was suspended and his passport was revoked, he toured across the US giving anti-war speeches in college campuses. No wonder he's an anti-establishment hero for so many of us.
Watch this interview of Ali and hear what he has to say around the 7:46 mark. It'll probably make you see the man in a whole other light.
7. He even talked a suicidal man into not jumping from the 9th floor
"I'm your brother. I want to help you." That was all Ali needed to say. Check out this news clip from 1981.