Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Greatest at 70: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali

There is little than can be said of Muhammad Ali that has not been said already.

So to celebrate his 70th birthday today, I felt it apt to publish a handful of clips from his life that gave us an all-round view of this man - the boxer, the entertainer the man, the humanitarian, the Olympian.

The Boxer
We begin with what he did best. I could've chosen one of any number of videos to demonstrate just why he was a phenomenal sportsman in the ring but for me, one stands out.

Is this the greatest punch ever thrown in a Boxing Ring? In 1974 in the famous 'Rumble in the Jungle', Ali won back the World Championship Belt against George Foreman at the grand old age of 32. Harry Carpenter's Radio commentary added to the majesty of the moment as he described how Ali did it with a punch that came out of nowhere. It was the Ali way - soak up the punches and then counter-attack from off of the ropes.

"...and I don't think Foreman's going to get up...AND HE'S OUT. Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32".

The Entertainer
Ali wasn't just quick and fleet of foot in the ring - he was quick with his mouth too.

Michael Parkinson saw this side of him more than most of his contemporaries. He interviewed Ali in 1971, 1974, 1975 and 1981.

You can't fail to watch this montage of Parky's favourite moments in his 'special relationship' with Ali without smiling at Ali's quick-witted responses.

The Man
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinsons Syndrome in 1984, aged just 42. It has proven to be the greatest fight of his life but as in his earlier years, his tenacity, his dogged determination and his faith have seen him through.

Here he is, speaking on MSNBC News in 1991. Not even aged 50, the shocking change in his condition is clear as his speech has slowed from the hurtling speed of his earlier years as shown above, to a quiet but considered and deliberate murmour.

The Humanitarian
In his retirement, Ali has dedicated his life for humanitarian ends. For his work with the US civil rights movement and the United Nations, he received the the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony and the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold of the UN Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin - both in 2005.

That same year, his $60 million non-profit Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to displaying his boxing memorabilia, the center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect, and personal growth.

The Olympian
For me, as one who was too young to remember him in his pomp, there is one moment, one memory that I do own and which will forever remain with me. It was his lighting of the Olympic Torch at the official opening of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to the sound of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'. Watching this again for the first time in over 15 years brought me to the edge of tears.

This for me, spoke of a greater strength than he ever showed in the Boxing Ring. It spoke of a resolve to live his life and to continue to fight, in the full light of media exposure, his greatest battle of all.

The Greatest
To conclude my birthday tribute to The Greatest and to bring us back full cirlce, this clip from those same Olympics in 1996 when the IOC Chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch presented Ali with a replacement Gold Medal for the one that he had won in the 1960 Olympics in Rome but which had since been lost.

If the sight of him lighting the Olympic Cauldron nearly moved me to tears, this did the jov completely. Watching him accept the applause and adulation of the crowd and of the professional basketball players of the day, was wonderful.

It showed above all, that he is loved, respected and adored by all. Not only for what he achieved inside the ring, but for everything he has done outside of it, as well.

Happy 70th birthday Muhammad Ali


  1. "Ali with a replacement Gold Medal for the one that he had won in the 1960 Olympics in Rome but which had since been lost."

    Didn't he throw it away after he was refused service in a restaurant in Georgia shortly after returning from the Olympics?

  2. That may well be part conjecture I gather.

    No doubt he was refused entry to a restaurant such was the Deep South way of the early 1960s but the fable of him throwing the Gold Medal into a nearby river as a gesture to it is apparently merely folklore.

    Apparently, he just lost the Gold Medal!