Following his third heavyweight win against Leon Spinks in 1978, Ali retired. But his lifestyle required big dollars and he announced his comeback in 1980 to face Larry Holmes. The fight guaranteed Ali a purse of $8 million and also a chance to become a 4-time champion. The fight was an absolute disaster. Ali was suffering from multiple ailments including trembling hands and had difficulty in making speech. The fight was called off in the 11th round itself. Larry had not just dethroned Ali, he had demolished him.
The fight was an absolute disaster. Ali was suffering from multiple ailments including trembling hands and had difficulty in making a speech. The fight was called off in the 11th round marking the only instant that Ali had suffered a knockout with Holmes almost in tear having to beat up the man who gave him his big break. He fought one more time in 1981 against Trevor Berbick losing via a point decision before hanging up his gloves for good.
After his retirement, Ali’s health problems worsened as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. But he refused to give up without a fight as usual, after all he had promised to make the most of every day, to do good and be worth of meeting his God. Ali spent a good portion of his lifetime doing various forms of charitable work. He visited multiple African countries in order to raise spirits and help their fight against poverty. He represented USA as a symbol of peace and met multiple world leaders for requesting the release of American hostages. He kicked off the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by lighting the Olympic torch where he was gifted with a Gold medal as a replacement for his own from the 1960 games which he’d lost! He was part of several political campaigns as well. The new millennium led to a further dip in Ali’s health but Ali rolled on. He spent 2001 promoting his own biopic Ali and then visited Afghanistan in 2002 as UN’s messenger of peace. Ali’s public appearances diminished and the rare ones showed the kind of discomfort he was in. At the 2012 Olympics, he had to be helped by his wife to stand on his feet. More visits to the hospital followed in the next few years be it for pneumonia or respiratory infections. Death took Ali for its own on June 3, 2016. Ali was 74 then and practically the whole world mourned the loss of the most influential figures of the last century. Tributes poured in from rivals, other sportsmen and politicians alike.
Ali finished with a professional record of 56 wins and a mere 5 losses, with 37 of those wins coming in the form of knockouts. He also holds the record for the most lineal World Heavyweight championship wins ever with his 3 title wins. He was showered with multiple accolades including being named as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated and the Sports Personality of the Century by BBC.
But what makes Ali “The Greatest” as he rightly labelled himself was much more than his achievements in the ring. He reinvented boxing and combat sports in general, no longer was it enough just to be good in the ring. The art of showmanship became equally important. In the current era, it is much easier for a sportsman to air their opinions on social media, but Ali never had any of these. All he had was a mike and access to limited airtime when he promoted his fights and there was never anyone who was as brilliant as him in making the most of this.
His greatness extended beyond the world of boxing. His decision to stand up for the rights of the Blacks and the poor led to him being banned for a good 3.5 years of his career during his peak but for Ali there was never a choice, he had to stand by his beliefs, that was that all men were equal and that war was never the solution as the only people who really lost were the poor and the innocent. His speeches during his suspension from the sport changed the outlook of thousands towards war. Courageous, Inspirational, Compassionate were words which go a little way in describing Muhammad Ali.
There might be other sportsmen in other fields who might have been better at their craft and more distinguished in the record books. But could anyone match Ali when it came to his charisma, his outspokenness and the sheer ability to make thousands believe in his every word? Not many would come up with names here.
So how should we remember Ali as? The greatest? That is undisputed, what else? The People’s Champion provided his opinion on this during as well during his lifetime and it perfectly sums up the author’s view. Remember Ali as the only one who has won the World Heavyweight Championship three times. Also remember him as someone who looked up to those who looked up to him, and as someone who stood by his beliefs. Far more crucially remember him as someone who did all that he could to unite humanity. He also said he wouldn’t mind being remembered as someone who was pretty, and I let you take the call on that one.