Man at His Best

“The Greatest” Is Gone

Muhammad Ali dead at 74. 

BY Patrick Chew | Jun 4, 2016 | Culture

The self-proclaimed “The Greatest”, three-time heavyweight boxing champion, and one of the most recognisable and celebrated sportsmen in the world—Muhammad Ali—has died. 

Ali was admitted to a hospital in Phoenix earlier this week for respiratory complications. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening," Bob Gunnell, a family spokesman, told NBC News.

Ali dubbed himself “The Greatest”, something he more than backed up in the ring. Ali remains the only three-time lineal world heavyweight champion by winning the title in 1964, 1974 and 1978. He will always be remembered for classic bouts such as his first Sonny Liston matchup that earned Ali his first heavyweight title, the Fight of the Century in 1971 against his fiercest rival Joe Frazier and the fight against George Foreman in 1974 when the world saw Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” strategy for the first time. 

But the immense success throughout his illustrious career also brought with it a fair amount of controversy. At 18, Ali won a gold medal as a light heavyweight at the 1960 Olympics, a medal he later threw into the Ohio river as a statement against racism after being refused service at a restaurant. 

At 25, Ali refused to be drafted into the US army, telling reporters, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” In another interview Ali said, “My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America. They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They didn't put no dogs on me.” 

His decision caused him to be stripped of his title, convicted of draft evasion and subsequently sentenced to five years in jail. His appeal took four years to reach the US Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction in a unanimous decision. 

Ali’s silver tongue and tendency to shoot his mouth wasn’t something exclusively reserved for happenings outside the ring, he was also known for his outrageous trash-talks such as reciting poems about his upcoming fights (Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.), as well as tagging his fiercest rivals with nicknames such as “the big ugly bear” (Sonny Liston) and “the gorilla” (Joe Frazier). 

In last quarter of his life, however, Ali’s health deteriorated significantly and he had become a shadow of his former self, barely able to speak at all—a far cry from the man the world had grown used to. 

But it didn’t matter one bit—Ali had more than spoken enough. He’d done so much in his life, fought so hard in and out of the ring that people were doing all the talking for him. “I grew to love that man,” George Foreman, a two-time heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist, said a few years ago. “And it is my greatest honour to have people say my name in the same sentence as his.”