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He Shook Up The World: The Legacy Of Muhammad Ali By Mark Hollis

The Death of Muhammad Ali has left a void in today’s boxing arena. He was one of those rare historical icons whose influence could be measured over generations for what he accomplished outside of the ring more than in it. Like so many people around the world, I too mourned his passing and find myself reflecting back on the life of this fallen hero. The “Baby Boomer” generation will remember the brash, trash-talking fighter who would call out his opponents with bravado.

He publicly labeled each one of his adversaries with “nick names” which brought some humor to the sport. Floyd Patterson was the “Hare” because he was evasive and Sonny Liston was the “Big Ugly Bear” because he knew it would get under his skin. Muhammad was also the first to effectively use the media by proclaiming himself “The Greatest of All Time” knowing this would rub the boxing community the wrong way. He easily won the Heavyweight Championship from Liston and after a rematch changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.

Ali was known to stand his ground on what he believed was right and it was that bold persona that endeared him to so many. During the 60’s, the fight for equality was at the forefront for many African-Americans. From Martin Luther King, to Rap Brown and Malcolm X, it was Ali whose courageous voice rang with clarity. Muhammad Ali’s greatest accomplishment in my eyes was his stance during the Vietnam War in 1967 when he refused to be inducted into the military for religious reasons. His presence on national stage was unfounded. He had filed as a conscientious objector, but was turned down by both his local draft board and State Draft Board. He accepted the possibility of jail time and the loss of everything he had worked so hard to accomplish. What happened next was astonishing.

There were people from all walks of life that came out in support of his plight – sports heroes, entertainers, and clergy were just a few. But more importantly, his greatest voice of support was generated by the average person who realized it was okay to stay strong in what you believe. The message that Ali conveyed is that you must stand for something regardless of the outcome. As we all know, he was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for three years. His perseverance to fight again finally paid off in 1970.

Muhammad Ali’s return to the ring was what movies are made of. With his ban lifted, he went on to recapture the World Title twice. His fights against Joe Frazier and George Foreman are legendary. His interviews with Howard Cosell furthered his image as a larger than life figure. It not only allowed him to promote his career, but gave him a forum to talk about being a black man in society at that time.

With the passing of Muhammad Ali this past June, many of us reflected back on what he accomplished in the ring. Some thought back on what he did outside of the ring and his fight for equality. Others appreciate how he again stood in the face of adversity and battled Parkinson’s Disease. Yet, we all can appreciate that he, “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee” and can concur with one of his many Ali-isms – he truly was the “Greatest”.