The Magnificent Life of “The Greatest”
Louisville’s beloved hometown hero, Muhammad Ali, has died at the age of 74.
Ali was suffering from respiratory complications and was admitted into a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona several days before his untimely death.
Ali was no stranger to adversity when it came to his health, career, and lifestyle choices. It was a fated struggle in his youth that ultimately led him to boxing. When he was just 12 years old, Ali’s bike was stolen. Joe Martin, a part-time trainer with a local gym, stopped to check on the young boy who was obviously upset.
Ali told Martin, “If I find the guy who took my bike, I’m gonna whup him!” To which Martin replied that he ought to know how to whup someone first. This initial struggle in Ali’s life led him to Martin’s gym, where he trained daily for many years and inevitably earned an Olympic gold medal in 1960.
Ali is the only former heavyweight champion to won his title on three separate occasions. He won the title in boxing matches against Sonny Liston in 1964, George Foreman in 1974, and Joe Frazier in 1975. His fight with Frazier is publicly recognized as “The Fight of the Century.”
After this battle, Ali became known for his famed mantra, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Ali was diagnosed with a disease called Parkinson’s Syndrome just three years after his official retirement from boxing in 1981. With boxing behind him, Ali moved forward as a social activist in the United States. His determination to change the world was challenged by many obstacles that Ali heroically overcame.
The start of his social activism is often attributed to the loss of his boxing title in 1967. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title after refusing to join the U.S. Military. He noted that joining the fight and being involved in the Vietnam War would oppose his religious and moral beliefs. The case was overturned in 1971 and Ali became commendably known in the public’s eye as a conscientious objector against the war.
Ali made a point to always stand up for what he believed in. He was given the name “Muhammad Ali” in 1975, after converting to Sunni Islam. Before this occurred, he went by his birth name, Cassius Clay Jr. In 1988 he participated in the Tournaments of Roses Parade, in celebration of the U.S. Constitution’s 200th birthday. He traveled to Iraq in 1991 in order to attempt a hostage release negotiation with Saddam Hussein.
In ‘96 he carried the torch at the Summer Olympics despite his decline in health. He traveled to Afghanistan in 2012 with the title of United Messenger of Peace and, in the same year, he bore the Olympic Flag during the opening of the Summer Olympics. Since that time, his health had declined to the point of requiring frequent hospitalization but he still managed to appease his fans with public appearances.
Ali was born, raised, and laid to rest in Louisville, KY. Family, friends, and fans alike payed respects at his grave in Cave Hill Cemetery. The University of Louisville’s football team honored his life and memory September 17th, 2016 on the football field by dedicating the game to him.
Ali will always be remembered and idolized as a beloved athlete and good samaritan. He named himself “The Greatest,” a proclamation that was justified by a lifetime of struggle, triumph, and inspiring others to be great.