A Tribute to Muhammad Ali

World class boxers have come and gone over the course of the last century, but none of them are as fondly remembered as Muhammad Ali. His career ended 30 years ago, but his reputation as the greatest of all time remains intact.

His strategy was simple, "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," and Ali used it to bamboozle the best heavyweight boxers of the era. Here you can see him showing off some of the fancy footwork with which he was able to outwit opponents by consistently making them miss:

Ali defeated every top heavyweight in an era which has been described as the golden age of heavyweight boxing. He was named "Fighter of the Year" by Ring Magazine more times than any other fighter, and was involved in more Ring Magazine "Fight of the Year" bouts than any other fighter.

Although there was no doubt that Ali was elusive, he was also involved in some incredible wars; these wars eventually began to take their toll and were almost certainly a contributory factor towards him being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years after his retirement.

Ali achieved all that he did despite being inactive for three years during what should have been his prime. In 1966, at the age of 25, he was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but was stripped of all his titles for refusing to be drafted into the US army to fight in the Vietnam War.

The case captured the attention of the entire nation and Ali was able to repeatedly put forward his reasons for refusing the draft in an extremely succinctly manner,

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

This act of principled courage definitely increased his profile and made him a hero in most eyes and a traitor in some. While Ali’s profile as a spokesman and political campaigner went through the roof, his boxing career was put on the sidelines; he was stripped of his world titles when he refused to enter the military draft. The US Government pursued Ali vigorously to make an example out of him, trying to throw him in prison and effectively ending his boxing career. Ali battled the US Government, risking his entire livelihood by standing by his principles and values. He was eventually convicted for a crime punishable by five years in prison, only to have the conviction overturned by the Supreme Court a few years later.

Three years after getting convicted for dodging the military draft, Ali made a triumphant return to the ring. He won a couple tune up fights before facing then world champion Joe Frazier. The fight against Joe Frazier was billed as the "Fight of the Century" as both fighters were undefeated and considered the best. At the time, Ali had a record of 31-0 and Frazier had a record of 26-0. Frazier won by unanimous decision in a hard fought battle that left both men in the hospital after the fight.

It was the first loss of Ali’s career, but he bounced back to win his next 10 fights, and in 1974, he won the rematch with Frazier. However, despite defeating Frazier, Ali was still not in possession of the either the Ring, WBC or WBA World Heavyweight titles.

George Foreman held all three titles, courtesy of a spectacular second round stoppage victory over Frazier in Jamaica in 1973. The stage was set for a huge battle in what to this day is widely regarded as the most momentous event in the history of boxing. The "Rumble in the Jungle" took place in Zaire in front of a crowd of 60,000. At the time, George Foreman had a record of 40-0 with 37 KOs and was viewed as the hardest puncher in the world. Most experts predicted that Ali would get slaughtered. People were genuinely worried for his safety.

However, Ali pulled off a remarkable upset and KO'd Foreman in the 8th round. His strategy was considered insanity and suicide at the time. In the first round, it was clear that Ali's normal style of speed and footwork would not work against the young lion, Foreman. So Ali invented another strategy in the 2nd round by simply leaning against the ropes and taunting Foreman into unleashing punches. Ali taunted Foreman into punching him until eventually Foreman gassed out. Ali’s strategy worked and Foreman ran out of steam and was stopped in round eight, but not before the champion had dished out an unbelievable amount of punishment to the challenger. Ali showed incredible courage and heart to hang in there and to take Foreman’s best shots; his performance is still considered electrifying to this very day. You can see some highlights of it in this compilation which also demonstrates Ali’s incredible punching power:

Ali successfully defended his title on three occasions before the time came to face his old adversary, Joe Frazier, in a rubber match the following year. On October 1st 1975, the two men met for the third time in the "Thrilla in Manila." The fight left both men completely wiped out physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Ali taunted Frazier throughout the build up to the fight, and fervently believed he would be able to beat him as decisively as Foreman had done a few years earlier. Such was his confidence that he did not put in a proper training camp, preferring to spend his time entertaining his growing entourage.

Frazier had supported Ali throughout his suspension from boxing during the Vietnam War, even giving him financial assistance, and was extremely upset to find himself on the receiving end of so much derision from the champion. He chose to keep his own counsel, but trained very, very hard for the fight. It was the best Joe Frazier the world had ever seen.

Ali barely bothered with the fancy footwork and instead set to knock Frazier out as quickly as possible. For four rounds, he battered him in the intensive heat, but to the amazement of everyone, not least Ali himself, Frazier refused to go down.

Frazier came on strong, dominating the middle rounds. It wasn’t until the tenth round that Frazier began to tire and the momentum started to swing back towards the champion.

By round 14, Frazier was almost totally blind due to the swelling around his eyes and his trainer made the decision to throw in the towel before the final round. Unbeknownst to him, Ali was also about to quit in his corner too. Afterwards Ali described the experience as "the closest thing to dying."

There has not been a boxing match of that magnitude since, nor has there been a boxer with the same sort of aura and appeal as Muhammad Ali. His fights had a significance which simply transcended the sport and he more than earned the monikor by which he will forever be known, "The Greatest." In and out of the ring, Muhammad Ali defied all odds and accomplished the extraordinary.

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