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The Enduring Influence of Muhammad Ali


PhilBoxing.com




It has been more than half a century since Muhammad Ali burst into the professional boxing scene and more than three scores since he left it but his influence endures through these days although the heavyweights which he dominated in the 60s and 70s are now defined more by size and bulk than talent and character.

Ali then known as Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky and if Parkinson's Disease not shortened his life, would have been just 81 years old today.

Our baby boomer generation was first introduced to Ali/Clay when he won the gold in the light heavyweight division in the 1960 Rome Olympics where the Americans won three golds and one bronze and where Ali/Clay was the heaviest winning entry from the US thereby earning the spotlight from the covering US sports media.

But it was four years later that Ali/Clay really captured the global attention when he won the world heavyweight championship by stopping the dreaded deadly punching defending titlist Charlie Sonny Liston.

He garnered further media mileage and flak by converting to Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali precipitating a life and career that would be hounded by issues and controversies.

To many of our generation then growing up in the 60s, Ali was regarded as a trying hard social outcast and anti hero as well as anti establishment athlete activist who was out of his time.

Hence, to us Ali was a villain and I for one started to root for his succeeding opponents, especially ex champion Floyd Patterson and paper champion Terell to our disappointment and dismay for Ali virtually toyed with them.

Then came his Vietnam War military draft controversy and finally I said Ali had his comeuppance as he did not only lose his boxing license but the official recognition as world heavyweight champion and he had to undergo a lengthy legal litigation for his alleged draft evasion.

In March 1966, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces. He was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. As a result, he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeals process before his conviction was overturned in 1971.

During this time of inactivity, as opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow and Ali's stance gained sympathy, he spoke at colleges across the nation, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African-American pride and racial justice. Ali based himself in Chicago. According to most close to him, his Chicago years were formative.

At the time, Ali was widely condemned by the American media, with fears that his actions could potentially lead to mass civil disobedience. Despite this, Ebony magazine noted in the late 1960s that Ali's popularity had increased during this time, especially among black people.

My attitude towards Ali changed as I began to see the righteousness of his stand and principles regarding the civil rights and liberty especially of the black and colored people in the US. As well as his position in the then enlarging Indochina conflicts.

I found myself in disbelief after seeing a movie of his simulated fight with Rocky Marciano, the last great white boxer to hold the world heavyweight championship where Ali was knocked out in the thirteenth round by Marciano.

I learned later that Marciano won by KO over Ali in the US version of the film but Ali won by mid round TKO over Marciano in the European version which I thought though I did not see that one, was closer to the truth or what would have happened had Ali and Marciano met in their respective prime.

I learned also that Ali sued the producer of that movie and won a $1 million lawsuit on the subject.

To be continued...

The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at teddyreynoso@yahoo.com and by phone 09215309477.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Teodoro Medina Reynoso.


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