"This draft is about white people sending Black people to fight yellow people to protect the country they stole from red people."
--Muhammad Ali speaking out on the Vietnam war
--Muhammad Ali speaking out on the Vietnam war
On April 28th, 1967, while the american government waged a war on Vietnam, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the armed forces seeing the inherent lunacy in fighting any foe of white fascists.
And he justified his actions with sentiments like the above quote.
Now, the reason I opened with this fact, and the reason I used the ‘I AM KING’ pictorial for this post’s header, is to show that america fell in love with Ali when he was an elder, silent and infirmed ex-boxing champion. Basically when he was no longer a threat. But I want to take you back to the halcyon days when Ali was brash, virile, outspoken and a rebel to the white fascist status quo. So much so, that a young Cassius Clay completely changed his political mind-set and his name to Muhammad Ali.
So let’s start at the beginning…
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., was born on January 17th, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named after his father Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., who was himself named after a Kentucky abolitionist. Clay’s sister Eva stated that one of Ali's paternal grandparents, Sallie Ann Clay, was a native of Madagascar, Africa. And in my opinion, this factors into the overwhelming amounts of pride and mental fortitude Cassius found later in life to be able to battle so tirelessly in a boxing ring and in political arenas. I think a young Ali knowing this fact was enough to take him out of the downtrodden, victimized mind-set bred into so many of our people down south.
At 12 years old, Muhammad was livid over being robbed by an older bully, and in his rage he vowed to ‘whup’ him. Thus, he sought out the instruction of a boxing coach.
From that day forward, Muhammad trained diligently and made his amateur boxing debut in 1954. He’d won six Kentucky ‘Golden Glove’ titles, two national Golden Glove titles, an Amateur Athletic Union national title and the Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960’s Rome Olympics. It’s rumored that Muhammad came back to the states after his win in Rome only to be greeted by some good ‘ole fashioned bigotry by way of white southerners. Muhammad and a few friends unknowingly stepped into a ‘whites only’ restaurant where they were accosted by a white gang and had to fight them off.
Afterwards, Muhammad allegedly took his Gold medal and threw it in a river. Now, this hasn’t been confirmed or denied outright, but it fits in with Muhammad’s fomenting disgust with everything american.
October 29th, 1960 marked Muhammad’s professional boxing debut, where he won a six round decision over the fighter, Tunny Hunsaker. From then until the end of 1963, he’d amassed a streak of 19 wins and no losses, with 15 of those wins coming by way of knockout.
But the fight that bought Muhammad’s revolutionary style to the fore, was the match he had with Sonny Liston. By late 1963, Muhammad was a contender for Sonny’s heavyweight title, and their fight was set for February 25th, 1964 in Miami Beach. Now, Sonny was an immensely intimidating fighter with ties to the mob. He was the equivalent back then, to a young Mike Tyson. So what did Muhammad, who was a 7-1 underdog do? He immediately barraged Sonny with a litany of insults.
Some of his taunts included calling Sonny “the big ugly bear…” Muhammad also said of Sonny that he “even smells like a bear.” Ali also said, “After I beat him, I’m gonna’ donate him to the zoo.”
Now, logic dictates that if an opponent is obviously bigger than you, you don’t want to do anything to ruffle that person’s feathers. But Ali’s ‘trash talk’ was his method of waging a mental warfare against his opponents. And not only was this almost completely before its time, but this is where Muhammad displayed his greatest feats of ingenuity. His ability to get under his opponent’s skin, psychologically, was nothing short of masterful.
Muhammad was playing chess, when every other boxer was playing checkers.
Also, the innovative technique he employed called the “Rope-a-dope”, had him seemingly taking unnecessary punishment in the ring. But this technique had Muhammad covering up and playing possum while the damages to his body were minimized. After this, when his opponent wore himself out throwing an endless barrage of punches, Ali would stage his attack. And what I didn’t know before writing this was how Floyd Mayweather Jr. borrowed so heavily from Muhammad’s defensive stylings.
When an opponent would throw a punch at Ali, oftentimes, he would pull his head straight back as fighters are warned not to do. But this move made his opponents miss by an inch or so, while leaving them open for Ali’s counter-attacks. And mind you, this technique has to be performed with expert timing, ‘cause someone employing this technique without it will surely find themselves lying on their backs and looking up at the ref’s count out. This is also the same technique Floyd employs in his style, with the addition of his famous ‘shoulder roll’ that leaves most of his opponent’s punches glancing off him.
But let’s get back to the Ali vs. Sonny Liston fight…
At the start of round 1, Sonny rushed Muhammad looking for a quick knock out. But Ali side-stepped Liston with his superior speed and agility, making Liston miss and look awkward. Ali then countered with a barrage of jabs towards the end of the first round. Now, Sonny was better in the second, but Ali still bested him with a combination that made his knees buckle and opened a cut beneath his left eye.
And mind you, this was the first time Sonny was ever cut in a boxing match.
At the end of round four, Ali was experiencing a blinding pain in his eyes and asked his trainer Angelo Dundee, to cut off his gloves. Dundee refused. Now, the blinding in Ali’s eyes was said to be due to an ointment Sonny was using to cover his cut. But Bert Sugar, a boxing specialist, noted that several of Sonny’s other opponent’s complained of this same blindness when they fought him.
Despite Sonny attempts to knock out a blinded Ali, Muhammad’s sweat and tears allowed him to rinse out his eyes and dominate the sixth round. Liston didn’t answer the bell for the seventh round, and Ali was declared the winner by TKO. This is when he first shouted his famous mantra: “I am the GREATEST of all times!”
It was soon after this fight that the young Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali once he joined the Nation of Islam.
Now, I remember as a pre-teen hearing about Muhammad Ali’s brilliance being due to his trainer, Angelo Dundee. You know, the guy who refused to cut Ali’s gloves off during the Liston fight, when Sonny was obviously cheating. But Dundee himself said he didn’t do anything special in training Ali. He stated emphatically that he trained Ali the way he trained everyone else. Which goes to show you that Ali’s revolutionary techniques were strictly his own.
And one other thing that consistently bothered me when the media spoke about Ali is they’d always emphasize how handsome and charismatic he was, but they’d never talk about what he was more than most athletes, and that’s smart. Like I said previously, Ali defied conventions with his mental warfare disguised as ‘trash talk’ and his techniques like the ‘Rope-a-dope’ put him in a class all by himself.
Now, pictures of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X abound. Not only because they were both men affiliated with Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, but because of what they both truly represented. As Ossie Davis so eloquently stated in Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’, Muhammad and Malcolm represented our ‘living Black manhood’. They both refused to look away in the face of immeasurable odds and they took on not only their own opponents, but the whole of the Black Diaspora’s.
And Ali would continue to exemplify this throughout his life in epic battles such as the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ with Joe Frazier and the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman. *Side note: the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ took place in Zaire, Africa which is how it got its nick-name. And that’s cute, except for one fact...there are NO jungles in Africa. There are numerous amounts of flat grasslands and rain forests, but nothing that would constitute any place you’d call a jungle. Actually, there’s more ‘jungle-like’ areas in Florida, than in Africa. And that’s a topic I’ll tackle in a future post.
In conclusion, I’ll use a quote made by Muhammad’s daughter Laila, when she said: “If I want to see God, all I have to do is look at my father.” And once Muhammad expired on June 3rd of this year, what he did was join the other Gods of our ancestry, to take his rightful place among them.
So, to the KING MUHAMMAD ALI...for battles well fought, a live well lived and a powerful legacy left intact, I say rest in PEACE AND POWER, NOW AND FOR ALWAYS!
EVERY BLACK MAN IS BETTER OFF FOR HAVING KNOWN YOU, OR KNOWN ABOUT YOU!