46. MUHAMMAD ALI: The legend of Cassius Clay
Welcome to the Muhammad Ali series! The next three quotes will be from the GOAT (Greatest of all time). PART TWO
Muhammad Ali (1942-) is a three-time heavyweight boxing champion, international cultural icon and one of my biggest heroes. I get really annoyed that people from my generation (Gen Y) know more about Justin Bieber than they do Muhammad Ali, so I’m gonna spend the next three posts telling you why he is the greatest athlete ever and the most important cultural figure still alive (I mean who else is there? Paul McCartney?). Let’s start with this particular poem and comic …
Before Muhammad Ali became the most beloved superstar in the world, he was known as Cassius Marcellus Clay from Louisville, Kentucky. After winning the 1960 Olympic Heavyweight Gold medal, Clay turned pro and quickly started getting attention for predicting which round he would knock his opponents out, reciting his own poetry and being a cocky, annoying upstart that wouldn’t shut up. This earned him the nickname the ‘Louisville Lip’. He had an unorthodox boxing style where he would keep his hands down, move backwards to dodge blows instead of bobbing and weaving and ‘danced’ in the ring. He was a heavyweight that moved like a lightweight. Traditionalists were not impressed, but in 1964, Clay had done enough to get a shot at the then Heavyweight Champ, Sonny Liston.
At the time, Sonny Liston was the most feared fighter that had ever lived. He was a lifetime criminal, having learned to box in prison, and worked as an enforcer for the mob. He was a big, mean, bad man, and the American public were looking forward to seeing him beat the living crap out of Clay and shutting him up once and for all. Clay’s lead up to the fight is now legendary (everything about him is pretty much legendary). He spent the months before the fight taunting Liston, getting under his skin and acting hysterical, all in a brilliant ploy to convince Liston that he was fighting a crazy man. No one thought Clay had a chance and come fight time, people were actually fearing for his safety in the ring. One reporter even calculated the fastest route to the nearest hospital so he could get there first when Clay would surely be brought in severely injured.
But Clay was too fast and elusive for Sonny, who wasn’t prepared for the lightning jabs that were smashing his face. Clay peppered him with shots for the first four rounds until something strange happened. Near the end of the fourth, Clay began to have trouble with his eyes. Some of the ointment Liston’s cornermen had used on his cuts had got onto Clay’s gloves, to which he then accidentally rubbed in his eyes (that’s the main theory, some say Liston deliberately put it into Clay’s eyes). After the fourth round, a despondent Clay told his trainer, Angelo Dundee, he couldn’t see and to cut off his gloves because the fight was over. Thankfully Dundee told him to shut up and sit down, washed his eyes out and told Clay to run for the next round. Clay’s eye’s eventually got better and he continued to dominate the fight until finally after the seventh round, Liston sat on on his stool, spit out his mouth guard and refused to come out for the eighth. The fight was over, Liston was the first champ to quit on his stool in 45 years and at the age of 22, Cassius Clay became the youngest Heavyweight Champ of the World.
This was just the beginning of Ali’s legend, the story continues in tomorrow’s update. Yes, due to my tardiness last week, there will be an extra comic tomorrow!
- Here’s a great 10 minute clip of the lead up to the fight and the action.
- This poem isn’t really ‘inspirational’ but I thought it was a fun way to introduce Ali. We’ll get more serious with the next two quotes.
- Ali was the youngest person to win the Heavyweight title until 20-year-old Mike Tyson won it in 1986.