‘The Greatest’ turns 70, proving cynics wrong

2012-01-14 20:29

Muhammad Ali, the wittiest, most entertaining and best known athlete in the history of sport, turns 70 on Tuesday.

The man who dubbed himself “The Greatest” engaged in some of the most gruelling battles in his career until he was almost 40.

Asked why he continued to fight until that age, he answered: “Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.”

Age did not bother the man who dazzled the media with his catchy utterances. So the fighter who has been the subject of numerous creative works should be thrilled about reaching the age of 70.

Neither did the man who coined the phrase: “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” believe that wisdom was necessarily acquired by ageing. He once told his detractors: “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975.

He was so amusing in the ring with his footwork and lightning speed that the fighter was adored worldwide.
Countering those who castigated him for his lack of modesty, he said: “It’s hard to be humble when you are loved and are as great as I am.”

The fighter was involved in several historic boxing matches, including three against the almost equally
distinguished “Smoking Joe” Frazier.

Ali initially seemed invincible, jokingly telling foes: “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologise.”

He suffered his first defeat in his 32nd fight when he fought Frazier in a battle dubbed “The Fight of the Century” on March 8 1971. Ali later beat Frazier on January 28 1974 and on October 1 1975 in a breathtaking encounter, “The Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines.

“It will be a killer, and chiller, and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila,” the fighter with the gift of the gab kept saying before the war.

After beating Frazier on a 14th round technical knockout, “The Greatest” said the fight was the “closest thing to dying”.

Before “The Fight of the Century” he taunted his rival: “Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.”

He was an extraordinary fighter who often boasted: “Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”

Dazzling and unstable at times, he daringly staged an exhibition match in 1976 with dangerous professional wrestler and martial artist Antonio Inoki. Although widely perceived as a publicity stunt, the bout, which was declared a draw after 15 rounds, left Ali suffering blood clots in his legs.

Quizzed on why he agreed to get involved in such a fight, he responded: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Ali has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for more than 20 years now. The disease is a disorder of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord and controls everything you do, including movement.

Cynics who predicted that the man would not live this long due to the punishment he absorbed in the ring,
and Parkinson’s disease as well, are now constipated from eating humble pie.

Happy 70th birthday, Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali.

– Additional information from Wikipedia

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