From Cassius Clay to the Greatest of All Time: Who is Muhammad Ali?
Many people wouldn’t think twice if they would hear the name “Cassius Clay” uttered in a conversation somewhere. That’s because that name has been long overshadowed by the boxer’s more well-known alias, Muhammad Ali.Dubbed “The Greatest,” Cassius Clay, AKA Muhammed Ali, is a name that has been cemented as one of the most remarkable personalities of American History. The 20th century was marked by Ali’s winning of three heavyweight championships and becoming an Olympic gold medal.
And while it is certain that Ali is one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, it should also be highlighted that Ali did not gain his name just because of his impressive muscles and remarkable strength. Rather, Muhammad Ali’s philanthropism and activist preachings are what allowed him to grow into the man who completely changed not only the face of sports but also that of America.
Born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay grew up in the midst of America’s struggle against racial segregation. Being part of a black minority in a white majority community, ostracism was an issue that Clay, unfortunately, knew a little too well. Growing up as an African American at the height of America’s Civil Rights Movement, meant that Clay would be flat out denied the most fundamental of human rights merely for his skin colour. From being denied a seat at some of the restaurants in his hometown, to not being allowed a drink of water at a store, Clay was allowed a first-hand experience of the atrocities of racism.
What Clay did not know was that all of this mistreatment would forever change the course of his life. The theft of Clay’s bike is what triggered his initial brush with fate. After 12-year-old Cassius had been fuming over his bike being stolen and wanting to “whup” the thief who stole it, Clay became a boxing student at the hands of officer Joe Martin. Soon after, he fought and won his first boxing match. And the rest is history.
After winning one match after the other, Cassius Clay slowly started taking the world by a storm, and with his success came a lot of fame. Clay’s charisma and personality put him directly under the spotlight, which he used to endorse his own ideology of Black Power, an activist movement, who fought to redefine what it meant to be an African American man in the U.S.’
Perhaps one of the greatest shocks Clay delivered to the boxing establishment was his conversion to Sunni Islam in 1964, adopting the name “Muhammad Ali” as his own. Mentored by Malcolm X, Ali joined the Nation of Islam, a group of African American Muslims, many of whose members were defining figures in the civil rights movement. Although his conversion was initially kept a secret due to fears of causing controversy amongst the boxing community, Ali soon announced his conversion. "I am America," Clay would preach. "I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me. While many members of the boxing community refused to call Ali by his new name, illustrating their rejection of his new faith, Muhammad Ali, nonetheless, made it his duty to integrate Islamic ideologies into American society, allowing for understanding of his religion to flourish, rather than fearing of it.
“Unless you have a very good reason to kill, war is wrong.”
Ali’s activism continued well throughout his years and was mostly highlighted through his refusal to being drafted for the US-Vietnam war. Ali refused induction into the US Army, and blatantly ignored the officer who had called his name to step forward, citing religious reasons and anti-war ideologies as the rationale behind this. This resulted in Ali being convicted and losing his boxing license, before the action was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This further amplified Ali’s image of being an example for black Americans, and an epitome of the freedom movement as a whole. As activist Julian Bond once claimed, “When a figure as heroic and beloved as Muhammad Ali stood up and said, ‘No, I won’t go,’ it reverberated through the whole society.”
As Ali aged and started to succumb to his battle with Parkinson’s, the heavyweight champion had lost his once invincible form. However, although his skills eroded, his influence most certainly did not.
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Muhammad Ali’s influence continues to outlive him and will continue to do so for centuries to come. Ali’s life epitomizes what it is like to be a minority in one of the greatest nations in the world, and rebelling way to the top. Ali rebelled against the stigma associated with black identity and redefined what it means to be a black man in the United States. Ali rebelled against the atrocities of war and had the audacity to confront his own government for it. Ali rebelled against the whole boxing community for their refusal to accept a faith that they had condemned.To this day, we continue to look up to Ali as the voice of all those who rebel in the face of everything in which they do not believe. Ali proves to be the epitome of everything Caddyboo embodies; resilience, dauntlessness, and continuing to grow in the face of a challenge. Ali shows us all that with a little bit of patience and a lot of resilience, we can all do what we can’t.
Regardless of whether he will go down in history as Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali, one thing is for sure: he will go down as the greatest of all time.