Ali: characterised by faith, setting an example with his life
It is a humbling experience to find the words to adequately pay tribute to Muhammad Ali. Here is a man described as the greatest boxer of all time, sportsman of the century, none of which would be as animated or magnified if it were not for his character.
Muhammad Ali during the early 1960s and at the heights of the Civil Rights Movement, took on the black American psyche by redefining himself. During the historic bout with Ernie Terrell, after he had changed his name from Cassius Clay, he repeatedly taunted Terrell between jabs and punches, with the question ”What's my name?” and would further demonstrate his new awareness when he refused to be drafted in the war against Vietnam — a war that he did not consider his own. Muhammad Ali's sense of self and thinking were revolutionised by the Nation of Islam, which caused him to self-analyse the question of why should he travel to the other side of the planet to fight against a brown-skinned brother who had done nothing to him, for a country that had denied him basic human rights. His stand was heroic but cost him his heavyweight title. Seven years later, he won that battle also in the Supreme Court on religious grounds as a “conscientious objector”.
Muhammad Ali went on to recapture his heavyweight title with some classic fights, such as the “Rumble in the Jungle” against the seemingly unbeatable George Foreman. Ali captured the hearts of people around the planet, his name was household. He visited Bermuda at least twice with exhibition bouts at the Tennis Stadium and the Warwick Workmen's Club.
Philosophically, his pattern reveals an evolving man. In 1964, he joined the Nation of Islam, defining himself as a soldier and vanguard for the advancement of his people and then, along with many, in 1975 he converted to Sunni Islam and finally the more spiritual side of Islam — Sufism in 2005.
Undoubtedly a man characterised by faith, he set an example with his life.
An example that will have young boxing enthusiasts for many years in the future chanting “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” as they try to copy his impressive boxing style.