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Muhammad Ali by Ira Rosenberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I am the greatest!” declared Muhammad Ali. The legendary boxer’s bravado, his way with words and his humanitarian efforts combined with his success in the ring to lead many to agree—he was. Ali died at a hospital near his home in Scottsdale on June 3 at age 74.

Born Cassius Clay on Jan. 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, the poetic pugilist was just 18 when he headed to Rome to represent the U.S. at the 1960 Olympics.

As a light heavyweight, he triumphed in the Olympic ring, defeating European champ Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland to win gold.

He became the world heavyweight champion in 1964 when he defeated Sonny Liston. He notably an- nounced, “He’s (Liston) too ugly to be the world champ. The world champ should be pretty like me!”

He would win two more world heavyweight titles and other storied bouts, including the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman and the “Thrilla

in Manilla” against Joe Frazier. His eet footwork and powerful punch allowed him to “ oat like a butter y, sting like a bee,” in his own words.

The loquacious and charismatic athlete caused controversy when he converted to Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War in 1967, citing his religious beliefs as preventing him from joining the war. He was arrested and his title and boxing license were taken from him. Ali did not enter the ring for three years as he appealed his case. He returned to the ring in 1970 and the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.

Ali lit the Olympic cauldron at the Atlanta Games in 1996. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease after being diagnosed in 1984. Parkinson’s is a disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Like others who suffer from this disease, Ali had visible tremors, slow movement and dif culty walking, but his surprise appearance as the nal torchbearer awestruck the crowd and remains an iconic Olympic moment.

Ali’s larger than life personality, his wit and his wis- dom left an indelible mark on the world, far beyond the sphere of athletics.

One of his many memorable quotes contends, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who nd it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
July 2016