Continues to Rise: Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

Muhammad Ali tapes his right hand for a training session at his camp in Deer Lake, Pa., Jan. 17, 1974. (Photo: Robert Walker / The New York Times)Muhammad Ali tapes his right hand for a training session at his camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, January 17, 1974. (Photo: Robert Walker / The New York Times)

Muhammad Ali’s life could be summed up in a single statement: freedom is always worth fighting for. As a professional pugilist, he inspired millions. As a political radical, he carried this conviction beyond the ring, fiercely denouncing racism and imperialism. But these two aspects of his life — the athlete and the militant — cannot be separated. His entire boxing career was fully political, and his greatest matches, against Ernie Terrell and George Foreman, saw him waging the struggle against white supremacy, racism, and collaborationism in the boxing ring itself.

Insights of a Warrior

His athletic achievements range from an Olympic gold medal in the light-heavyweight division in the Rome games of 1960 and becoming the world heavyweight champion three times with a repertoire of some of the most amazing matches in boxing history. He was so fast, creative, and tactical that he even influenced the great Bruce Lee, his noteworthy peer in Asian martial arts, world fame, and political commitments. Lee gave Ali the most sincere form of flattery by adding the latter’s style of footwork to Jeet Kune Do, his approach to Gung Fu. Legendary a boxer though he was, Ali will be remembered for the Promethean struggle he fought for dignity and respect not only as a man but also as one belonging to those despised by the country of his birth.

Ali fought, which means he also received his share of punches, despite floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee (this signature-phrase was actually penned by his Afro-Jewish assistant trainer and corner man Drew Bundini Brown). He was one of a kind, though that didn’t mean there weren’t his analogues in other sites of struggle for the liberation of those under the heels of white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism. I have already mentioned Bruce Lee, who, as an Asian American, no…

Read more