Muhammad Ali never surrendered In the ring, or out

Draw up a list of Americans who lived great lives and there you must find the name of Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay.

Here was a man who personified strength of body and strength of soul, courage, intelligence and humor — in his bearing, in his being and, of course, in his boxing.

Here also was a man who personified the American ideals of individuality and independence, in times when many despised him and in times when he was loved with equal intensity.

Muhammad Ali knew exactly who he was, and he was not shy about sharing his knowledge: He was the Greatest in the squared circle, and definitely had right to lay the claim. Outside the right, this black son of a sign painter and domestic worker, born into Jim Crow America, was a similarly towering personality.

He faced the word determined to be his own person, saying as a young man: “I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want.”

Exported.; dnp;

Cassius Clay, left, connects on a punch to the face of Sonny Liston in the third round before a TKO in the seventh round in Miami Beach, Fla., on Feb. 25, 1964.

(AP)

By accident of history, at Ali’s birth in 1942 Joe Louis held the heavyweight crown as the first African-American to win crossover popularity in a sport that whites had long claimed as a preserve of their own, determined never to allow the black race to win the symbol of physical domination.

An extraordinary combination of speed, power, endurance and balletic athleticism enabled Ali to rise as a young fighter, first winning gold as Cassius Clay at the 1960 Olympics and then four years later, at the age of 22, staging one of the great upsets in boxing history by knocking out world champ Sonny Liston after boastfully predicting he would.

“I shocked the world,” he declared.

Yes he had — for the first of many times.

Heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, center, leaves the Armed Forces induction center with his entourage after refusing to be drafted in Houston, April 28, 1967.

Heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, center, leaves the Armed Forces induction center with his entourage after refusing to be drafted in Houston, April 28, 1967.

(Anonymous/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The bout started Ali on the path to numerous legendary contests, including three long, phenomenally brutal matches against Joe Frazier that may have contributed to his later affliction with the Parkinson’s syndrome with which he lived, always with an optimistically upbeat public face, for more than a quarter century.

After his third bout with Frazier, “The Thriller in Manila,” Ali said that the fight “was the closest thing to dying that I know.”

Larger than life as an athlete, he was equally outsized as a cultural touchstone and lightning rod amid the bitter social and racial upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

While sometimes given to stereotyping (cruelly in Joe Frazier’s case) and sometimes rejecting integration, he ultimately represented black power during the civil rights revolution — and never more so than when he joined the black separatist Nation of Islam, became a Muslim and cast aside what he called his slave name (despite it having been bestowed in recall of an abolitionist) to live as Muhammad Ali.

Boxer Muhammad Ali is sentenced to five years for draft dodging, published June 21, 1967.

Boxer Muhammad Ali is sentenced to five years for draft dodging, published June 21, 1967.

(New York Daily News)

Further alienating many Americans, he claimed conscientious objector status and refused to submit to the Vietnam War draft, saying at one point, “I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong.”

Threatened with arrest and facing the loss of his boxing license across the country, he held firm at the cost of more than three years of boxing in the prime years of his career. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unanimously that Ali had been right.

In the white-hot heat of the time, it would have been inconceivable to think that four decades later Ali’s face would appear on a Wheaties box as a beloved representative of Americana or that in 2005, a conservative Republican President, George W. Bush, would bestow on Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Always he had been known as among the greatest fighters ever. But with time it had become clear that Muhammad Ali had taught his countrymen how to live free in victory and defeat.

310301 ONEG. OCT. 1, 1975, FILE PHOTO

Oct. 1, 1975, Muhammad Ali, left, grimaces as he exchanges blows with Joe Frazier in the first round of their title bout at the Coliseum in Manila, Philippines.

(Mitsunori Chigita/AP)

Draw up a list of Americans who lived great lives and there you must find the name of Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay.

Here was a man who personified strength of body and strength of soul, courage, intelligence and humor — in his bearing, in his being and, of course, in his boxing.

Here also was a man who personified the American ideals of individuality and independence, in times when many despised him and in times when he was loved with equal intensity.

Muhammad Ali knew exactly who he was, and he was not shy about sharing his knowledge: He was the Greatest in the squared circle, and definitely had right to lay the claim. Outside the right, this black son of a sign painter and domestic worker, born into Jim Crow America, was a similarly towering personality.

World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, with a toy gorilla in his pocket, holds one of two butterfly nets he brought with him to a news conference, July 17, 1975.

World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, with a toy gorilla in his pocket, holds one of two butterfly nets he brought with him to a news conference, July 17, 1975.

(DAVE PICKOFF/AP)

He faced the world determined to be his own person, saying as a young man: “I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want.”

By accident of history, at Ali’s birth in 1942 Joe Louis held the heavyweight crown as the first African-American to win crossover popularity in a sport that whites had long claimed as a preserve of their own, determined never to allow the black race to win the symbol of physical domination.

An extraordinary combination of speed, power, endurance and balletic athleticism enabled Ali to rise as a young fighter, first winning gold as Cassius Clay at the 1960 Olympics and then four years later, at the age of 22, staging one of the great upsets in boxing history by knocking out world champ Sonny Liston after boastfully predicting he would.

“I shocked the world,” he declared.

Not Released (NR)

Muhammad Ali and President George W. Bush at the Freedom Awards Ceremony at the White House in Washington D.C. on November 9, 2005.

(Douglas A. Sonders/Getty Images)

Yes he had — for the first of many times.

The bout started Ali on the path to numerous legendary contests, including three long, phenomenally brutal matches against Joe Frazier that may have contributed to his later affliction with the Parkinson’s syndrome with which he lived, always with an optimistically upbeat public face, for more than a quarter century.

After his third bout with Frazier, “The Thriller in Manila,” Ali said that the fight “was the closest thing to dying that I know.”

Larger than life as an athlete, he was equally outsized as a cultural touchstone and lightning rod amid the bitter social and racial upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

Muhammad Ali poses next to a Wheaties "The Breakfast of Champions" poster during the unveiling of the 75th Anniversary cereal box in his honor in New York, Thursday Feb. 4, 1999.

Muhammad Ali poses next to a Wheaties “The Breakfast of Champions” poster during the unveiling of the 75th Anniversary cereal box in his honor in New York, Thursday Feb. 4, 1999.

(BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP)

While sometimes given to stereotyping (cruelly in Joe Frazier’s case) and sometimes rejecting integration, he ultimately represented black power during the civil rights revolution — and never more so than when he joined the black separatist Nation of Islam, became a Muslim and cast aside what he called his slave name (despite it having been bestowed in recall of an abolitionist) to live as Muhammad Ali.

Further alienating many Americans, he claimed conscientious objector status and refused to submit to the Vietnam War draft, saying at one point, “I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong.”

Threatened with arrest and facing the loss of his boxing license across the country, he held firm at the cost of more than three years of boxing in the prime years of his career. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unanimously that Ali had been right.

In the white-hot heat of the time, it would have been inconceivable to think that four decades later Ali’s face would appear on a Wheaties box as a beloved representative of Americana or that in 2005, a conservative Republican President, George W. Bush, would bestow on Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Always he had been known as among the greatest fighters ever. But with time it had become clear that Muhammad Ali had taught his countrymen how to live free in victory and defeat.

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