Murmurs of Clay’s ties to the Nation of Islam began prior to the first Clay-Liston fight. Many believe that is why the fight was held in front of a half-full crowd – the mostly Caucasian Miami Beach community viewed the fight as a Muslim punk versus the terrifying thug. Shortly after becoming champion, Clay was asked by a reporter at a news conference if it was in fact true that he was “a card carrying member of the Black Muslims.” Clay became offended and it had nothing to do with the acknowledgment that the cat was out of the bag. Instead, Clay recoiled because the term “card-carrying member” reeked of McCarthyism and the Nation despised the title “Black Muslims.” Clay’s response gave the reporters on hand the confirmation they were looking for regarding Clay’s conversion. (7)
The next day members of the still skeptical press descended on Clay and Muslim leader Malcolm X as the two eat lunch at the Hampton House motel. Some expected Clay to back down from his statements of the previous day. However, Clay said simply, “A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I am crowing.” Clearly, Clay was serious about his conversion and was ready to deal with the fallout. As reporters continued badgering the two about the religion and Clay, Malcolm declared, “Clay is the finest Negro I have ever known, the man that will mean more to his people than any athlete before him. He is more than Jackie Robinson was, because Robinson was a white man’s hero. The white press wanted him to lose. They wanted him to lose because he is a Muslim. You notice nobody care about the religion of other athletes. But their prejudice against Clay blinded them to his ability.” (8)
While his religious conversion and subsequent name change (Muhammad meaning one worthy of praise and Ali being the name of a cousin to the prophet) ruffled some feathers, easily the most controversial stance Ali took was against the war in Vietnam. He refused to report when he was called to duty and was ostracized by most of America for this un-patriotic act. However, this bold move also lit a fire under the growing anti-Vietnam movement in America. Again, the nation was torn when it came to Ali. He was eventually imprisoned for five years and stripped of all his titles for refusing reduction into the Army. However, on June 28, 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the conviction, saying that Ali's "beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them." (9)
While he was reinstated into boxing upon the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ali was vilified by many Americans for his “draft-dodging” tactics. However, Ali persevered and sought to regain the titles which he felt were still his. On October 30, 1974, Ali did just that. In a fight he dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle” Ali knocked out the impossibly strong George Foreman in the eighth round. Ali successfully defended his titles 10 times in the next four years before falling to Leon Spinx in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. It was a loss Ali avenged six months later to regain the title. Ali continued boxing despite nearly constant discouragement from his doctors and training camp. Many point to his fight against Larry Holmes in 1980 as a reason that his health has deteriorated so rapidly due to Parkinson’s disease. Ali’s final fight was a 10-round loss to Trevor Berbick in Nassau, unceremoniously ending one of the greatest boxing career in the history of the sport.To see Ali’s complete boxing record click here
To hear the man once labeled The Louisville Lip click here . This was just one of many poems Ali recited prior to his bouts. This one, recorded when Ali was still Cassius Clay, does not contain a prediction. However, many of his poems did.