10 Reasons Why Muhammad Ali Really Was The Greatest

The Greatest, forever and always

Muhammad Ali File Photo
PA/PA Wire

Step aside Michael Jordan, sit down Roger Federer – in the world of sport, there’s only one Greatest Of All Time. And he told us so, repeatedly; from day one, almost. And he was right.

Muhammad Ali was so much more than a sportsman, never mind a boxer: he was an iconoclast; a lightning rod for the civil rights struggle in the United States; a hustler; a poet; a preacher; and one of the 20th century’s best known and most popular figures.

When a famous face disappears from view, amid the eulogies and tributes there are always keyboard snipers and contrarians ready to pick holes and pour cold water. Ali hasn’t been spared the spite, and his often contentious views on race and religion, multiple marriages and frankly cruel treatment of chief nemesis Joe Frazier warrant some censure.

Nonetheless, the outpouring of emotion and affection that greeted news of Muhammad Ali’s death makes it quite clear that few public figures have ever been quite so cherished. He loved the world, and the world loved him right back.

In fact, as the then-Cassius Clay hollered loud and long in the wake of snatching the heavyweight championship from incumbent ogre Sonny Liston and Barrack Obama reminded us in his own heartfelt testimonial, Muhammad Ali shook up the world. There will never be another.

Ali was The Greatest, and if you’re not quite sure why, this article is one you should definitely read.

10. I Am The Greatest. I Said That Even Before I Knew I Was

Muhammad Ali File Photo
Ron Frehm/AP

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, Cassius Marcellus Clay, so the story goes, first set foot in a boxing ring as a 12-year-old angered by the theft of his new Schwinn bicycle. He turned to local policeman Joe Martin, who was also a boxing coach and suggested that if Clay wanted to exact revenge, he’d better learn how to fight first.

And boy did he learn.

A natural athlete from the get-go, Cassius was blessed with unnatural speed, hand and foot, and soon fought his way to local and then national Golden Gloves titles before the 1960 Olympics in Rome beckoned. Only the young amateur, such was his fear of flying after being spooked by a hairy flight he had taken to California to participate in the Olympic Trials, at first refused the call.

It was far from the last time he would overcome his fears, however, and Clay allegedly boarded the plane for Italy with a parachute strapped to his back.

On arriving in Rome, Clay’s glad-handing and gregarious nature led to some nicknaming him ‘The Mayor of the Olympic village’. But Clay came to fight, squaring off against Zbigniew Pietrzykowski in the final and overcoming a slow start to overwhelm his Polish opponent with a blaze of punches in the third and final round and snatch the decision.

For many sportsmen, Olympic gold represents the pinnacle of their athletic careers. For Clay, it was only the beginning.


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