“I don’t have to be what you want me to be…” #MuhammadAli #RIP

From A Muhammad Ali Reader, Robert Lipsyte

It will fall to someone better placed than me to remember the life and times of Muhammad Ali (or the more shadowy figure of Cassius Clay who could beat anyone or everyone to us in early Primary school).
Most of the pre and post fight quotes floating about the Internet were boastful macho bombast that launched a thousand cheap imitations. The time he came through was an era of massive struggle for civil rights in the US and Ali’s career narrative took on much of the colour of that era. 

His refusal to take the military draft led to him being stripped of his title and banned from boxing for three years. That probably elongated and politicised his career for a full 21 years: creating in him a world public figure for almost a whole generation. 

Yet when he arrived in professional boxing he was no more liked by pro boxing journalists than the man from he took his first World Heavyweight title: Sonny Liston. They quickly christened him ‘the Louisville Lip’. 

Racial loathing was rarely far below the surface. And Liston ticked all boxes in that regard. Author LeRoi Jones noted in 1964, that he represented… 

“…the big black Negro in every white man’s hallway, waiting to do him in, deal him under for all the hurts white men, through their arbitrary order, have been able to inflict on the world.”

It was a combination of Ali’s supreme confidence in his own abilities, conscience, sheer forebearance against the obstacles placed in his way, along with the steady transformation in social mobility of black Americans that he transcended such fear to become a social hero. 

Boxing never was the same before or since. But with Ali boxing briefly became much more than a sport, or even a settlement of old scores. The little men in the street and the housewives have long since turned their backs left the lonely ring. 

  • Nevin
  • Declan Doyle

    In modern times He was one of the first public figures to openly draw a comparison between the struggle of African Americans in the United States and the Irish Struggle for freedom. As such he held an esteemed position in the minds of many irish people quite apart from the respect he commanded on foot of his professional expertise. RIP a legend.

  • Jollyraj

    Quite simply the greatest athlete, certainly the most inspirational boxer of all time.

    Ali was the greatest because he could see things no one else could see, and had the courage and the will to bring them into being.

    A sad day.

  • Jollyraj

    Maybe just this once leave the politics out of it.

  • Declan Doyle

    Now that’s rich. You are the first to drag politics – mainly republicans – into every thread. So on yer bike now.

  • mickfealty

    Declan, ball not man? Jollyraj, it’s in the post!!

  • Declan Doyle


  • Ciaran O’Connor

    He was a highly intelligent and articulate man. We are less without out him. May he have all the peace denied him in life.

  • tmitch57

    Ali was fortunate in having three highly skilled opponents in competition with him after his ban was lifted and he returned to the ring in 1971: Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Ken Norton. Frazier and Norton both beat him in the ring and Foreman went 15 rounds with him. Although Ali’s persona and banter attracted fans and detractors to boxing it was the high level of drama in these boxing matches that kept the public’s attention. This only returned briefly afterwards to heavyweight boxing with the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson matches in the early 1990s. Tyson was more like Sonny Liston, a thug, whom Ali beat in 1964 to become heavyweight champion.

  • ted hagan

    Not quite. Ali knocked out Foreman mid-contest.