“I’m young, I’m handsome, I’m fast, I’m strong, and I can’t be beat.” – Muhammad Ali.
I felt the impact of Muhammad Ali’s life.
As a young boy growing up in Nigeria, 6000 miles away and decades removed from the prime of his career, I always wondered how this was possible. How did I come to know this man so well, despite having not been alive during his prime and on a different continent?
My parents loved boxing. I grew up on Mike Tyson, James Toney, Evander Holyfield etc. and till this day I still love it. I would spend Friday nights back then watching ESPN Classic. They would show all the classic fights and the documentaries and that’s how I grew to know Muhammad Ali, other than the stories my dad would tell me. And no one could tell the story of Muhammad Ali better than himself. His words may have been perceived as brash but his voice was captivating. He was confident. So confident that it was intoxicating to those that were close to him and those that saw him through the television screen. He was genuine. Unafraid. Committed to his beliefs.
When We Were Kings, the documentary directed by Leon Gast in 1996 told the story of the Rumble in the Jungle, the classic heavyweight championship fight between Ali and George Foreman. As a child, I was more concerned about the the strategy that was employed, the hard work that both fighters did in training and the fight itself that culminated in an 8th round knockout win for Ali. The older I got, the more interested I was in the actual buildup to the fight. He spoke of the innate nobility that the people of Zaire had. He also talked about his hopes for African-Americans in the future. The more I read and watched about him, the more I learned about his beliefs. He became the best fighter in the world and stayed in the media because that was what he believed would be the best platform he could use to push for civil and human rights; to help improve the quality of life for black people in America.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to see a lot of takes calling Muhammad Ali “America’s hero” talking about how “he transcended race” and all other sorts of revisionist history. You will also hear the trolls and baiters that will still use phrases like “draft-dodger” and that will go as far as to call him a coward. Remember that he stood tall in his beliefs against fighting a war in Vietnam. Remember him as a man that refused to budge from those beliefs despite it costing him millions of dollars and almost costing him his freedom.Remember him as a man who had the charisma to negotiate with Saddam Hussein. Remember him as a man who was unapologetically black and was definitely not afraid to remind you just in case you forgot.
If you call him Cassius Clay, then you’re disrespecting the man, Remember Muhammad Ali.
Rest in power. The original Greatest Of All Time. Ali Bomaye.