In 1993 Prince made the very artistic decision to change his name to just a symbol. He asked us to refer to him no longer as Prince, but as the 'artist formally known as'. Many honoured that request. So here's a thought and something I'm sure Ali would've jovially asked whilst he was in rude health, how bout we never refer to Muhammad Ali, again as Muhammad Ali? How about we simply refer to this figure of importance as The Greatest? It's appropriate, accurate and apt.
I'm a sports enthusiast. I love it. And I have this thing I refer to called the 'Club of Freaks'. It's simply a small, select group of sportsmen and women who go beyond world class. Their ability, winning records and character as champions transcends their own sport. So we're talking about Lionel Messi, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Usain Bolt and Diego Maradona. I've never and will never place the 'The Greatest' in this group and for two good reasons. Firstly, I don't believe his ability as a Boxer was comparable. He was a world class boxer, but there were better. And secondly, having said that and unlike the earlier list of names, he didn't only transcend his sport, he transcended sport.
Perhaps not a freak of a Boxer in terms of ability, but most definitely a freak of a man. How many people would sacrifice their career at the peak of their powers, to make a stand for not only themselves but for their race - and even humanity? How many people would use their profile, status and let's be honest, big mouth to show the world that the only thing you will never be robbed of is your identity and ability to choose what happens to you? He was the right man in the right time. A political activist that took on the system and might not have won, but didn't lose. The biggest complaint to 'The Greatest is that he is still the only boxer to win the heavyweight division three times and that's probably the least achievement he leaves us with.
He was beautifully photogenic and fully aware of the power of his own image. He knew when he had the attention of his audience, whether that was the stadiums he fought in, the press at media conferences or just the general public on the street. He knew that he was always being filmed, photographed or just watched. How often did you see Ali, off-guard or looking dishelveld? He declared on numerous occasions how beautiful black was, in a time of black and white photos and what better person to merge the two colours in photography form in a time where the two colours culturally were at their most divided?
So many have turned the word 'Islam' into a dirty word, a word of shame and something to avoid. The Greatest publically embraced it and tried to show us how his life was turned around and the wakening he experienced once he read the teaching of Islam. He changed his name from Cassius Clay, siting that this was to denounce the name given to him of his slave masters. He was known as Cassius X before shortly changing to Muhammed Ali, he left the Nation of Islam and turned to Sunni Islam.
The Greatest turned boxing from a minority sport into the multi million dollar industry. In an era when trash talking in Boxing is manufactured, phoney transparent and just awkward at times, The Greatest made it funny, effortless and even poetic. Athletes now are pawns, commodities and figures of financial gain for sponsors and business's. But The Greatest said what he wanted, when he wanted and most importantly how he wanted. He answered to no one and said things many blacks wanted to say and things that white people didn't wanna hear. How ironic that the one reason he was initially disliked became the reason he was so loved - his mouth.
It's clear all Boxers since, have taken elements from The Greatest. Whether it's the trash talk, the boxing style or Nicola Adams doing the 'Ali shuffle' in the ring. But no Boxer will marry the combination of Boxing Great, with being political and cultural, humanitarian giant.
The Greatest' memorial will be the final send off for a man who touched the lives of millions and with 15,000 tickets given to members of the public for free, it'll be a fitting way to embody what the man was all about - giving. Hana Ali, his daughter, has said "He belonged to the world and I'm OK with that."Although the current US President is unable to attend the service, as he'll be attending the graduation of his daughter, former US President, Bill Clinton has been asked to read the eulogy. Actor Will Smith (who played the Greatest in the biopic of his life) and former Boxing champion Lennox Lewis will be two of the Paul Bearers, during the service in Louisville, Kentucky. Attallah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, will give a poetry reading.
There's never a good time for a good person to die. But with the passing of David Bowie, Johan Cruyff and Prince 2016 is quickly becoming the year of the legends sign off.
Born: 17 January 1942
Died: 3 June 2016 (age 74)
Previous name: Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.
Nickname: 'The Greatest'
From: Louisville, Kentucky
Record: 56 wins (including 37 knockouts) against five defeats
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