Saturday, 4 June 2016

My Notes from the Muhammad Ali Exhibition (and tribute to the man)

Muhammad Ali:
17th January 1942 – 3rd June 2016.
This morning (Saturday, 4th June 2016) I woke up to the sad news of the passing of Muhammad Ali. May Allah have mercy upon him, forgive him and grant him Jannah, Ameen. My thoughts and prayers are for him and with his family and friends. I had already composed the post below, and was going to post it in a few days. But the time is now. 

I know that I am more touched, more sadden and more moved having attended the exhibition and learnt about him than if I hadn’t. Muhammad Ali had a public persona but I learnt about the man behind this show. Ali suffered segregation, discrimination, was part of the civil rights movement, fought for truth, justice and equality. Later, he was a humanitarian, an ambassador, and tested with Parkinson's disease.

The exhibition was curated by one of his good friends, and has the support of his family. It was hoped that Ali would attend the exhibition with his wife, Lonnie. Sadly, it was not to be. If anyone is in London, I urge you to attend the exhibition; it is on till the 31st August. You will not regret it.   

I wasn’t going to mention this, but I will. In the 90’s, when I was at school Muhammad Ali came to visit. I don’t actually remember much about the visit. I don’t remember if he said anything in the special assembly that had been arranged. But I remember him to be a humble, quiet person, emanating an aura, noor and respect.

The Post

This is a summary of notes I made and things I learnt:
  • Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, was born on 17th January 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. His parents were Odessa and Cassius Sr, known as Cash. He has a younger brother Rudolph.
  • He grew up in racially divided America. He lived in a black neighbourhood. His neighbours, the school he went to etc. was all black. His family were considered middle class.
  • “For me, it was all about the bike. I told Mr Martin I was gonna whup whoever stole my bike.”  
    When Cassius was 12, someone stole his bike. He was so upset. He went to see Joe Martin who was the local officer of the area, but also ran the local boxing club. He told Cassius, if you want to whup the guy who stole your bike, you had better learn to fight properly.
  • At school he was a quiet boy, hardworking. The other kids say sometimes he would be almost meditative.
  • He didn’t take the bus to school. He used to race the bus to school.
  • He used to drink water from a bottle which contained a clove of garlic to keep his blood pressure down. He used to get the other kids to throw rocks at him so he could practice dodging.
  • By 1958, he was the best amateur. Had won 100 fights (lost only 5). Won 6 Kentucky Golden Gloves.
  • In 1960, he went to the Olympics in Rome and won gold in the light-heavyweight division. He was 18 years old.
  • "To make America the greatest is my goal, so I beat the Russian and I beat the Pole. And for the U.S.A. won the medal of gold. The Greeks said, 'You're better than the Cassius of old.' " Muhammad Ali.
  • After returning from the Olympics, Cassius went to a restaurant with a friend. They ordered a meal, Clay ordered steak. The waiter said, “We don’t serve …… .” Clay replied, “Well, that’s good. Coz I didn’t order ……. I ordered steak!” And this was after he had won an Olympic gold for his country.
  • His coach was Angelo Dundee, who was with him for the whole of his career expect for the first two fights. Dundee was probably the only guy who could coach Ali. Ali’s fighting style was unorthodox – not out of the coaching manual. But Dundee didn’t try to change that or coach him. He let Ali fight natural.
  • In 1964, he beat Sonny Liston and become the heavyweight champion. 
  • Shortly afterwards, Cassius Clay announced he had joined the Nation on Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. 
  • "Cassius Clay is a name that white people gave to my slave master. Now that I am free, that I don't belong anymore, that I'm not a slave anymore, I gave back their white name, and chose a beautiful African one." Muhammd Ali
  • When the Vietnam War broke out, in 1967, Muhammad Ali was called up to be enlisted into the US Army. His name was called and he was asked if he agreed to join. He replied in the negative. This happened two more times. After the 3rd time Ali was taken outside. He was arrested. His passport had been taken from him, his boxing licence was suspended and he was stripped of all his titles. Later he was handed a $10,000 fine and 5 years in prison. Muhammad Ali was just 25 years old. He was in his prime, at his peak, and he lost three years. 
  • He had no means of making money or supporting his family. So he used to tour different colleges and give talks. The US government were wary of Ali: they saw him as a powerful young black man, who didn’t want to conform, who didn’t want to do what they wanted him to do. Outside of the US, he was seen as a hero: a man who stood up for peace, for justice.    
  • What Ali said, “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong. They ain’t called me …… .”  
  • Although he never went to prison, it was 3 years before Ali would fight again. One of the men who helped Ali to get back in the ring was a young bare-knuckle fighter from Ireland (or Northern Ireland – can’t remember) called Paddy Monaghan. They became friends for life. When Ali came to Britain he went to stay with Paddy.
  • 1970 was Ali’s comeback fight against Joe Quarry. He broke one of his ribs in training but couldn’t let on. He carried on training like normal. He won.
  • Famous fights:
    • (As above) 1964 – Sonny Liston – Won against expectation
    • 1974 – George Foreman –Rumble in the Jungle
    • 1975 – Joe Frazier –Thriller in Manila.
  • In 1978, Ali was 3 times heavyweight champion.
  • Only two men have fought Ali three times: Joe Frazier and Ken Norton.
  • Fought Henry Cooper in 1966.
  • After briefly retiring, he returned to the ring. His last fights (which he lost) were in 1980 and 1981. He was not the boxer that he once was and the fights were not nice to watch. But Ali went out on his own terms.
  • Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984.
  • Post boxing, he has mainly been involved in humanitarian and philanthropic work and been appointed a peace ambassador. He still has remained involved in sport.
  • Quote: “The most important thing you can give to someone is your time.”
  • There was a lovely story from a young journalist (can’t remember his name). Ali was visiting his Mum and the journalist, driving by, saw Ali’s car outside. He thought: I’ve got to do it. So, tentatively, he knocked on the door and asked if he could speak to Muhammad Ali. Initially, his family refused but when Ali got to the door he ushered the journalist in. They talked, had a nice conversation and the journalist got his exclusive interview. Later, they went outside and started playing with a basketball. Slowly, the kids and passers-by stopped and joined in. They just had so much fun; and Ali was totally gracious and giving but he did have to stop after a while.   
  • When the first Gulf War was about to start someone called Ali. There was a journalist (another one) sitting with him in the room. He was on the phone for 15 minutes. They were asking him if he could go over there and help. Ali was unwell and there were two armies amassing on the border so the journalist advised Ali to leave it. A few weeks later, Ali is in Iraq talking to Saddam Hussein and he has managed to negotiate the release of 15 American soldiers. Even the President of the US couldn’t have managed that.
  • One moment that no-one will forget is the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta: when Muhammad Ali, trembling due to Parkinson’s, lit the Olympic torch. They also gave him a new Olympic medal to replace the 1960 one that was lost.  
  • Muhammad Ali later left the Nation of Islam and follows more orthodox Islam.
I did take quite a few photographs but we weren’t allowed to use flash, so some of the images came out blurred. But I’ll post a few more next time, Insha'Allah.

Post 1: Summary of my day out to Greenwich and Canary Wharf. 
Post 2: An overview of the Exhibition. 

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