Muhammad Ali – Man, Athlete, and Humanitarian
While the name Muhammad Ali may be synonymous with strength, speed, resilience, and every adjective that defines athletic greatness, the person behind the name based his life on three pillars of integrity that transcended boxing and ultimately became his legacy: Muhammad Ali the MAN, Muhammad Ali the ATHLETE and Muhammad Ali the HUMANITARIAN. Muhammad Ali embraced each of these titles from the onset of his career, proving time and again that greatness comes from within.
Muhammad Ali’s 6 Core Principles, Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Spirituality and Respect, were not only the doctrines by which he lived his own life but the ideologies that influenced thousands of others to become better. By living these principles day in and day out, he proved to the world that fighting for his livelihood and fighting for humanity were not mutually exclusive ideals.
Muhammad Ali the MAN was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. Amidst the struggles of a still segregated south, he began boxing at age twelve and quickly advanced to Olympic Gold status during the 1960 Games in Rome before the age of twenty. But beneath his rugged boxer exterior was a prolific poet who would coin lyrical phrases that have become synonymous with his name. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see,” is just one small example of his poetic prose at the ripe age of twenty-two, referring to how he would approach his quest for World Heavyweight Champion against Sonny Liston. When he won, the upset clinched his rapid rise to greatness. But his foundation stayed rooted in spirituality and respect. Shortly after he earned the championship title, he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. The new name, meaning Beloved of God, was bestowed upon him by his spiritual mentor and remained with him in perpetuity.
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
Muhammad Ali the ATHLETE emerged as a force both inside and outside of the ring. Carrying with him his core beliefs of confidence and conviction, he quickly rose to the top, making history as the first fighter to hold three World Heavyweight Champion titles. Legendary fights, such as the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” vs. George Foreman and the “Thrilla in Manila” vs. Smokin’ Joe Frazier one year later, became etched in the minds of fans and followers for generations to come.
There was no shortage of accolades and awards during his accomplished career, among them the 1970 Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Award, 1974 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, 1990 induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and his 2005 Presidential Medal of Freedom. But perhaps one of his most memorable and momentous honors was lighting the Olympic Torch in Atlanta in 1996. As he became more and more decorated, blazing boxing trails for years to come, his ideals separated him from the pack. And as his celebrity and success grew, so too did his conviction as he so eloquently articulated: “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
Born from these steadfast ideals was Muhammad Ali the HUMANITARIAN. His fight for global, economic, and racial equality flanked his hours inside the ring. Muhammad Ali’s civil rights activism in the 1960’s procured an entirely new following that he fully embraced. He fought for black equality at the height of resistance, a foreshadowing of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. His core beliefs of dedication and giving translated into a personal mission for equality, both domestically and internationally. Even before he won his first heavyweight title, he donated proceeds from his fights to help those in need and continued to donate millions to charities worldwide throughout his life. He traveled the world promoting this message of equal rights through global goodwill missions, from Afghanistan to North Korea. He provided one-million dollars in medical aid to Cuba and had a hand in releasing fifteen American hostages in Iraq during the first Gulf War.
Aside from his mission to help heal the world, he travelled the globe to embrace and acknowledge different cultures and religions. His legacy of promoting world peace and diversity continues today through the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian awards at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, which celebrate global humanitarian efforts.
The many sides of Muhammad Ali were born from humble beginnings and evolved into a world stage that he utilized to promote messages of respect, hope and understanding. His inspiration to adults and aspiring athletes around the world was unparalleled. Even as he battled Parkinson’s Disease for thirty plus years, it did not define him as he continued to spread his message of inclusivity and defying limitations. He died in 2016 at the age of seventy-four from complications due to Parkinson’s Disease, but his spirit is alive and well at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky and soon at the Muhammad Ali Experience in Los Angeles. The Experience will allow guests to step into the legend’s shoes and experience his many layers of greatness: Muhammad Ali the Man, Muhammad Ali the Athlete and Muhammad Ali the Humanitarian.