Fighting for a cause: Muhammad Ali: Impossible is nothing
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” —Ephesians 3:14
“Impossible is temporary, Impossible is nothing”
The legendary Muhammad Ali once said, “You lose nothing when fighting for a cause; losers are those who don’t have a cause to fight for”. Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) was an American former heavyweight champion boxer and one of the greatest sporting figures of the 20th century. An Olympic gold medallist and the first fighter to capture the heavyweight title three times, Ali won 56 times in his 21-year professional career.
Growing up in the segregated South, he experienced racial prejudice and discrimination first-hand. At the age of 12, Ali discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. His bike was stolen, and Ali told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people,” Martin reportedly told him at the time.
Ali evolved gradually by learning boxing in order to fight social miscreants into fighting against social injustice! Ali and his long-time friend, Malcolm X, decided to fight black segregation and racism in their own different ways. While Malcolm X was fighting for this cause through a movement, Ali decided to take his own fight to the ring. He showed the world that the blacks were in no way inferior to others as he continuously knocked down his temporal foes in a way that was unprecedented in boxing history. Ali strongly believed that we were all born to fight for something, he once said, “You don’t have to be in a boxing ring to be a great fighter. As long as you are true to yourself, you will succeed in your fight for that in which you believe”.
Professional boxer Muhammad Ali is known for his resilient attitude and prowess either inside the ring when fighting an opponent or outside the ring fighting injustice. Arguably boxing’s most celebrated athlete, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was also known for his public stance against the Vietnam War and his long time battle with Parkinson’s disease.
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”-Muhammad Ali
Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942, Muhammad Ali became an Olympic gold medallist in 1960 and the world heavyweight-boxing champion in 1964 after knocking out Sonny Liston. Ali once taunted his challengers humorously when he said, “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up!” Following his suspension for refusing military service, Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title two more times during the 1970s, winning famed bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman along the way. Ali was an imposing figure in the ring, but he also became known for his lightning speed and fancy footwork, a style that was later ‘customized’ for the dauntless fighter.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Despite the progression of Parkinson’s and the onset of spinal stenosis, Ali remained active in public life. He was on hand to celebrate the inauguration of the first African-American president in January 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn into office- a dream that he had championed all his life. Soon after the inauguration, Ali received the President’s Award from the NAACP for his public service efforts. Ali’s stature as a legend continued to grow even as his physical state diminished; he towered above his contemporaries in his audacity to challenge unsavoury norms that were designed to limit and technically humiliate the blacks. He died on June 3, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona.
“A man who views the world as the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life”-Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali did not only impact the world in a unique way, his life was also a source of great inspiration to many to the extent that the unimaginable rise of Sylvester Stallone was ignited by one of Muhammad Ali’s early fight. The amazing Ali once said, “Inside of a ring or out, there is nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong”, with this mentality of always rising beyond our conditions, Sylvester Stallone story eventually changed through his encounter with Ali’s inspiring fight with the resilient Chuck Wepner. Before this inspiring fight on March 24, 1975, Stallone was a struggling actor in every definition. Things got so bad that he even ended up homeless. He slept at the New York bus station for three days, unable to pay rent or afford food.
“If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you”-Mohammad Ali
His lowest point came when he tried to sell his dog at the liquor store to any stranger. He didn’t have money to feed the dog anymore; he decided to sell the dog for $25 only and walked away crying. His life became a total mess that he couldn’t even feed himself. Two weeks later after he sold his only ‘indispensable’ companion, he saw a boxing match between Mohamed Ali and Chuck Wepner and that match became the turning-point in his life because he was so much inspired by the style and tenacity of Ali coupled with the unprecedented resilience of Wepner. The match gave him an undying inspiration to write the script for the famous movie, Rocky.
He was so much inspired and restless at the same time and tirelessly wrote the script without sleeping for days! Stallone wrote his Academy Award-winning film in three days after watching Ali take on Chuck Wepner. Wepner fought gallantly until the 15th round before finally losing in a TKO (Technical knockout).
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it-then I can achieve it”-Muhammad Ali
He tried to sell it and got an offer for $125,000 for the script, but he had just one request. He wanted to star in the movie. He wanted to be the main actor. But the studio said NO! They wanted a REAL STAR. They said he “looked funny and talked funny.” He left with his script. A few weeks later, the studio offered him $250,000 for the script. He refused. They went ahead to offer him $350,000 because they were so much fascinated with the script, he still refused. They wanted his movie, but not him. He vehemently said no; he had to be in that movie. After a while, the studio agreed, gave him $35,000 for the script and let him star in it; hoping that the staggering reduction from $350,000 down to $35,000 will discourage him. The rest is history!
The movie won Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Film Editing at the prestigious Oscar Awards. He was even nominated for the Best Actor! The movie ROCKY was inducted into the American National Film Registry as one of the greatest movies ever. Today, the same Stallone who slept in the streets is now one of the greatest movie stars who ever walked the earth.
“Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the little pebble in your shoe”-Muhammad Ali
I want to use this medium to inspire the youths towards living a fulfilling life. Hold tenaciously to your dreams. The late Ali made us realize the ‘heart’ of a champion when he once said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
Rosa parks fought against black segregation; Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid; William Wilberforce used all his life fighting for the abolition of slave trade; Martin Luther King Jr. fought against racism; Mahatma Gandhi fought for absolute sovereignty for India. Here in Nigeria, Mary Slessor fought against the evil practice of killing twins at infancy; Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti fought for women suffrage and became the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria. The big question is to ask yourself whether you have a cause that you are fighting for.
“Don’t count the days; make the days count”-Muhammad Ali
This piece will be incomplete without emphasizing the supremacy of God Almighty in your earthly pursuits. Even, the man nicknamed ‘the greatest’ ultimately realized the supremacy of God when he said, “This life is not real. I conquered the world and it did not bring me satisfaction… God gave me this illness to remind me that I’m not number One; He is.” RIP Muhammad Ali.
*It is good to note that Muhammad Ali visited Nigeria in 1964, dressed in the traditional Aso Oke agbada regalia. He also made another visit to the country in 1979 for the inauguration of President Shehu Shagari.